HP vs. Oracle over Itanium: A look at your options

The Oracle/HP/Itanium dust up puts customers in the middle. Fortunately, they have many options to consider.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

Oracle announced that it was going to drop support for HP's Itanium systems in May 2011, pointing out that Red Hat and Microsoft had made similar announcements in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Oracle also said, "Intel management made it clear that their strategic focus is on their x86 microprocessor and that Itanium was nearing the end of its life.” Intel, of course, and HP disagreed with Oracle's assertion and countered with statements that they were still committed to Itanium. HP has taken its complaint against Oracle to court.

Putting the customers in the middle

While this drama plays itself out in court litigation, customers that have deployed HP's Itanium servers to run Oracle's database software have to consider their options and alternatives and select an appropriate course of action.

Possible directions

While it is unfortunate that Oracle put these customers in the middle of a battle with Oracle on one side and HP/Intel on the other, it would be wise for them to step back and consider all of their alternatives. The options include the following:

  • Do nothing and wait
  • Stay on HP/Itanium platforms and replace the Oracle software
  • Keep the Oracle software and move to a different platform
  • Change out the hardware and the software

Let’s look at each option in turn to consider the ramifications:

Do nothing and wait

Some companies will continue to use their current HP systems with their Oracle database servers until they will no longer function at all. They will make a move only when what they're doing is no longer tenable. In their view, they'll consider a migration only when the cost of maintaining their current solutions is higher than migration. Only then will they consider other options. While this approach is workable for the short term, it would be wise for decision-makers to seek longer-term solutions.

Stay on HP/Itanium platforms and replace Oracle software

Other companies will prefer to stay with their HP/Itanium systems. This leads to options including staying with Oracle's database software until it is no longer supportable or moving to an entirely different database platform.

Customers face the fact that database solutions are among the most complex types of software ever developed. To achieve the level of performance and scalability customers need, database suppliers have had to develop their own memory management, file systems, clustering and other capabilities normally reserved for operating systems. Achieving total compatibility is a nearly insurmountable task. When customers are considering a move to another database, they are looking for an easy transition that will minimize the costs of migration. One approach is seeking out a highly compatible database product. This approach would be particularly desirable if the customer has custom applications that must continue to work after the migration has been completed.

Another is going with a supplier that has excellent migration tools and services which make the process relatively painless. This approach would be appropriate if the customer is making use of packaged software products and has little or no custom applications in use. Both HP and IBM would present themselves as candidates in this scenario.

It is fortunate for these customers that several suppliers offer database software that provides high levels of Oracle compatibility. Both EnterpriseDB, a supplier of an enhanced version of the open source PostgreSQL database, and IBM, the supplier of DB2 database software, have made Oracle compatibility part of their offerings. Just as importantly, both companies’ solutions support Itanium-based HP systems.

Making a move would require that the replacement offer either a high level of compatibility or excellent migration tools and services. This requires workable replacements for the following things:

  • Scripting language
  • Functions
  • Triggers
  • Stored procedures
  • Libraries of standard packages
  • Either the ability to support user-developed packages or a way to convert them transparently

Furthermore, for customers in this category it would be necessary for a replacement database server to process SQL statements in precisely the same way, have the same known bugs and deal with collections of data precisely as the original database does. This, of course, is a tall order. Database compatibility can be difficult to achieve.

Even if a competitor offered 90% compatibility, it still could create challenges for a customer. If a given customer's portfolio of applications used only the features covered by the 90% compatibility, the migration would be straightforward. If the customer’s code made use of the 10% of the database server's features that are incompatible with the potential replacement's features, the migration could be more challenging. To make this proposed transition workable, the supplier must provide ways to reproduce or support those features in other ways.

Moving to another database

Some companies are more interested in the strength of the database platform they’re considering moving to than in how compatible it is with their existing database solution. For these customers, what the new database could do for them is a primary consideration.

EnterpriseDB would suggest that these customers move to their open source, PostgreSQL-based, product. This approach, they would say, offers good price performance and good-enough compatibility. IBM would suggest moving to DB2. It would point out that customers move to DB2 because they desire the features, functions, performance and reliability the company’s database offers. Oracle compatibility was not an overriding issue for these customers even though DB2 has a high level of Oracle compatibility. IBM would also point out that its worldwide partners offer a complete set of programs and tools to make the transition straightforward.

EnterpriseDB can’t match IBM’s staff, the scope of its tools nor its worldwide reach.

Changing out the hardware

This option means replacing systems, system management software, development tools and application software, as well as the database software. It may also require replacement of server-attached storage devices as well.

What Oracle would suggest.

This can certainly be a very costly approach but Oracle is obviously hoping that its customers will chose this path and replace the HP Itanium-based servers with its own Sun servers. However, shifting from HP to Oracle/Sun hardware is not the only option clients can pursue.

What HP would suggest

HP would hope that customers in this category would stay with them and move to one of their X86-based platforms. They would point out that Intel is behind them regardless of whether customers stay with Itanium over move to X86-based systems.

What IBM would suggest

IBM would propose a number of different migration strategies here. Customers could move to IBM's X series (X86), its P series (Power architecture) or even its Z series (mainframe). They would suggest DB2. IBM would suggest that Oracle’s approach means moving from one platform with an uncertain future to another facing a similar future. It would point out that the benefit of its extensive enterprise mainframe experience has made all of its systems more scalable, reliable and manageable that those from other hardware suppliers. Furthermore, IBM offers "Server Makeover" programs to help these customers determine what hardware platform would be their best choice and then helps them make the move.

IBM clearly believes that its offerings outgun anything Sun or HP has to offer. Furthermore, IBM is stepping into this dust up to point out that it offers solutions that outperform HP’s Itanium systems and Sun’s SPARC systems when supporting Oracle’s database software. the company also notes that it has executed thousands of migrations from HP Itanium and Oracle/Sun SPARC-based servers to its own systems using DB2.

What would the ideal migration solution include?

An ideal migration solution would contain the following elements. Each customer would be able to select the options that made the most sense and would address their unique requirements. Hardware and software offerings must have a track record of success and a strong, compatible set of planned future offerings.

  • A selection of servers that range from small to very large
  • A complete stack of software (ranging from single vendors to numerous offerings from third parties) making it possible for customers to pick and choose the products needed for their unique situations
  • Free or low cost services that can help customers decide the best course of action. This could include determining the reduction in ongoing cost of ownership, how to move from one set of applications and tools to another, training for IT administrators and developers, and even complete proof of concept demonstrations.
  • Packaged offerings of hardware and software simplifying the move from current to future platforms. It would also be very helpful if the supplier offered trade-in programs to take the obsolete systems off the hands of the customer.
  • Professional services and tools to make the migration easy, timely and cost effective.

Final analysis

Since every company's IT environment is a bit different than any other, there is no single cut and dried solution. I project that most companies finding themselves caught between Oracle and HP will stay the course and continue using their current systems for a time while they sort out their options. They have to sort through from the following options:

  • Do nothing and wait
  • Stay on HP/Itanium platforms and replace the Oracle software
  • Keep the Oracle software and move to a different platform
  • Change out the hardware

But if businesses decide to move ahead, the key to making a good choice is to stop for a moment and consider everything that would be needed to make the transition work. They need to consider if they have a significant tie to HP’s hardware or Oracle’s database software while they weigh their options. If companies have a significant portfolio of custom applications, then choosing with a supplier that offers some level of database software compatibility is a good start.

If companies have a strong tie to HP’s hardware, it would be good to consider a supplier that continues to support HP’s Itanium systems. It also offers X86 systems as well.

For most customers, however, would be best to select a supplier that has the tools, the services, the partners and systems to create a long-term solution to this problem.

IBM certainly can be seen as a strong supplier of products and services that can address this issue. The company offers a broad portfolio of systems, software and professional services to help in a migration. They also have an extensive, worldwide partner ecosystem can offer help wherever the customer is located.

EnterpriseDB, on the other hand, largely offers a much more limited migration plan — an Oracle compatible database, migration tools for that database and services that could be used to help companies in transition from the Oracle database to EnterpriseDB’s product.


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