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Oracle support services get mixed reviews

Technology professionals offer harsh criticism and rave reviews of Oracle's support organization, while an industry expert sizes up the alternatives.

Cliff Palmer is unhappy with Oracle's support services.

A database administrator (DBA) with SRA International Inc., a systems integrator that does a lot of work for the U.S. Department of Defense, Palmer says that calling Oracle's customer support center is a consistently disappointing experience.

Palmer initiates support requests by filling out an online form and extensively describing the problem at hand. But when he gets on the phone with Oracle support to discuss the problem further, the person he speaks to seems woefully unfamiliar with the case.

"Whether we call with something that we just can't find in the manual, or we're having a major product failure and we're not making any progress, I typically find myself responding to someone who clearly has no technical background," he said. "The questions they ask and the clarifications they ask for clearly indicate that they may have never used Oracle before, much less have the kind of technical background to help me."

When Palmer's technical problems get escalated to the next level of Oracle support, however, the experience generally turns more positive and a resolution is ultimately achieved -- though getting there can be a battle.

"Usually, by the time I get to the advanced escalation group, I'm getting a knowledgeable, experienced person who is familiar with Oracle's product and who seems to be able to ask more relevant questions," he said. "[But] it takes too long to get to a really capable technical support person."

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Sivadasan A. Madhavan, a principal analyst with AT&T Government Solutions, says he's not sure if Oracle's support is any better or worse than that of any other vendor. But he does think there is room for improvement in the call center.

"Oracle, like all of the other software houses, can do a lot better if they can get people who have years of actual hands-on experience, instead of fresh college graduates who know theory but have no understanding of applications," he said.

To be sure, however, many technology professionals report having a very good experience with Oracle support -- people like Mark Douglas, the vice president of technology at eHarmony, an online matchmaker that recently completed a major migration from Microsoft SQL Server to Oracle.

"[Oracle] support is good," Douglas said. "They have a very professional support organization. If anything needs to be escalated to get more attention we do that, and our account managers are very involved and we speak to them regularly."

Growing pains?

While opinions on Oracle support truly run the gamut, any recent complaints could be an unintended result of the company's long-running acquisition spree, suggested Ray Wang, a business applications analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

Over the last four years, Oracle has purchased more than 30 software firms, including some major players like CRM giants PeopleSoft Corp. and Siebel Systems Inc. The process of integrating all those newly acquired employees could be taking its toll on support for the time being, Wang said.

"There are newbies there," he said, "people that are trying to learn the customer and learn their environment. But we're seeing that as more of a growing pain than anything else."

Exploring the alternatives

Organizations that are unhappy with Oracle support have other options in the form of third-party Oracle support providers -- but analysts say they're not for everyone.

For rapidly growing businesses which may be heavily dependent on a particular Oracle product, it's probably best to get support directly from Oracle, according to Wang.

"If you're making rapid changes, you need new features and functionality, and it makes a lot of sense to use Oracle," he said.

Alternatively, mature companies that are more stable in terms of growth and technology can save big money by going with a third-party support provider. In most cases, Wang said, third-party providers help customers cut support costs by about half.

"You can use that money to go buy new modules, to reinvest, or you could put it towards another IT project," he said.

Two of the most well-known third-party support firms are Rimini Street and SAP's TomorrowNow arm, which is currently the focal point of a high-profile legal spat between Oracle and SAP.

Back in March, Oracle filed a federal lawsuit accusing TomorrowNow of hacking into its customer support center and illegally downloading copies of proprietary software code.

The lawsuit, which is still making its way through the court system, also alleges that SAP and TomorrowNow intentionally interfered with a prospective economic advantage and committed computer fraud. In early June, Oracle amended the complaint, adding copyright violations and breached contracts to the list of alleged offenses.

The quarrel made headlines again yesterday after

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