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How to get more from Oracle tech support

Expert consultant Don Burleson offers tips for getting more from Oracle tech support and argues that using a third party support provider lowers costs and increases service.

Depending on your licensing agreement and level of Oracle support, you could be paying tens of thousands of dollars a year for Oracle support. Many managers misunderstand the scope of Oracle tech support, what's included, and what is not.

Oracle offers a wide range of support, ranging from an on-site Oracle support person (Gold-level support) to lesser support for silver- and bronze-level clients. The "gold, silver and bronze" are "metal" level support, required for access to Oracle MetaLink.

Many Oracle customers are surprised when Oracle technical support requires that they have fully trained DBAs to troubleshoot a problem or apply a complex patch set, and it's important to understand the distinction between "support" and "consulting."

The support offered by MetaLink includes three areas:

  • Basic troubleshooting – Help interpreting error codes and dumps.
  • Bug resolution – Help from Oracle's software engineers for a bug fix.
  • Remedy identification – Assistance in finding workarounds or patches for known issues.

This "support" does not include other support services, however -- tasks like applying patches, customizing the software, or hand-holding a beginner DBA. Of course, Oracle does offer remote consulting services at prices that can be more than $500 per hour. Some experts have suggested that Oracle deliberately overprices its consulting support to deter shops from relying on Oracle support instead of hiring an in-house DBA.

Unhappy customers

In large shops, it is not uncommon for Oracle customers to spend more than $100,000 per year on license support, and not every shop says that they are happy with the quality of their support. A few Google searches reveal some Oracle customers who appear to be unhappy with their level of support:

Jeff Hunter , a DBA who indicates that he is affiliated with Interactive Brokers Group (IBG) in Greenwich, Conn., notes that their average Oracle service request costs them more than $2,500. He is also unhappy with the response time for Oracle support calls, openly questioning the value of Oracle's technical support.

"At the end of November, I submitted a Purchase Order for my 2009 Annual Oracle Support.

I passed the six-figure mark several years ago and am well on my way to topping the next hundred next year."

Growing numbers of groups are abandoning Oracle vendor support service in favor of expert technical support. When you terminate Oracle support, you lose the right to get patches and upgrades, but for stable systems, using an independent remote DBA expert service like Burleson Consulting can save many thousands of dollars each year and provide high-quality support.

Hunter notes that IBG is approaching costs above $200,000 for its Oracle technical support in 2009, and they openly question the value of Oracle technical support :

"84% of my TARs are closed in four weeks or more. Let me say that again -- FOUR WEEKS OR MORE.

Each TAR costs me approximately $2,500.

So, Oracle Community, did I get adequate return on my investment?"

Nuno Pinto do Souto , a DBA team leader who lists his employer as Aus&NZ at Westfield Group, says that the Oracle product development group are "bozos" and reports that Westfield Group also pays nearly $100,000 per year for Oracle support:

"I've just gone very near the 100K magic number for overall support. . . .

One of the things I've long ago given up on is letting metalick [sic] handle a call for more than a week. I usually only open severity 1 calls: if it can't be solved within a week, then the workaround gets in and we forget about it.

The way things work at Oracle support, it's hopeless to try and squeeze an emergency patch out of "product development" or whatever those bozos are called nowadays.

Along the years the number of calls I've had cancelled due to "won't be fixed" or "no patch available until version xx.x.x.x.x, kindly upgrade" is staggering..."

Leveraging Oracle support

Oracle technical support, like any large corporation, desires uniformity, and that is one of the most common roadblocks to effective support:

  • Inept support – Oracle tech support runs the gamut from spectacular to horrid, and at some point in your career you may encounter an inept person. When this happens, simply ask to "speak with the duty manager" and have your service request (SR) escalated to a higher priority. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease!
  • Offloading – Offloading is a technique where the support person suggests that the problem is fixed in a later release. If you are told that your 10g issue has been fixed in 11g, you should aggressively demand evidence, as this is a common technique for passing off time-consuming calls.

Now that we understand the issues and limitations of Oracle technical support services, let's explore some options for maximizing your investment in Oracle support.

Supplementing Oracle support

While only Oracle can provide patches and software upgrades, Oracle shops facing serious financial difficulties are desperate for relief. Shops with a stable environment without a need for upgrades and patches may consider dropping Oracle support and getting their support from independent third parties.

When considering a third-party support provider, it is critical that you choose a remote DBA provider within your own country so that you have the full protection of your data protection laws.

There have been cases where foreign remote DBA providers have stolen data with impunity, since the data-rights laws did not cross borders.

Stories like these are just another reason why third-party Oracle support is becoming a popular alternative, especially in a down economy. My SearchOracle.com article best Practices for saving on Oracle staffing costs suggests that using third-party Oracle support can result in better quality and lower-cost services:

"The demand for remote DBA support fluctuates with the overall health of the economy.

In lean times, many companies choose to have their Oracle work done on an on-demand basis, paying only for those hours that are used.

The remote approach also has the side benefit of saving on employee overhead costs, which can constitute up to one-third of an on-site Oracle professional's salary."

As the global economic crisis continues, large corporations are no longer willing to spend $100,000 for low-quality support. But who can you trust? The SearchOracle.com article also notes that you must be extremely careful when choosing a third-party Oracle support provider, making sure that you choose one with a proven track record from known experts. It also notes that it's critical to use a third-party support provider within your own legal jurisdiction:

"For overseas companies, it's important to engage a remote DBA provider in your home country.

Data security and privacy laws vary widely, and anyone foolish enough to use a foreign remote DBA service may find his data stolen, leaving no legal recourse whatsoever."

In sum, Oracle technical support services offer a wide range of services and support levels, but it does not relieve the Oracle shop of the requirement to have a competent database administrator to field all support issues.

About the author: Donald K. Burleson is one of the leading experts on Oracle technology. Author of more than 30 books, Burleson has decades of full-time experience as a DBA and has specialized in Oracle tuning and optimization. Burleson runs BC Remote DBA Support and has a website at www.dba-oracle.com

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