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Users flock away from Oracle Sun enterprise server hardware

Oracle has seen big drops in server revenue and shipments in the past year, and end users list several reasons why they’re migrating to competitors.

Oracle Sun enterprise server hardware numbers have been dropping consistently over the last year. IT and database staff running the hardware say there are a bunch of reasons for that, but oddly enough, the quality of the actual server hardware is rarely one of them.

Last year was a poor year for Oracle server revenue and shipments. In the fourth quarter, revenue declined 16.2% and shipments were down 40.8% year over year, according to Gartner. And those weren’t anomalies. Oracle’s year-over-year results throughout 2010 were littered with negative signs.

End users list a litany of reasons why they’re moving away from Oracle Sun enterprise servers. Cost is one of the major ones, but others include difficulty in ordering, attempts by Oracle to get customers to sign new software agreements before selling the hardware, and questions about the future viability of Oracle hardware in the marketplace.

“As more and more of their market share erodes, the likelihood of Oracle maintaining their presence in the hardware sector decreases,” said David Hornbeck, database architect at a financial technology provider who didn’t want his company name used due to company policies on speaking to the press. “So there is a perception problem.”

Until recently, Hornbeck’s employer was an Oracle Sun Solaris shop. Now it’s in the process of migrating to IBM Unix servers running AIX. Aside from the future viability of Oracle hardware as a reason for migration, Hornbeck also cited the lack of virtualization features on Solaris servers and concerns about Oracle Support taking over for Sun support.

“I was originally against moving away from Sun Solaris,” he said. “I am now fully behind it.”

Oracle did not return requests for comment.

Perception vs. reality for Oracle Sun enterprise server hardware

As Hornbeck said, Oracle has a perception problem. Many end users are still not convinced that Oracle is committed to the server hardware sector. Dan Olds, principal consultant at Gabriel Consulting Group, agreed. Gabriel Consulting just finished a survey of 199 data center and IT staff on x86 servers and it is almost finished with another on Unix servers. He said the results don’t look good for Oracle.

“They are not giving the customers the warm and fuzzy feeling that Oracle will be out there behind the hardware and pushing out great new stuff over time,” Olds said. “I’m compiling results from the Unix survey now, and close to 60% say that Oracle has not done a good job communicating with its customers.”

Some of this could be left over from the drawn-out acquisition of Sun Microsystems Inc., when everything seemed up in the air. Now that the Sun purchase is a year in the books, you might think Oracle would have been able to put any doubts to bed. Oracle did release Sun hardware roadmaps last year showing development of Sparc servers and Solaris until 2015. But apparently that hasn’t been enough.

“I think a lot of it comes back to them not really communicating what they’re going to do and what their philosophy will be moving forward,” Olds said.

And what Oracle has communicated, some don’t like. In particular, Oracle’s desire to push large integrated stack products such as Exadata and Exalogic doesn’t sit well with some shops.

“Though Exadata and Exalogic offer performance advantages, they are pricy, and medium-scale companies cannot afford them,” said Ravi Viswanathan, database administrator at Yamaha Motor Corp., USA. “HP and Dell sell a boat load to medium-scale companies.”

Viswanathan said his company currently runs Oracle Database on top of Itanium-based HP RISC servers. But they might consider moving to Oracle if its integrated stack servers were at a lower price point.

Oracle Sun enterprise server hardware service is poor, says users

Perhaps the overwhelming reason why many shops are moving away from Oracle server hardware is the way the vendor is treating them.

Take one end user, a senior systems administrator at a southwestern U.S. electric and gas utility company. Last year the company bought some new Oracle Sun enterprise servers -- the Sparc-based M5000s. But later in the year, when it wanted to order more, the deal was held up because of issues on the software side. The utility company has now been waiting on the purchase of another M5000 and additional CPU modules since December.

“It seems that Oracle doesn’t want our cash until we sign a new contract with them,” the sysadmin said. He said that his company has had an enterprise agreement in place with Oracle since 1997, when it purchased Oracle Financials. Now he’s wondering if Oracle is trying to get all hardware customers to sign new agreements.

“Currently a six-month addendum has been bouncing between our lawyers and Oracle’s,” he added.

A systems architect at a South Africa-based integrator also said Oracle’s hardware service has been bad, and they’re moving to another vendor. The architect didn’t know yet where they will migrate, but it will probably be Hewlett-Packard or IBM. He cited hardware maintenance fees, legal issues that block simple orders, and hardware patching issues.

“We have a 10-mile long history of problems on maintenance, new hardware and warranties that start when they ship and not when we get the server,” the architect said. “We are not satisfied with the way Oracle has handled us as a client, and I have made up my mind to port to another vendor.”

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