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Oracle management downsizing tips: Saving on Oracle hardware and software in a down economy

Learn how to reduce Oracle database costs with exclusive expert advice from Donald Burleson. Find out how to trim the fat without compromising security or quality.

The collapse of major financial institutions has rippled through the economy, and managers everywhere are searching for ways to stretch their dollars. In this two-part article, we explore the ways in which Oracle managers can trim their budgets to survive the looming worldwide recession.

Bank failures, global insecurity, the credit crunch and declining sales mean corporations are faced with tough choices. Some must either limp along with fewer resources or face bankruptcy, and managers everywhere are struggling to find cost-cutting opportunities throughout the organization.

This has had a direct and noticeable impact on the Oracle community. Layoffs are rampant, and those Oracle professionals who are fortunate enough to have kept their jobs are faced with their employers' cutting corners. Many perks that were considered essential to an Oracle professional a few years ago are gone. No more two weeks of professional training courses, no more trips to conferences and user group meetings, no more frills.

There's another twist (or some kind of transition?).

Oracle professionals are not only facing cutbacks, but the scrutiny comes from a different place than the scrutiny facing the rest of the organization.

Because database management reaches all areas, it is commonly budgeted under the purview of the CFO, outside the normal chain of command (Figure 1).


Figure 1: The IT department reports to a different boss

In spite of the recognition by all levels of managers of the importance of safeguarding information and the value of computer systems, IT still isn't immune from layoffs and cutbacks.

Trimming the pork

While it's easy to identify pork in most business areas, the IT department is in a unique position. On one hand, skilled IT experts take up a large portion of the budget, with some talented superstars earning as much money as a vice president. Unlike other areas, the IT budget is largely people costs, with human resources making up the lion's share of yearly expenses (Figure 2).


Figure 2: A typical Oracle budget is over 50% people costs

On paper, the IT department is a tempting target for layoffs because it's a deep cavern of expenses that contribute little to the bottom line. Conversely, it can be suicide to get rid of someone with vast institutional knowledge and the skills to keep your database secure and available to your departments.

In my role as a corporate consultant, I assist large corporations in their cost-cutting endeavors, helping them trim their IT budgets without losing control of their mission-critical data. The approaches are as unique as the companies, and it's not always about laying off Oracle professionals.

Some effective cost-cutting approaches include downsizing hardware and software expenses:

  • Postponing hardware upgrades.
  • Moving to less expensive releases of Oracle.
  • Moving to lower-cost open source solutions.
  • Using compression to postpone new disk acquisitions.
  • Consolidating instances onto larger servers.
  • Using Oracle VMware to place multiple systems on a single server.

These were great approaches back in the 1980s when hardware and software made up the bulk of the IT budget. But with hardware costs falling by orders of magnitude, the majority of today's IT budget is for human resources, and personnel layoffs offer the largest opportunities for cost-cutting. Faced with this unpleasant reality, many managers are forced to trim their Oracle workforce:

  • Outsourcing all "expert-level" support (DBA and SA).
  • Identifying and terminating low-productivity employees.
We'll explore the staffing issues further in the next installment. Now, let's explore each of these hardware and software areas and see how some companies plan to weather this economic crisis.

Downsizing tangible assets

Faced with cutting back or going out of business, companies are considering every possible option, including reducing their IT licensing costs for Oracle software. Unfortunately, changes cannot always be made quickly, especially when considering a downgrade of the Oracle licenses.

Toss the office

Some shops choose to close their office and go "virtual," changing the status of their W2 employees to independent contractors working remotely. (See the next installment for the detailed costs and benefits of changing your employee status.)

Instance consolidation

The advent of the new monolithic servers has heralded the 2nd age of mainframe computing and it's not uncommon today to find servers running dozens of instances. Because Oracle licenses can cost millions of dollars and because they are priced based on the processor, some shops are undertaking to "squeeze in" their Oracle database onto a single server, using a single license. Server costs have dropped radically in price in the past few years, and the new super-servers are available from all of the major vendors (IBM, HP, Sun, UNISYS, Dell), machines that can hold dozens of instances and perform more than a million I/O per second (Figure 3). Because you have fewer servers to support, you will also need a smaller DBA and system administrator staff.


Figure 3: An IBM P590 with 18 CPUs and 128 gig of RAM

OS consolidation

In order to cut down on proprietary OS costs, some Oracle shops use Oracle VMware to consolidate their Windows systems onto a single Linux server, where they can be migrated to save Microsoft license fees. Dr Scalzo of Quest Software has just published a book on the subject, Oracle on VMware: Expert Tips for Database Virtualization, which covers these cost-cutting techniques.

Downgrade to a cheaper Oracle edition

While every Oracle shop has a different licensing agreement, there are substantial savings to be had from downgrading from Oracle Enterprise Edition (EE) to the lesser Standard Edition and Express Edition (XE). In some shops, consolidating instances onto single servers is the answer. I've worked in shops that chose to abandon certain EE features so that they could run their applications on the cheaper Oracle SE.

Deploy Oracle 11g compression

The new Oracle 11g compression utility can dramatically cut down the amount of disk used and also speed up table scans, and Oracle compression can be deployed to postpone the acquisition of expensive disks and servers. But there is only so much that we can trim from hardware and software. And, because more than half a typical Oracle budget is for people, we must also look there for opportunities. In our next installment we will explore the most sensitive area of all: how to evaluate a team of Oracle professionals to identify which people must be terminated.

Continue to the next installment: Part II: Best practices for saving on Oracle staffing costs in an uncertain economic climate (aka, what DBA should know to keep from being laid off)

About the Author: Donald K. Burleson has been a full-time DBA since 1983 and is one of the most recognized names in Oracle technology. Author of more than 30 books and hundreds of articles, Burleson has written five Oracle Press books and presented at dozens of international Oracle conferences. He is currently the CTO of BC Remote DBA and has websites at http://www.remote-dba.net and http://www.dba-oracle.com.


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