Sun shops eye Oracle support moves warily

Oracle veteran Chuck Rozwat returns to run customer services for hardware and software. But he faces an uphill battle with wary Sun shops uneasy about Oracle support.

Oracle has a new executive in charge of hardware and software support, and Sun shops hope the new sheriff will

mend some fences over support policy changes.

Chuck Rozwat, the former Oracle Corp. executive who headed database development, is the new go-to guy for support and service. As executive vice president customer services, Rozwat reports to Oracle’s co-president, Mark Hurd, although Rozwat’s bio has yet to be updated. Rozwat took leave from Oracle last summer and his return was announced at Oracle OpenWorld 2010 two weeks ago.

But Rozwat faces some challenges. He has to bring wary Sun shops -- already unsettled by Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems Inc. earlier this year and stunned by Oracle’s support changes once the deal was final -- back into the fold.

Oracle hardware: Big support challenges ahead
Some in the Sun world said Rozwat had better be rested and ready, because he has his work cut out for him. Many Sun shops were outraged at what they called sudden and unilateral changes to their support policies once Oracle completed its buyout of Sun Microsystems in January. Some saw their hardware support costs double or even triple. Several Sun shops told SearchDataCenter.com at the time that they had already opted to move more of their workloads from Sun hardware before the buyout because of concerns over Sun’s future. Oracle’s subsequent support moves only validated that decision -- and in some cases -- accelerated it, they said.

Rozwat has his work cut out for him.

That is not to say Sun Microsystems’ support was a bed of roses. “The knock on Sun was that every six or nine months they’d change their support structures where IBM and HP were very stable,” said one Sun customer who requested anonymity. “I think most Sun shops would agree that more consistency would be a good thing."

On the other hand, he and others said Sun offered flexibility in terms of swapping hardware onto and off of support that Oracle would do well to emulate. He and others slammed Oracle’s new policy of starting the support clock running the minute hardware shipped and before the customer took possession or installed it.

“Oracle appears to be heading in one direction toward more restrictive policies, whereas the competition -- IBM and HP -- are doing the opposite,” said a Boston area IT consultant who works with all three vendors.

While Rozwat’s name carries weight in Oracle database shops, it may not mean much to the already-irate Sun hardware shops who may not know him at all.

Many, including Bill Bradford, systems administrator for a Houston energy services firm and owner of SunHelp.org, would have preferred a fresh face to drive the support effort. “Bringing in someone with a non-Oracle point of view could only be good at this point,” he said via email. Of course, Rozwat, who’s only been gone a year, may not qualify on that count.

“Oracle is going to have to work hard to regain the trust of Sun hardware/Solaris shops,” Bradford said via email. “I think they learned rather quickly that the old way of doing business, ‘We're Oracle, you need our software, so you'll buy it no matter what we do,’ doesn't quite work when it comes to operating systems and servers."

He acknowledged the value of consistency and transparency to data center shops.

Oracle is going to have to work hard to regain the trust of Sun hardware/Solaris shops.

Bill Bradford, systems administrator, a Houston energy services firm

“Customers want to know what's going to happen, and they want to know in advance -- they don't want to hear, ‘Wait a few months, and we'll tell you,’” he said. “The culture of silence doesn't work in this case. I really think they need to make a statement, ‘We know we messed up, but we're working to fix it,’ but I doubt that Ellison will ever admit making a mistake.”

Oracle fans: Make Sun hardware (and support) profitable
But some Oracle partisans said the company must make sense out of what was an irrational Sun support system while doing more to compete with IBM in customer support and service. 

“Sun support strategies were optimized to generate revenue, not profit. Oracle has to move the goal post,” said Paul Vallee, founder of the Pythian Group, a technology consultancy with strong database expertise. “As someone who’s part of the Oracle ecosystem, I acknowledge IBM’s lead there.”

“I’m rooting for Chuck. The fact remains that Oracle needs to take the Sun business it acquired and shift that culture,” Vallee said. “Sun had a great engineering mandate but that mandate needs to be funded with profit. When we don’t care about profit, we’re poor and can’t fund anything! Sun guys that are still at Oracle are sick and tired of not having profit.”

Vallee agreed that during the limbo period when the Sun deal was pending, a “ton of damage was done to customer relationships, but I think we’re on an uptick from that.”

Others in the Sun world disagreed. While they said the message out of Oracle OpenWorld is that the company is now a hardware power, they still await proof that Oracle will be a trusted hardware supplier.

While most users understand the need for vendors to charge for support, they still view Oracle’s price hikes and the way they were accomplished, poisoned the well.

Barbara Darrow is Senior News Director for SearchDataCenter.com. Write to her at bdarrow@techtarget.com.

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