Oracle's support policies are nothing if not controversial. Generally, they state that data center customers must first prove that whatever problem they have in their multivendor software stack originates with an Oracle Corp. product before the support organization will address it. That irks IT pros, the vast majority of which rely on technologies from many vendors to run their operations.
But is Oracle really that different from IBM, Microsoft or other software providers? Not really, according to several IT pros. The issue is that Oracle states its policy openly in its support policies while other vendors do not, so at least some IT pros give Oracle credit for being blunt.
Bill Kleyman, virtualization architect for MTM Technologies Inc. and a former CIO, said mixed-platform support issues are becoming an even bigger deal for IT pros in the era of virtualized infrastructure.
For example, a shop running Exchange Server 2010 on Windows Server 2008 R2 virtualized atop VMware or XenServer can very quickly run into support roadblocks when something goes wrong.
“If there is an issue, you call Microsoft and one of their first questions is ‘is it virtual or is it physical?’ ”
In such cases, it is not unusual for IT engineers to be less than truthful with vendor support staff and tell them the servers in question are physical units. “If they tell the truth, it can very quickly become a round-robin support issue, where the client is passed off from one vendor to another,” Kleyman said.
This is hardly optimal for data center pros, but it is understandable. The dirty little secret is that no vendor wants to support a competitor’s stuff and would really prefer the customer to go all-in with that vendor’s own stuff, said one long-time solution provider specializing in Java-based middleware.
“Oracle’s in business to keep Larry Ellison a billionaire, they’re out to make money and no one is better at it,” he noted.
But customers that play their cards right can wring better support out of Oracle or other tech vendors.
If a shop runs some IBM and some Oracle middleware and/or databases, it can usually press Oracle support into service by hinting at an IBM-to-Oracle migration down the line, he said. The response from Oracle or IBM is typically, “we’ll support this mixed thing as long as we’re moving you in the right direction,” he said. “Smart IT people play along with this.”
Vendor support: The good, the bad and the ugly
When it comes to heterogeneous support, whether a vendor is a sinner or saint depends on who you ask.
What makes things murkier for customers is that Oracle will blatantly disregard its own stated policy if the customer is big or important enough, or if a big software sale is on the line. There is a lack of consistency in execution that can be pleasant or galling, depending on the customer’s situation.
Several IT pros gave Microsoft good marks for at least trying to resolve issues in heterogeneous shops before calling in the cavalry from other vendors. IBM’s huge services arm can be very good in supporting other companies’ technology, provided the customer is paying for that service. Things get rockier for IBM software or hardware customers that are not IBM services clients, however.
In short, mileage varies depending on the company’s relationship with the vendor and how much technology it sources from it.
One large financial institution in New York however, finds Microsoft support woefully deficient compared to the money his company pays. IBM, on the other hand, does a good job supporting the soup-to-nuts stack, probably because his company is one of IBM’s marquee accounts. He also slams Oracle premium support, which he said usually leaves his IT people cold and fixing the problems themselves.
Mike Blake, CIO of Hyatt Hotels, said vendors are just being vendors in this support game.
“All of these companies talk about building on open standards so you can run their stuff on anything … but they also all say that their stuff runs best with their other stuff—and that they optimize their technology running on their technology. They want to have it both ways,” he said.
Cisco Systems Inc., Oracle, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. would like nothing better than to expand their own footprint in corporate data centers, displacing the other vendors. That’s why Cisco jumped into servers, and HP doubled down on its storage and networking hardware portfolios and why Oracle is telling big data centers that all they need is Exadata (and/or Exalogic) for all their compute/networking/storage hardware and software needs.
But IT pros that put more eggs into fewer baskets put themselves at risk.
“When Oracle bought Sun, everyone was apprehensive that this would happen, that Oracle would optimize Oracle software to run better on Sun hardware than on anything else. Exadata is the beginning of this,” Blake said. The promised upside is tight integration between hardware and software, and more efficient operations.
His message to IT pros? “Don’t give up your leverage. It’s a big mistake, and you won’t reap the benefits of true integration because it doesn’t exist yet. Exadata is heading that way, but it’s not there yet.”
Of course, third-party system integrators or other support providers would argue that the vendors' unwillingness or inability to support competitive technologies is the very reason IT shops should use a third party with expertise beyond one vendor.
Rand Morimoto, president of Convergent Computing, a Microsoft partner that does a lot of data center work, said Microsoft does its best to help when a Microsoft customer has issues with VMware Inc., NetApp or Apple Inc. technology. Then, if it is unable to resolve the problem, it pulls in the other vendor for reinforcement.
But, "as much as Microsoft tries [its] hardest to solve an Apple or VMware issue, and Apple jumps in and helps to resolve the Apple 'side' of the Microsoft issue, we can walk in with experience across multiple vendors and actually get further along as our consultants deeply understand the various products better as they work together than the vendors themselves," Morimoto said.