Why is Oracle Good for the Long Term?

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By rshunter2
March 7, 2002

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[Edited for length]


'Enough about me, let's talk about me." (a famous line from some movie)

But background does help, especially if God knows CBS or somebody decides to quote me again; I'd hope this is so long they'd run screaming away from it. But I have worked in the IT field 24 years, and a good (or bad) 23 or so of them have been building databases and working with enormous amounts of 'code', short for source code, and then the huge databases as well. The first official-official work I did was in documenting and testing a more human interface to a body of nearly a million lines of FORTRAN code that was very important to safety and engineering for the use of nuclear energy in civilian and defense settings. Today, that program is on its 7th generation, and is over 6 million lines of FORTRAN code. We will never fully know what benefit to society the use of this software gave in return for the enormous cost of its creation; I have a rough idea, but it is not my place to say.
Software saves lives, and makes people's lives better, and safer. Software and database systems keep nuclear reactors running safely, keep pharmaceutical companies on track, are indeed key to everything from mass transit to agriculture, from doing legal research that might save a person unfairly accused of a capital crime, to finding causes, cures, and prevention for diseases like Cancer, Alzheimer's, multi-infarct dementia, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, inflammatory disease and so many other physical woes that have plagued mankind since the dawn of recorded history.

I am proud to be able to be a part of all this, in building large systems that can help so many people, and over the years, Oracle's database products and other tools as well as products made by other companies, have given me a privilege granted few people. Things like:

Rebuilding a factory's infrastructure and keeping a few thousand people working.

Helping one of the world's largest and oldest corporations to break up [twice] and to ensure every bit of data went where it was supposed to go, so people got paychecks on time, so budgets were accurate, taxes were paid, and nobody ended up in Dutch with the IRS or anyone else.

Helping to streamline business processes and information systems, so that medical companies could process A/R A/P more accurately and efficiently, ship perishable and vital biologicals on time (and keep track of every dose); to help the blind see again; to help the pipe be wider and faster flowing.

To help the Department of Veterans' Affairs interconnect its hospitals and other facilities more efficiently, in doing so, supporting better those who gave so much in service to our country (That was pro bono work.).

To do these and many other things, without the database and other products and services of Oracle Corporation, Sun Microsystems, NCR, AT&T, the Bell System and subsequent Companies, Pyramid, Apple, Cisco, 3Com, Lucent, Bell Laboratories, Compaq/DEC, Informix, UNISYS, Control Data Corporation, and many others, nearly none of these things, that by God's grace I helped with, would have been possible {at least for me} to do.

Lives touched directly or indirectly: tens of millions.

Wish I could have done or could do more? You bet.

Could I? Damn right.

I owe all these organizations, and others so much in empowering me to touch other people's lives, in their sharing of knowledge, in their products, even a shoulder to cry on. I have all the faith in the world, plus some from Above, that as others have said, IT is America's new "manufacturing business" and the new core of our economy...and our competitive edge for our economy, and in our fight against those who would harm innocent people.

I. Oracle � Good Things & Summary

I started working with Oracle about 15 plus years ago, dumped right into being a Database Administrator, Developer, and everything else. I learned from The Manuals. Just like I learned Informix before it. Or FOCUS and IBM's VM/SP and VM/CMS prior to that. Or, UNIX before THAT. (etc) The notion of a PC was a Star Trek fantasy.

As it stands today, the Oracle relational database environment is one of the most widely respected and trusted in the world. You can beat it with a baseball bat, you can just about do anything you like, but if you want information stored reliably, accurately, and most important, RETRIEVABLY, well if you use anything else, I hope that I am not your insurance company's policyholder, your telephone customer, your airline passenger, a patient receiving drugs made by your company, receiving treatment by medical equipment from you company, and hope that my medical records are stored on paper.

Without a robust database and solid core of essential products surrounding the database, anything on top would be meaningless. ("The weakest link in the chain...").

Oracle's Apps people under prodding and vision of Larry Ellison have gone on to take and retool an enormous suite of applications, and turn them into Internet-enabled, Web-friendly, secure systems. And just yesterday it seems like Client-Server was the thing, and before that we were all using terminals.

Moving their business model and plans forward, realizing that an Oracle Apps implementation could put small companies out of business; the Internet Web model of application delivery and use was developed. (We used to call this 'timesharing'.) But this meant a small customer need not care about buying and managing a server farm, or Oracle databases, or even the application; capital cost = close to zero, depending on how you do your accounting. Entry cost = minimal.

Meanwhile, the DBMS / Core team has been quietly adding features and functionality that could have been dreamed of 5 years, 10 years, 20 years ago, or certainly wished for, but DID NOT EXIST. PL/SQL (an Oracle programming language wrapped around the industry standard SQL language) and Java now can be inside the database!

You can store Gone With The Wind, in full color and sound, in Oracle, and get it out when you feel like watching it. As you might imagine, a few cable companies have been very interested.

Spatial analysis features let you build systems for dispatching police, fire, EMS teams, and save lives by overlaying that with data such as address, name, medical condition, HAZMATs present, rendering up a Lat and Long (Latitude and Longitude) in degrees, minutes, seconds, that also nicely fits in with the Global Positioning Satellite system the US Navy originally built as NAVSTAR. So firefighters, EMS teams, Police know if they are on the beam and so do their dispatchers thanks to GPS receivers and transponders.

Lexical analysis lets documents in most any popular format to be directly stored in the database, and indexed word for word, not just by arbitrary keywords. Started as CON*TEXT, this is now part of the Intermedia family of services.

Any more, go to their website and look it up, this was just stuff off the top of my head that are features useful to me and a few I cried were not available when I desperately could have used them.

II. What could be done better

a). Getting Help From Oracle and Contacting Oracle in General

I believe there should be a single internationally available toll free number to contact Oracle, regardless of what you want or think you want. AT&T did this, years ago and could transfer you directly anywhere in the world, at one time. Now at least they can GIVE you the number.

And before you start, 20 years ago, Control Data had the same deal (the network was built by AT&T/Bell/WE/BTL of course) and could do the same thing and did; so all of a sudden your call to Bloomington, MN was sent to Rockville MD, Sunnyvale, CA, to Belgium, or to some military base where CDC had a presence. Like in about 30 seconds.

CDC called it CDCNet, Western Electric called it CORNET, AT&T just called it 'the phones'; the military used to call it Autovon.

I was appalled last night when I saw all those phone numbers on Oracle's web site. There should be a main number staffed by trained people who can route / transfer the call to the appropriate party at least on its rough edges. Now, once someone KNOWS what department and person and issue they have and know who to call direct, then that's peachy keen and fine and as it should be.

No MORE VOICE menus! Or make them less hellacious, tediously long, and don't change them as often!

Demographics suggest that the world is going to rise up in revolt one day about these. Oracle Support has driven me nuts with that for many years; at least they had generally a good choice of music for the music-on-hold, generally Bach. There is a particular movement of one of the Brandenburg Concertos I still hate hearing, though, because of that.
The call vectoring and prompts could easily be cut in half or less despite product growth; I hope it's gotten better but somehow, I bet it just the same

b) Mr. E and other public figures with the Company

AT&T taught us a long time ago that disparaging the competition was among the worst, least productive ways to gain new business. Personal attacks on people like Bill Gates are not the way to go.

Be more professional (yes, it's YOUR COMPANY and you can do whatever you want with it...)....

But, in studies Bell Labs psychologists, outside firms, etc conducted that cost millions of dollars to do over years, the customer was left with a classier impression of the company if competition were referred to only in oblique terms, such as: "Of course there are other database companies as you must know; many of them have good products, some of them are excellent, though some seem to have performance or reliability issues that concern us.

"In that light, we believe that only our company possesses the depth and breadth of talent to support your needs and to assist you on your way to a more profitable and efficiently run business, with a higher rate of customer overall satisfaction."

And NOT, "SQLSERVER sucks and Bill Gates performs black magic and does live sacrifices every night."

So quotes to the trade press, product releases, or even God help me, OOW and such, should be done in a tasteful, non-disparaging manner.

c) Employee compensation and turnover

A nice gym at Redwood Shores is not enough, or however many restaurants you have at HQ.

Oracle Corporation has one of the highest turnover rates in the industry. Generally, it seems, people join the company, take advantage of all the free training they can get their hands on, and then skedaddle in 2-3 years. I heard this ALL over SF and the valley, plus from Oracle friends speaking in confidence.

Turnover is bad. Expertise and experience is good. FIX the problem! Better salary for technical people, retention bonuses, I don't know. Surely you can hire some experts in this and correct the problem.
I am tired of getting someone fresh out of college on the Oracle Support line and teach them about TARs.

d) How To Alienate Your Vendor Partners

It's so obvious that Oracle and Sun had some falling out it practically screams.

Also, pointed advertising directed at competitors in the OA market space are not productive, if PS, SAP can run under some other DBMS, which they can and do, they will�and are.

Embrace the Intel / Linux platform, fine. IBM has done an amazing about face in re Linux itself. But kicking Sun Microsystems in the shins isn't a good thing.

There is plenty of room in the world for Sun/Solaris, and the INTEL/Linux platforms to happily coexist and be synergistic.

e) Pricing

Oracle Education pricing needs to come down; the more accessible it is, the more DBA's / Programmers etc are going to come back to work as firm Oracle supporters, crucial in product selection / recommendation / approval cycles.

Oracle itself needs to reduce license costs for the core and app products to remain competitive; everybody I talk to these days bitches about "Oracle is SO expensive! That's why we went with NT or Linux and MySQL instead." BARF. And these are MAJOR corporations.

Support costs have to be restructured and a better idea conveyed to the customers of what they get for which level. I had to write my own business case and analysis for upgrading CFO from Silver to Gold support, using risk-analysis, MTTR, financial loss and criminal subsequential problems; Oracle should be doing a lot more of its own homework in this area. Average DBAs, IT directors, etc aren't skilled at composing or preparing presentations and white papers that have to go up to the CFO of a large corporation or to the Board.

A few PowerPoint � slides or some generic white papers or case histories, maybe?

III. Overall Outlook

If Oracle has more focus on its core products, cleans up its interface mechanisms with customers, rebuilds bridges with some vendors it seems aren't happy with them, cuts its overhead and thus its pricing, and gives us external mere mortals more tools and more effective, impressive ones to help get Oracle Parallel Server, or premium support, or any of the other costly-but-in-the-end-you-won't-be-sorry services and products approved by higher management ($2-3 mil/yr, that was on my bloody own), the dip they are in will disappear in a heartbeat.

Also dump your auditors, all of them; select a new set of companies unconnected with the current scandals (if any of them are left that are not); have the Corporate ledgers and sets of books re-audited for the past 3 years through current day, and come clean with whatever they find. Do not allow any auditing firms to do business consulting or in any way be part of your everyday business, or to provide other services, unless they are precluded from any accounting work at the investigative level or at the annual report level.

Well that's about all I have to say for now. Consider the source; I have no stock in ORCL, I work with it a lot is all, and I care about the people that work there.


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