Customer Survey: Oracle Has Agenda Vs. HP

In the survey, Gabriel Consulting Group got responses from 450 enterprise customers who said they believe Oracle's decision last month to stop developing new versions of its software for the Itanium platform was motivated by a plan by Oracle to kill HP's Unix servers and operating system and give its own server line the advantage over competitors, said Dan Olds, fonder of the Beaverton, Ore.-based analyst firm.

Oracle last month said it plans to discontinue all software development on the Intel Itanium microprocessor, citing what it called indications from Intel management that it is focusing on the x86 processor line and that Itanium was nearing the end of its life.

HP is by far Intel's largest Itanium customer, taking nearly all Intel's Itanium output to build HP Integrity Unix servers, NonStop servers, and OpenVMS servers. Oracle applications are the most common software run on HP's HP-UX Unix platform, and so a move by Oracle to stop development for the Itanium would be a serious blow for this part of HP's business.

That move came after an intense rivalry heated up between Oracle and HP following Oracle's acquisition last year of Sun Microsystems, which gave Oracle a fully-developed server business that competes with HP, IBM, Dell, and other top server vendors.

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Olds said that, after accounting for responses which were not from enterprise customers and which were from obvious HP or Oracle employees, the survey had a total of 450 respondents, of which 47 percent were from companies with 10,000 or more employees. About 90 percent of the respondents came from companies who use Oracle software or hardware or both, he said.

In the survey, 64 percent of respondents said they expect Oracle to take advantage of the situation to raise the license and support costs for its customers on the Itanium platform, Olds said.

Also, 77 percent of respondents said the move is part of a plan to kill HP's HP-UX and NonStop product lines, Olds said. And 79 percent agreed with the idea that this is the first step in an Oracle plan to put all its competitors at a disadvantage vs. Oracle hardware products, he said.

"So customers definitely see an agenda here on Oracle's part that this isn't business as usual, but instead is a step in a strategy," he said. "And this is not necessarily the first step. I've seen some customers say that changes in Oracle's pricing per processor is aimed at putting their servers at an advantage, or others' servers at a disadvantage."

Only 29 percent of respondents agreed with Oracle's claim that Intel plans to end-of-life its Itanium processors. About 50 percent of respondents said they believe Intel is standing behind its Itanium roadmap.

Olds said that he was not surprised by these results. When HP and Intel later said that Intel planned to keep developing Itanium, Oracle responded by saying the two were not being straight with customers, Olds said. Intel, he said, has made it clear it will continue the Itanium platform into the foreseeable future, particularly after presentations from Kirk Skaugen, corporate vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group within the Intel Architecture Group.

Next: Customers Not As Convinced About Other Oracle Motives

"Oracle made the announcements two days after an HP industry analyst event where Skaugen told us about the next two versions of Itanium, plus information about a third upcoming version," he said. "Intel has been more upfront about the Itanium than ever before."

Customers were mixed about whether they thought reducing the number of platforms support by Oracle software was a primary motive for ending development for the Itanium platform, with 39 percent agreeing and 39 percent disagreeing with that as a reason, Olds said.

Customers also did not believe the Oracle move was a personal or public grudge by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison or Oracle President Mark Hurd, who until last year was HP's president and CEO, Olds said. Nor did customers attribute the move to Oracle wanting HP to "pay to port," he said.

By "pay to port," Olds said he was referring to Oracle's practice in the past to ask server vendors to guarantee Oracle a certain value from developing software for their servers, which he said typically happens before Oracle drops support for such servers. "In this case, I'm not hearing anything about pay to port, and customers said they aren't hearing about it," he said.

Oracle declined to respond to questions about the survey.

However, Oracle has in the past said that it is not ending support of the Itanium platform, but instead is ending development of future products for the Itanium, just as Microsoft and Red Hat did in 2010.

Oracle also said earlier that it will offer customers maintenance and support of Oracle software on Itanium servers for five years from the general availability date of the software release, and an additional three years of extended support for a fee.

The company said it will also provide Oracle Sustaining Support customers with technical support for as long as they operate their Itanium-based systems.

Olds said that, while Oracle and HP are both customers of his firm, as are other vendors such as IBM, Dell, Microsoft, and VMware, no vendors sponsored the survey.