Oracle recently unveiled its new database 11G, the first major refresh of its database management system in over three years. Larry Ellison’s company took the opportunity to boast about how it has been made smaller and greener, but rival database vendor EnterpriseDB was less complimentary and has accused Oracle of ignoring customer concerns regarding data migration.

According to Steve Bale, head of EMEA at EnterpriseDB, “Oracle is not listening to their user base, but is listening to those large customers making the most noise.”

Yet Bale readily admits that Oracle is not bad at recognising customer requirements, as it “focuses on the areas where its user group focuses them on.” However he feels this means Oracle sometimes misses out on important demands from the market.

“The database market as a whole seems to be vexed about the difficulties of data migration,” Bale says. “Its an expensive thing to have to do. Oracle, I would claim, is not listening to the market in this case. I assume they are responding to their user group.”

He points to a study from research firm Vanson Bourne, which recently reported that more than three-quarters (79 percent) of UK businesses find data migration projects inconvenient and disruptive to the business, as they impact core production IT systems.

EnterpriseDB meanwhile has developed an Oracle compatible database, says Bale, to ensure that people can migrate their data seamlessly. Certainly, last year Sony Online Entertainment, which operates an online gaming network, opted to replace its Oracle databases with EnterpriseDB, initially for back-office applications such as billing systems, but moving into front-end customer facing applications as well as basing new games development on open source platforms. The rival database company more recently signed up FTD, a US-based large floral business that owns interflora.

“The reason why people talk to us in the first place is that they can see they can save suitable amounts of money,” says Bale. “That said, once we are in the door, we have to prove we have the support services and features to support and run their business. The plan is to then tempt them to move the entire infrastructure to EnterpriseDB.”

The company sells an Oracle-compatible, PostgreSQL-based database for businesses. In the past, it has been argued that that open source databases simply could not match the capabilities and functionality of the DBMS offerings from the top three commercial players (Oracle, IBM and Microsoft). Indeed, many argue that it could take as long as a decade before open source databases can meet the business intelligence and data warehousing demands of most large enterprises.

But Bale argues that PostgreSQL is a very mature technology and his company has bolted on much of the necessary functionality to satisfy enterprise demands. Indeed, he points out that databases from Sybase, Informix, Microsoft SQL Server are all derived from Ingres. “It is the most mature enterprise friendly technology, but we have added the compatibly and functionality to operate in an enterprise environment,” says Bale.

“We are a young company, and have been incredibly successful,” Bale boasts. “We have 19 new customers in Europe since January and we are currently speaking to large organisation looking at migrating substantial amounts of data from Oracle platforms.”

Too much functionality
Bale also argues that new databases, such as 11G, can sometimes have too much functionality. “Oracle is driven by very large, blue chip customers, but 80 to 90 percent of people don’t use all the functionality that an Oracle database provides,” Bale told Techworld.

“For the vast majority of people, new releases (such as Oracle 11G) mean significant upgrading expenses, otherwise their support options could disappear.”

Licensing costs
Indeed, Oracle has always been the focus of user complaints about the cost of their licensing, as well as the complexity of their licensing policies.

“They complain to me as well (about Oracle),” says Bale. “and I am more than pleased to show them an alternative.”

"Our whole approach is to give database customers, not bleeding edge functionality such as Oracle, but to deliver most of the functionality that they would normally use, at a much lower price,” he added.

"The market is demanding change, and people don’t want to pay the price (of Oracle),” says Dan Sloshberg, EnterpriseDB’s EMEA marketing manager. “On average, the figures we use (from the Sony experience) is that we can save people 80 percent by moving to EnterpriseDB."

Open source
Meanwhile, Oracle has dabbled in the open source database market after it acquired Sleepycat and InnoDB. It even tried, but failed, to acquire MySQL. Bale thinks that Oracle was just trying to protect their market with these deals.

"Oracle is a commercial company and have been successful by understanding the market and responding to it,” he says. “If part of that strategy is to invest in new companies, it will do that."

“Oracle is a marvellous marketing company, backed up by technology that works,” says Bale. “However in reality they talk about open, but keep people locked into the Oracle environment to secure their business.”

Going green
Bale was complimentary about some of the new functionality in Oracle 11G. "I think the provision of quality compression techniques is good,” he admitted, before pointing out that EnterpriseDB is also doing that. “But Oracle is the only one making a virtue out it, and to call it green is a little tenuous."

"However, it is a sensible thing to do in the technology space,” Bale adds. “To cope with ever increasing amounts of data, it is sensible to provide better compression techniques."

“Oracle are the masters of marketing,” proclaims Bale. “Clearly, our whole opportunity comes as the market is saying to us it is fed up with the high price and lock-in that Oracle represents.”

“Our customers welcome a chance to move (from Oracle),” Bale adds. “The reason we are able to do that, is that PostgreSQL is truly an enterprise class database and the things we do to it, make it even more relevant to the enterprise.”

Is EnterpriseDB right?
So EnterpriseDB has taken the opportunity to attack Oracle’s lack of focus on data migration. Does this make them right? According to David Cartwright of Korana, a consultancy that has a lot of experience in the database field, not necessarily.

“Data migration in any environment is always mega hard when you have more than data in the migration project,” said Cartwright, who also doubles as Techworld’s technical editor. Cartwright is also not convinced that Oracle does not listen to customers, but concedes that it won’t necessarily listen to a “200-man strong travel company based in Bradford”.

“The issue (with data migration) comes when you have business logic attached to it,” he added. “That said, Oracle is not any worse at data migration than any of the other major database players.”

But Cartwright does agree that the vast majority of users do not use the full functionality of the Oracle DBMS system. "Oracle is an absolutely enormous DBMS, and 80% of Oracle customers will be satisfied with 20% of Oracle’s functionality,” he said. "I would encourage people who don’t need the hugeness of it to consider scaling down."

Cartwright also agrees that Oracle’s licensing overheads are much worse than EnterpriseDB, and is scathing about the complexity of Oracle’s licensing policies.

“Oracle’s licensing complexity is an absolute abomination,” said Cartwright. "On some of the projects I have worked on, if we had the option of EnterpriseDB at the time, we may well have used it."

Oracle could not provide a spokesperson at the time of writing this article.