Few Oracle customers are using the latest database software released amid much hoopla last July, according to an analysis of the Pythian Group's remote database support customers.

Oracle has claimed "strong adoption" of Database 11g, but declined to release specific adoption numbers after being presented with statistics compiled by the Pythian Group, which manages 718 production databases for 56 Oracle customers.

Only three of those 718 databases, representing two out of the 56 customers, are running the latest Oracle software, according to Pythian CEO Paul Vallee.

While Oracle promised hundreds of new features in 11g, including space savings and more efficient patching, it turns out that most customers are satisfied by the previous version, 10g, which began shipping in February 2004, Vallee says.

"What's happening in a meaningful sense is the database is feature-complete and maybe it has been for a while," he says.

Oracle's launch event last July featured James Burke, a science historian, author and BBC television host, who predicted 11g will "free up the massive potential of the brainpower in companies." Oracle named four organisations using 11g in a press release last month, but didn't say how many companies are using the software overall.

If adoption is slow, it's bound to pick up soon, according to figures provided by the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG).

"An IOUG membership survey conducted last year revealed that 35 percent said they'd upgrade to 11g within a year, and 53 percent said within the next year," IOUG president Ari Kaplan said in an email Wednesday. "The number of people planning to upgrade within 12 to 18 months was higher than any previous release we surveyed over the years. First adopters will be those that have a pressing business need. Typically what I see is it's usually 18 months before you hit 33 percent adoption."

IDC analyst Carl Olofson says his sources at Oracle told him that 10 percent of users expressed intent to upgrade to 11g this year. If all follow through on their intent to upgrade, that would be an unusually high adoption rate for the first year, he says.

But Olofson noted that sources within Oracle tend to be optimistic.

Vallee, meanwhile, claims his numbers show 11g is being adopted at slower rates than previous Oracle databases.

Oracle licences allow customers to adopt any supported version of the company's database, so low adoption alone won't hurt Oracle financially, Vallee says. But Oracle can lower its own expenses by consolidating customers onto fewer versions, because it costs money to have developers and support staff working on old platforms. "The more their customers have adopted multiple platforms, the more painful it is to support those customers," he says.

11g became available on Linux last August and on Windows last October. The three 11g databases in production and managed by Pythian are all on Linux. While two out of 56 Pythian customers are using 11g in production, another four have tested the database but not yet put it into production.

Citing his experience in statistical modelling, Vallee says he can say with 95 percent confidence that no more than 3.66 percent of Oracle databases are running 11g. With 50 percent confidence, he says it's unlikely that even 1 percent use 11g.

The accuracy of those numbers depends on whether the 718 databases managed by Pythian represent an accurate cross-section of Oracle customers. Vallee believes it is a robust sample. "It's a large enough population to do some statistical studies," he says. "My customers are literally everything from utilities to academic institutions, to dot.coms, to mining companies."

The Pythian Group is based in Ottawa, Ontario, and has offices in the United States, Europe, India and Australia.

Oracle declined to comment about Vallee's findings after being contacted by Techworld's sister publication, Network World, several times since last Friday, instead providing links to a few documents, none of which show how many Oracle customers have adopted 11g.

In the transcript of a February earnings call, Oracle president Charles Phillips says the various editions of Oracle's database, including older versions, have 12,000 customers. Phillips said 11g is "off to a good start" with more than 200,000 downloads, but didn't say how many customers are using it in production. Oracle offers a free evaluation download.

Oracle may not know exactly how many customers use 11g, because licences allow use of any edition, Vallee says. However, Oracle's statistics on support requests should show how many people are asking for help with 11g compared with other versions, he said. After a request by Network World, Oracle declined to make public any numbers on support requests.