Is the Oracle Database upgrade option worth it?

Oracle Database upgrades: a maze of decisions

With Oracle Database now being released on a yearly basis leaving barely enough time for dust to settle on the last one, it often leaves us wondering: what are the new features and major changes between the versions? What else has Oracle managed to come up with during the 12 months that have passed?

And, most crucially of all, does the latest innovation justify the effort of organisations undergoing the upgrade process all over again?

Is an Oracle Database upgrade necessary?

When considering individual database versions, and the benefits that each version has brought, the question arises: is an upgrade worth the investment? Does the end justify the means, as it were?

Managing your Oracle Database can be like leasing a new car. You sign a contract entitling you to a new car for three years. When that period is over, you have the option of upgrading to a shiny new one.

Here, you might be tempted to go along with ‘numberplate envy’ and yearn for the latest model. You may be swayed by new features like heated rear seats or a button that closes the boot for you. The new features might sound appealing, but are they worth the process of leasing a new car and its price increase? Plus, the car you started with will still work at the end of the three years . Much like your Oracle Database will, when the next version gets released.

Do you really need to upgrade to the new one?

Comparing Oracle Database versions

Why does Oracle Database jump from 12 to 18, then 19 to 21?

Naming product versions in the software industry is a creative process at the best of times. But it’s worth asking, what exactly happened to Oracle Database versions 13 through 17?

This was a stylistic decision on Oracle’s part. The vendor changed from numbering databases 11gr1, 11gr2 and 12c, to make the newer versions more year specific. For example, version 18 came out in 2018, 19 in 2019, and so on.

Oracle’s inspiration was presumably driven by the need to market the latest database as up to date as possible (remember what we said about ‘numberplate envy’…).

Then again, Oracle skipped over version 20. Either the vendor missed its own deadline due to the events of 2020, or Oracle couldn’t come up with anything good enough to justify a new version so soon. Instead, Oracle bundled everything together into the next one.

Oracle Database 21c

One year on, then: was that extra time worth the wait?

Between 19c and 21c, Oracle has taken time to work on its new offering. More importantly, it has taken the time to inspect what’s going on around it. That’s the initial impression; Oracle is now getting worried over the number of competitors in the database market. Oracle has had the majority of the market to itself for many years. But the times, they are a-changing.

“Oracle’s all-in-one Cloud database stands in stark contrast to competitors such as AWS, which offers 16 different standalone databases, and Snowflake, a data warehouse specialist with one single-purpose database. Google, Microsoft, MongoDB, and many other vendors also sell purpose-built databases that are optimised for specific use cases.”

Source: Cloud Wars

This quote from Cloud Wars is sponsored by Oracle, and therefore liable to a dose of bias. The vendor’s overall position seems to follow the principle that other database providers are jack of all trades, master of none. Why should organisations invest in other, varying databases, says Oracle, when the vendor has just one database?

The answer is simple, and this is a basic concept that Oracle is liable to miss: consumer demand.

The database market is growing

Competitors are releasing these new, different databases because the market has a need for them.

Take one database, built specifically for data warehouse use. There are lots of queries over a large dataset. It will need to be designed differently to a standard database built for an ERP system, as an example, which stores lots of data but does not have to be hyper fast. It requires more flexible storage rather than speed.

Here, managing your Oracle Database can be like leasing a new car again. But now, Oracle offers one that will (supposedly) work for everyday use and all-terrain driving and speed racing. 

All of this is just marketing. It’s a way for Oracle to keep up with the competitors and muddy the waters surrounding its opponents. Oracle doesn’t believe that using different databases from different providers is the way forward.

What you’re currently not hearing are gasps of surprise.

Oracle wants organisations to think that a simpler life is better. In this particular scenario, it isn’t. It just means you’ll stick with Oracle as your primary database provider.

Oracle Database 19c and autonomous databases

The main development for v19c was the introduction of autonomous databases; it can update itself in the background without needing human intervention. By Oracle’s logic, it would be possible to make an Oracle Database update without downtime, and without having someone monitor it or spend time doing the upgrades.

While this seems like a step in the right direction, the autonomous database shares a similar problem to a self-driving car. Yes, the majority of the main functions are taken care of, but it still needs someone sitting behind the wheel in case something goes wrong.

Autonomous databases still require organisations to pay for a DBA to sit and watch Oracle Database 19c update itself to ensure there are no issues, rather defeating the point of upgrading for the ‘autonomous’ feature.

Can you justify a yearly upgrade?

Now that a new database is being released every year – or that is Oracle’s intention, at least – organisations will have to face this decision much more regularly. But before going ahead with anything, consider how much can be done in just a year.

Imagine leasing a new car on a yearly basis. Even after you’ve dealt with all the paperwork, tax, insurance and so on, in no time at all you’re doing it all again.

In fact, it’s unlikely that you’d finish migrating over to the new database version within a year. By the time you’ve settled back into business as usual, you’d probably be overdue to start planning for the next one.

Would you really want to undergo a database upgrade every year?

So why do organisations upgrade?

Upgrades can be a costly, resource-intensive, and highly involved process. Even so, many Oracle customers follow the process of upgrading as new databases are released.

Here are some of the reasons behind this decision:

1. Performance and security

For some organisations, following Oracle’s upgrade cycle comes down to a matter of choice. They want to stick to the latest technology and security, using the (apparent) best that Oracle has to offer, and remain relevant in the eyes of their market and their competitors.

This can be important to CIOs and CSOs, even though the lack of new features may not entirely warrant the upgrade cost, and the ‘traditional’ security solution requires traditional patching. Oracle fixes security flaws at the source by applying patches directly to the Oracle system; patches that are released on a quarterly basis. This requires a lot of time (something in short supply when it comes to security threats) through Oracle creating the patch, making the quarterly release, and then customers testing and applying it.

Meanwhile, security threats can be fixed by using a more forward-thinking version of patching, such as virtual patching.

2. Upgrade applications

Often, an organisation will need to upgrade an application such as Oracle E-Business Suite. This may mean the organisation needs to also upgrade the database on which it sits. Upgrading applications can therefore contain a double cost to upgrade.

Newer versions of Oracle E-Business Suite become incompatible with older versions of databases. Therefore, upgrading one can necessitate an upgrade of the other.

This is a smart and rather convenient marketing ploy on the part of the vendor.

3. Remain compliant

Organisations may also need to upgrade their databases if they need to remain compliant with legislative changes and procedures. This is especially relevant to the previous point; an organisation may need to upgrade its E-Business Suite in order to receive necessary legislative patching and facilitate a change in payroll.

However, upgrading E-Business Suite may also require an upgrade to an organisation’s database. By extended Oracle logic, the only way to reinstate compliance is to start by upgrading the database, to then be able to upgrade E-Business Suite.

4. Maintain Premier Support

All Oracle products have a shelf-life[1]. This is a period of time in which Oracle provides mainstream support for a particular product. When the time period elapses, organisations stop receiving Premier Support for that product. They are no longer entitled to support services, such as the latest security patching. The vendor’s logic is that organisations then need to upgrade to continue receiving the support they need.

Premier Support for 18c is due to end in June 2021, so any organisation using that version but still in need of mainstream support will need to upgrade before that date (by Oracle’s logic, anyway).

There is, however, an alternative option.

Support Revolution has the solution

Any organisation facing any of these problems (indeed, any organisation that just can’t bear the thought of another upgrade, which will only lead to yet another one), has the option of switching to a third-party support provider such as Support Revolution instead of upgrading.

Third-party support can provide a better service compared to Oracle’s Premier Support, and importantly, you don’t have to upgrade anything in order to receive the support you need. Third-party support effectively enables you to ‘pause’ your estate and its existing versions.

“Impressive as it is, Oracle releasing new database versions each year puts tremendous pressure on organisations to make regular upgrades for the support they need. Organisations shouldn’t feel forced towards something they don’t want, just to receive what they need. That’s why we do what we do.”

Mark Smith, CEO of Support Revolution

With our third-party support in place, you don’t have to endure the cost or time necessary to complete the upgrade but continue to maintain your fully functioning setup, including its customisations, for as long as you wish.

We provide all patches needed to keep your applications compliant and secure, including security patches – therefore removing the need for a database upgrade. Our virtual patching security solution also protects your entire Oracle estate.

Investing in your future

By switching to Support Revolution, you can defer an Oracle upgrade indefinitely. However, the nature of our services means you have the option of upgrading at a later time.

Plus, as a Support Revolution customer, you’ll save at least 50% compared to your support bills from Oracle. If/when you do decide to upgrade, you can do so with the fantastic savings you’ve made with us.

It’s your roadmap and we’re here to help support it.

Switch to third-party support for your Oracle Database

If your organisation thinks that it must upgrade in order to solve the above problems, just know that there is an alternative solution. We can help you:

  • Remain supported long past end-of-support deadlines
  • Stay protected and secure
  • Update applications and keep them compliant

We can do all this and more, while helping your organisation make fantastic savings on its Oracle support bills. You can reinvest in your organisation’s future, rather than your vendor’s, and need never experience pressure to upgrade again.

Get started right away, and contact our team by visiting our Contact page.


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[1] https://www.oracle.com/us/assets/lifetime-support-technology-069183.pdf