Oracle’s three ways to stop its customers leaving

maze lost trapped

Palisade Compliance once made an interesting observation: “If it were easy to stop using Oracle, then more companies would do it.”[1]

The Oracle experts raise a good point. While Oracle does provide good technology, it has a reputation. Specifically, for regularly increasing its support prices while reducing its support, and perpetually moving customers towards upgrading to the latest product version, regardless of whether that software is the right choice for them.

The vendor has a reputation, and a chequered one at that. With that being said, the vendor must therefore provide some supremely high-quality software, in order to make up for these practices. It has to be doing something that keeps customers loyal.

Or, to approach it from another direction, Oracle has to be doing something to keep its customers from leaving.

Three strategies Oracle uses to keep its customers

At Support Revolution, we’ve had a lot of time to acquaint ourselves with the vendor’s various methods. We started out as an Oracle (and SAP) partner before moving into third-party support, and over the past 20 years in the industry, these are some of the tactics we’ve identified.

1 – Clever contracts

Automatic renewals

Once, Oracle contracts were easier to leave, until the vendor got wise. In 2018, Oracle added an automatic renewal clause to its support agreements. Customers must opt out at least 30 days before the end of their contract. Otherwise, support is automatically renewed for another year.

Oracle did notify customers of this change at the time, though the vendor’s efforts in announcing it were fairly reserved. What the vendor relies on is its customers’ other priorities. When the support renewal date rolls around, understandably, your organisation has any number of things to focus on.

If you happen to miss the deadline, that’s one more year of support fees for the vendor – this is always charged at a higher price than the year before.

ULAs and MDS

Automatic renewal clauses apply to all Oracle customers, but unfortunately, that isn’t the extent of Oracle’s clever contracts. Automatic renewals are a blanket approach, and the vendor has developed additional, highly sophisticated means of trapping customers.

Unlimited Licence Agreements (ULAs)

This is a contractual agreement between an organisation and Oracle. The organisation pays a single up-front fee for the licences it wants on an unlimited basis, for a selected set of Oracle products, over a fixed period (typically, three years).

Organisations typically take out a ULA during rapid growth; buying what is effectively a basket of licences for the impending work. It is a way, in the customer’s mind at least, of remaining flexible.

But the truth of the matter is much more serious. ULAs are restrictive and lock you into contracts with huge leaps between price rises, creating a gigantic cost with no added value at all, especially if you’re not a rapidly growing organisation. ULAs can also be difficult (though not impossible) to leave. Once again, Oracle relies on its customers believing it is easier to simply renew, and keep on paying, rather than qualify out.

Market Driven Support

Oracle MDS is a bespoke support option, separate from Oracle’s usual tiers of Premier, Extended, and Sustaining Support. It is, in broad terms, a way for organisations to remain supported, even past the Premier Support cut-off dates.

However, on MDS the vendor will only provide support for priority one fixes and security updates if the vendor deems them “commercially viable” and “appropriate.” Essentially, Oracle decides if/when it will support you on MDS. Nothing about MDS is guaranteed. It is entirely Oracle’s decision.

Organisations may choose MDS to remain supported past a Premier Support cut-off date, thereby giving them more time to plan and execute their roadmap. Oracle may agree to provide MDS for a year, but then take it away again. The customer is then left completely unsupported, and Oracle (conveniently) advises that Market Driven Support was only meant to help while the customer moves to Oracle’s Cloud.

Oracle hasn’t been upfront with the costs of MDS – a concern in itself – but the true price of Market Driven Support is handing control of your roadmap to the vendor.

2 – Confusion and coercion

Amidst the contractual chaos, you might decide it’s time to start making your way out of the Oracle maze. The vendor isn’t going to make that easy for you.

If you’ve ever had to contact the vendor to negotiate a contract, or chase an open incident report, you’re probably well acquainted with the vendor’s practices. Oracle’s representatives can make life more difficult for you, especially if you’re looking to make other arrangements.

Representatives may make false promises on what they can provide or when you can expect a response. They’ll delay procedures where possible, hand your request around to different people/departments, and effectively let any set dates run out. Delaying you at just the right moment could see you miss the renewal date, and then wind up stuck with another year of support costs.

Rather than delay you, Oracle might try to stop you from cancelling altogether. It is possible for a sales rep to advise you cannot terminate support on one contract if you want to continue being supported for any Oracle software at all.

They will say this is all part and parcel of Oracle’s matching service levels policy.

Say for instance you have licences for both Oracle Database Enterprise Edition and a related product such as Partitioning, both products must have the same level of support from Oracle.

Oracle can then use its matching service levels policy to force customers into expensive support contracts, even though the matching service levels policy only applies to licences in the same product family. It does not mean customers must maintain the same level of support across all Oracle products – but it is in Oracle’s best interests to keep that bit quiet.

3 – Scare tactics

Oracle’s clever contracts and sales reps make it harder to leave. The vendor has other tactics to make you question ever leaving in the first place.

The vendor likes to perpetuate the rumour that ‘only vendor-provided support’ can support an organisation’s critical systems. Only vendors will therefore, in the eyes of their regulators, keep them ‘compliant.’ It’s a clever move from Oracle because it means customers are left thinking there’s no other option.

However, organisations just need to have their critical systems supported to remain compliant; it doesn’t have to be the vendor providing that support. Third-party providers, like Support Revolution, can provide the necessary service, arguably better than Oracle can. Our security solution, for instance, can protect an organisation in 48 hours and provide tailored patches. Some of the largest organisations in the world, requiring the highest levels of compliance, use our service.

‘Only the vendor can provide support’ is a simply not true. This line is meant to keep customers uncertain, and unaware of the fact that they can find new support options elsewhere.

All the while, Oracle also has its support deadlines: cut-off dates that mark when a software product version moves from the vendor’s top support tier to the middle or the lowest. In simple terms, the product eventually receives next to no support, and Oracle’s logic dictates that customers upgrade to the latest version to ‘stay supported.’

Again, it’s a way of keeping customers on the vendor’s support model, with the added benefit (for Oracle, anyway) of making upgrades. It is once more letting Oracle control an organisation’s roadmap.

But like overcoming the compliance issue, other support options are available.

4 – The madness in the methods

Someone trying their absolute hardest to convince you to stay can seem like a compliment – but not always. When does a customer retention policy move beyond standard practice, and more towards desperation?

The fact that Oracle has such a range of retention methods tells a story in itself. Vendors should work on developing strong reasons that make customers want to stay, not ways that make it harder to leave.

Still, the mega-vendor isn’t outright stopping you from leaving its labyrinth, but it isn’t going to help you by showing you the exit, either. That’s not to say there’s no way out of the labyrinth.

Keep your software supported without the vendor

In our personal lives, if we’re not receiving the service we expect, we go elsewhere. And most of us expect a fairly straightforward system to change or leave our providers. As a customer with Oracle, you might expect to log onto a portal and untick services that you no longer need. Other providers like AWS already have such features in place.

Oracle is not so flexible. And so, much like AWS, other providers have risen to meet the demands of the market. In the case of third-party support, a whole industry has developed to fill the gaps Oracle has been leaving behind.

Our service replaces the vendor as the support provider. Your organisation can maintain the Oracle technology you’ve developed and customised over the years. We can also help you move away from the practices outlined above. After all, Oracle can’t stop you from leaving if you’re already out.

How to leave Oracle

It can be difficult to move away from Oracle, but it is certainly not impossible. Every maze has a way out, though sometimes you might need a bit of help in finding it. We can provide that guidance, and it starts right here.


[1] https://palisadecompliance.com/is-oracle-still-relevant/