Devil is in the details of Oracle-to-PostgreSQL migration

EnterpriseDB execs have moved customers off Oracle, but contracts and app packages can tangle switch to PostgreSQL

EnterpriseDB, the company that sells enterprise-level support and utilities for PostgreSQL, has just released a new edition of its flagship product, Postgres Plus Advanced Server. But with all the talk about ditching Oracle and embracing open solutions like PostgreSQL, how many people are actually able to do it? And if they do, what kind of pain must they endure to leave the fold of Big Red?

These questions surfaced in an interview with EnterpriseDB execs last week, and the answers were surprising -- and a little disheartening.

Tom Kincaid, vice president of products and engineering, and Keith Alsheimer, chief marketing officer for EnterpriseDB, said the reasons Oracle customers get stuck with Oracle revolve around two details: contracts and application packages.

Remember, Oracle sells customers entire applications, not just databases -- and those apps in general have to be used with Oracle's databases. "Oracle applications generally aren't certified on many other alternative databases," said Alsheimer, so the customers are stuck using Oracle Database for each corresponding Oracle app as well.

The other problem is that such deals often come with contractual lock-in. "Some of the practices that Oracle has of locking customers in contractually is a real challenge," Alsheimer continued. "Even if they want to move over [to another database system], they still have this number of licenses they bought, and they have to pay support for them [even if those licenses remain unused]. It's very hard to get out of that."

When moving a company away from Oracle, EntepriseDB starts with the "low-hanging fruit" -- anything that isn't absolutely essential for day-to-day operations. EnterpriseDB offers consultancy services for migrating away from Oracle and use a script-based analysis of the existing Oracle setup to determine how tough it'll be to migrate an app in question to Postgres.

But rather than dump Oracle entirely, in most cases EnterpriseDB's strategy is cost-containment -- figuring out how to take any new workloads that need to be added and moving them to a Postgres setup.

"A small to midsize firm might rip and replace," Alsheimer said. "But the bigger the customers, the more likely it'll be to optimize the mix of DB in the data center, the mix of technology, and limiting the Oracle apps to only the things that require it."

Another boon of migrating partially to another database system is that it gives the customer some bargaining leverage with Oracle. Given Oracle's traditionally high and stern pricing, any leverage can be handy.

(Incidentally, Oracle also has a complicated "core factor" pricing scheme that is muddied even further on virtualized iron, while EnterpriseDB uses a more straightforward per-socket price.)

So who leaves Oracle behind? "The industries that tend to be most on the edge of moving to Postgres are the ones where they're either highly transactional, cost-sensitive, or both," Alsheimer said. "Either the benefits of shifting over are greater for them, or the margins are thinner."

State Farm, for instance, performed a major refactor recently, moving mission-critical apps over to Postgres. "For most companies it's not realistic to completely leave Oracle," Alsheimer said. "It's more about not being as dependent on them, and being able to minimize those costs in a way that's most effective."

This story, "Devil is in the details of Oracle-to-PostgreSQL migration," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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