Despite notable gains in stability through point releases over the last 20 months, bugs in Oracle Corp.s 11i suite of Web-based
e-business applications are eroding users confidence in the product.
Compounding the problem, some IT organizations are finding that Oracles solution for fixing those bugsthe "Family Pack," which patches dozens of known bugs at onceoften introduces new problems while solving old ones.
Brenda Boyle, senior project manager at Empirix Inc., is generally satisfied with Oracles hosting of her 11i system, but she agrees that the Family Packs break more than they fix.
"We could have a patch, and we think weve completely tested it," said Boyle, in Waltham, Mass. "Then we put it into production, and it wipes out all the parts numbers and replaces them with X. I hate
to say this, but you kind of never know. You implement the patch, you think youve tested it and it breaks something somewhere else."
The need to get the 11i house in order is taking on more urgency as Oracle is due to discontinue support for its last major release, Oracle 10.7, in June 2003.
The process of upgrading to 11i can be particularly painful, users say. Thats because it requires replacing a client/server architecture and character terminal interface with a browser client. Customers and analysts attribute some of the bug issues to the fact that 11i represented such a major architectural change.
Jim DeMin, application development manager at Infonet Services Corp., said his company spent $1 million and seven months trying to upgrade from 10.7 to 11i but abandoned the project because the conversion was just too difficult.
"We were planning to do the upgrade and ran into so many problems, we shelved it," said DeMin, in El Segundo, Calif. "By the time we got around to it the next quarter, the business had other priorities. This is not all that uncommon that we failed to go to 11i."
"The upgrade process is pretty awful. Its tough," said Andy Kennedy, vice president of North America Order to Collections at Xerox Corp., in Webster, N.Y. "The Family Packs can take a lot of hours just to load, and there are a lot of them, so this whole process leads to a significant cycle."
Xerox has installed several point upgrades, "re-baselining" instead of patching earlier versions, Kennedy said.
"That costs us a couple of months," said Kennedy, who is implementing about 20 of the 24 11i modules. "The process is more cumbersome and harder than we expected. And its more essential now. "
More than 1,100 of the estimated 10,000 Oracle applications customers are running some aspect of 11i, with about another 4,000 implementations under way.
Oracle officials in Redwood Shores, Calif., said the company has made progress in improving the quality of 11i and that complaints about excessive bugginess are dated.
But one research company, AMR Research Inc., said Oracles 11i problems are real and current. The Boston company will release a report late this month that indicates the companys problems with 11i are damaging sales and eroding user loyalty.
"The 11i quality problems [as late as the 11.5.5 release in November] are causing companies to delay purchases, product rollouts and upgrades and, in some cases, consider alternatives for new installations," said analyst Bill Swanton.
Swanton recommends that Oracle11i users who install the Family Packs test their entire suite rigorously before taking it live.
That strategy worked for Jake Dominguez, director of information management for Compaq Computer Corp.s supply chain system.
"The latest patch we received we were able to go through regression testing, and we found some issues, were able to bring those issues up, work with the Oracle team and move on with the implementation," said Dominguez, in Houston.
For nearly a year, Oracle Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison has pitched the tight integration of the 11i suite as a prime advantage. But such integration could also be responsible for some of the problems with the Family Packs.
"If were heavily into a module, we just have to keep applying the patches," said Xeroxs Kennedy. "Because its an integrated suite, the patches tend to branch out beyond its [intended] reach. It will have impact in other areas and will have prerequisites in other areas that you have to check.
"The good news is its a well-integrated product," Kennedy added. "The bad news is its a well-integrated product."