Choose Technology Suppliers Carefully

Many years ago, Amazon chose to use Oracle database products to run the business. At the time it was a perfectly rational decision and, back then, many customers made the same choice and some took a different path. I’ve worked on both DB2 and SQL Server over the years so I know well the arguments on why Oracle isn’t the best choice to run a business and many customers elected to use DB2 or SQL Server. One of the strongest reasons not to use Oracle is they are very expensive, famous for customer unfriendly price increases once you are “locked in”, and license audits once the customer has little negotiating power. The Oracle database has many faults but the primary faults are non-technical: Oracle business practices are based upon developing weakness in the customer negotiating position and then pouncing on those weaknesses at license negotiation time.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years of watching Oracle/customer relationships is customers will put up with a lot. Each customer has to run their own businesses and successfully serve their respective customers. They are all busy and, although they will quickly tell you how annoyed they are with Oracle, some still use the Oracle database. It takes work to move to another solution and everyone is busy.

However, the second thing I’ve learned from watching Oracle/customer relationships over the years is there really are limits to what customers will put up with and when hit, action is taken.  Eventually, a customer will focus on the “Oracle Problem” and do the work to leave the unhealthy relationship. When they do, the sense of relief in the room is absolutely palpable. I’m super happy to have been part of many of these migrations in my near-decade on each of IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server. It’s fun when helping to make your product work for a customer not only helps your company but also helps the customer save money, get a better product, and no longer have to manage an unhealthy supplier relationship.

A super interesting example of this unhealthy customer relationship problem is Larry Ellison frequently referencing Amazon and saying they run their entire business on Oracle. He even goes on to say Amazon tried to move databases and failed.  These frequent claims from the Oracle leader are interesting for two reasons: 1) the statement is incorrect and 2) Amazon doesn’t allow Oracle to use the Amazon brand in marketing and yet Larry just does it anyway. Who wants a supplier that uses your brand in their marketing campaigns without either permission or even accuracy. It’s not the biggest problem with Oracle as a technology supplier but it’s a material annoyance and it’s kind of amazing first that they do it and second that the claims aren’t even correct.

One of the most important databases at is the data warehouse system. The reports from this giant cluster drive pricing, purchasing decisions, and helps guide web site design choices. Amazon is a data driven company and this system is the supplier of much of the data that drives daily decisions at Amazon.

There was a time when this system was running on Oracle. Like a lot of customers, Amazon was paying too much and not treated terrible well by Oracle. But at Amazon, as at most companies, serving customers is always a higher priority than spending the effort to move to another database even though better solutions were available. However there are limits to what any customer will endure and Oracle is always probing that mark. Eventually the combination of better products like Amazon Redshift being available and Oracle being so incredibly customer-unfriendly swung the attention of Amazon to the database technology choice behind the data warehouse. Quite a while back the decision was made that this vital, mission critical system simply had to come off Oracle.

Oracle pricing was annoying, better database solutions are available in the cloud but, perhaps even more important, being held hostage by Oracle believing that moving to another database is difficult to schedule, hard to finance, and unlikely to be executed upon just isn’t the right place to be.  Unhealthy supplier relationships rarely yield good business results and almost never get better on their own.

Amazon now runs their entire data warehouse system on AWS Redshift in the AWS cloud. It’s less expensive, AWS doesn’t talk about their customers without permission, and, in the cloud, moving to different database solutions is far easier — no more end of quarter license audits for those that have had the privileged to enjoy that experience with Oracle.  I’m told it’s excruciating.

It’s a new database world and customers are moving to better database products as they make the move to the cloud. For some, better database solutions is one of the drivers of their move to the cloud. Being able to use specialized databases for different workloads rather than having to use the one-size-doesn’t-really-fit-all-approach is a big benefit of the cloud. In the cloud, you can easily choose to run many different database products, each optimized to the workload.

Oracle no longer plays any part of the retail data warehouse. There are lots of smiles in that room. Of course Larry is still talking, but that’s been trailing indicator for decades :-).

From Andy Jassy of AWS:

In latest episode of “uh huh, keep talkin’ Larry,” Amazon’s Consumer business turned off its Oracle data warehouse Nov 1 and moved to Redshift. By end of 2018, they’ll have 88% of their Oracle DBs (and 97% of critical system DBs) moved to Aurora and DynamoDB. #DBFreedom

This relief from both distraction and cost has been wonderful, and more and more customers are making this decision. There really are limits to what customers will put up with and excellent database alternatives are now broadly available. Cloud computing makes moving between databases far easier and more and more customers are saying “enough” and are electing to make the investment in database freedom. But I suspect we’ll keep hearing protests from Oracle’s Leadership.


8 comments on “Choose Technology Suppliers Carefully
  1. Pete says:

    First, I believe Ellison and Bezos have a talking relationship, such that either can dial up each other, and I believe that actually happens. Why I mention that is that if Amazon did indeed have a contractual relationship with Oracle to not be used as a publicly referenced account, Amazon’s lawyers would have a slam dunk case. So maybe the casual relationship between the two billionaires keeps things playful, I don’t know. I like PostgreSQL a lot and am glad to hear PostgreSQL-based RedShift is going to win out here.

  2. Lewis Cowles says:

    I too have helped people come off of Oracle, but I’m not sure I agree with all the points. Esp about not saying “we work with {X}”. The way I’ve always seen it is that people need to specify and pay for you to not be able to use their name. Unless of course they want to go elsewhere, which doesn’t stop you saying I/we’ve worked with/for {X}

    • If I buy from a supplier and they use my name in marketing without my permission, I’m annoyed and regret my purchasing decision. If a supplier uses my name in marketing and it’s used in a way that makes my company looks bad, it’s much worse. I then would regret the purchasing decision and immediately start looking for alternatives. If I specify in the contract with them that they can’t use my name in their marketing and they still use it, it kind of takes “bad partner” to entirely different level.

      John Deere, KVH satellite systems, Northern Lights and many others have used my name in marketing and I’m 100% fine with that because I think they have unusually good products and I’m fine with them referencing my purchase and usage pattern. But, they did actually ask before doing it :-).

  3. Chasm says:

    Sounds like a new slide for the Re:Invent deck. Always easier to talk about historical data than current issues. Amazon can certainly decide to talk about itself. What gets the point across without giving much away? License cost for Oracle over the years vs AWS cost now and projected leaving the $ scale off sounds about right. Certainly enough to grab the attention. Some indicator for the amount of data growth over the years would be good to head of the otherwise inevitable questions about apples and oranges.
    Is sales already fighting for such a slide? Seems like something they’d really like to show future customers. :)

    • Your right these migration stories are popular. Both the sales team and customers love them. Many of these are often featured at re:Invent and you can find quite a few good ones here:

      I agree it would be very compelling to take a large customer and show savings between their Oracle licensing prior to the move and their AWS bill after the migration. The numbers can get pretty big in a hurry.

  4. Fazal Majid says:

    Congratulations on your Independence Day. I reached my FYO moment 12 years ago, switched to PostgreSQL and never looked back. Having been through the audit shakedown process, yes, it’s every bit as excruciating as you say. It’s not surprising their license business is stagnating or even declining and they have to jack up maintenance fees, thus accelerating the decline.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.