Ongoing technical support must be provided for Oracle's EBS (E-Business Suite) and ERP (enterprise resource planning) customers if they are expected to survive continuous product upgrades, which are released on a regular basis to maintain the performance, security and functionality of an application, platform or server. Provided below is a summary of Oracle's support policy on updates, patches and new releases.
Upgrades and Updates
The release of software updates by Oracle ensures that databases and other products remain fit for purpose. Without the occasional patch or upgrade, systems can fall prey to hackers; an old database is a vulnerability that can be mercilessly exploited by those who want to steal or corrupt data. Outdated technology tends to suffer from a performance deficit, which can hinder productivity. Updates are intended to optimise the security and functionality of applications such as SAP, Siebel and Peoplesoft. New releases are also designed to patch bugs that cause problems on platforms and servers.
Oracle publishes a major product release once every few years. The last major release was Oracle Database 11g Release 2, with version 184.108.40.206 being the most recent patchset as at the time of writing (220.127.116.11 was released in September 2011). As noted above, major product releases are published every three or four years on average, so firms using Oracle have some time between releases to become accustomed to the new software. This is important to ensure that developers and in-house IT staff, not to mention end users, have the opportunity to understand and adapt to critical changes. If a major release were published once every few months, companies relying on Oracle software would likely struggle as a result.
Some updates must be made between major releases, however. Security and performance-related concerns have to be addressed in as short a period of time as possible; commercial clients cannot afford to wait three years for their platforms to become secure or stable. Oracle tries to mitigate the inconvenience of regular product updates by releasing critical patches every few months. The next three critical patches for Oracle Java SE, for example, are scheduled for 16th October 2012, 19th February 2013 and 18th June 2013. This gives developers and administrators time to prepare systems for the anticipated changes.
Many vulnerabilities, however, are deemed too important to postpone until the next critical patch update. Oracle publishes security alerts whenever a critical patch is ready for installation.
Firms specialising in ERP rely on uninterrupted service, as the nature of the sector is such that large international companies must be able to operate on a 24/7 basis. Oracle provides award-winning technology that can be used in the ERP sector, but regular updates, patches and new releases threaten the capacity of firms to operate without disruption. Oracle mitigates this issue by providing ongoing technical support for old product releases, affording developers the time and opportunity to rebuild platforms in a test environment before upgrading live systems. Unfortunately, Oracle's support of old technology is limited.
More often than not, Oracle's Server Technologies division provides support for older products for a period of up to twelve months after the latest patchset is published. This means that database administrators and platform developers have one year to analyse the latest patchset in a test environment, back up existing databases and prepare for live integration. Of course, systems ought to be upgraded as early as possible in the majority of cases.
Some developments or integration tasks are more complex. Certain patches for 18.104.22.168, for example, could not be backported (i.e., applied to the older database) to 22.214.171.124 after 126.96.36.199 became available on the first platform. These issues will occur from time to time, particularly as fixing some bugs requires wholesale changes to be made to the architecture of the platform or application. Oracle will provide support for backwards compatibility wherever possible, but some patches simply cannot be backported (it is advisable for firms to contact Oracle support to check whether backporting is a possibility).
Illustrating the relationship between technical support and major releases provided by Oracle, the 188.8.131.52 database upgrade was published in September 2010, meaning that customers had until September 2011 to upgrade from 184.108.40.206 before extended support expired. Developers also had to upgrade their platforms to 220.127.116.11 before any subsequent patchset could be installed, which is particularly important because it meant that companies using Oracle's ERP and SAP software were unable to patch platforms using the 18.104.22.168 codeline from September 2011.
To maintain database security, optimise platform performance and improve overall productivity, ERP and SAP users are advised to upgrade to the latest major release as early as possible, not least because dedicated support from Oracle is limited.
Upgrading also provides customers with enhanced functionality. In April 2012, Oracle published its 22.214.171.124 release for the Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) System. The release included various new modules, including Project Financial Planning, Account Reconciliation Manager and Oracle Hyperion Planning. The latter module was of particular use to clients using Oracle's ERP software, as it provided them with access to improved finance and investment applications, not to mention seamless integration with ERP software (Oracle Fusion Financials, Oracle E-Business Suite, etc.) and data sources.