Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

I promised myself that I'd stop poking fun at Oracle, but I can't keep that promise after reading the details of Oracle's recently announced $1 million guarantee. Oracle made the following offer:

"If you have an existing commercial production Web site based on IBM DB2 or Microsoft SQL Server database technology, and you replace your IBM or Microsoft technology with the Oracle9i Application Server and the Oracle8I Database, we guarantee that your Web site will run three times faster than it currently does. By this, we mean that your Web site will be able to support at least three times as many page views per second as your old IBM- or Microsoft-based Web site. If your Web site does not run at least three times faster than before the change to Oracle technology, we will pay you $1 million."

Wow! That's a pretty serious offer. At first glance, it seems that Oracle truly believes its products are three times faster than anything IBM or Microsoft has to offer. But the guarantee's fine print tells me that the offer is simply an attempt to divert attention from Oracle's inability to keep pace with Microsoft's and IBM's competitive Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC) TPC-C benchmark scores. (Oracle recently dropped from number 1 to number 10 in the TPC-C benchmark race.)

You can read the full set of exclusions and limitations on Oracle's Web site, but here's a brief explanation of how the offer works. First, you have to shell out a lot of money to purchase the software products and hardware components Oracle recommends. Then, if your Web site isn't three times faster, Oracle has 90 days to rebuild your site and tune the database. Even if Oracle succeeds, not only have you bought the Oracle software, you're also on the hook for 90 days of professional service fees from Oracle

Consulting Services (OCS). (OCS hourly rates are even higher than mine!) Oracle also imposes NO restrictions on how it will rearchitect your application, even if you find that Oracle's changes make it more difficult to provide core business services to your customers. If you look carefully at the guarantee's terms and conditions, you might start to believe, as I do, that the guarantee is nothing more than a clever shell game.

Now for the punch line: If Oracle can't make your site three times faster, the company will pay you $1 million. Sounds great, right? But you still have to pay full price for the Oracle-recommended software and hardware, which will likely cost well more than $1 million. In other words, you don't win a prize; you simply receive a $1 million discount off the list price of millions of dollars for new hardware and software.

What does faster mean, anyway? Here's Oracle's description: "By 'faster,' we mean the throughput of your system, measured in total Web pages viewed per second across all concurrent users. Your Web site will run three times faster if: (a) it supports three times as many users as your existing site with no increase in average response time per Web page viewed; (b) it delivers Web pages three times faster to the same number of users; or (c) the number of users times the average number of Web pages viewed per user per second is three times the same value measured on your existing Web site."

This measure has nothing to do with database performance because the final metric is based on the number of Web pages served. In addition, consider this scenario. You might have a Microsoft/Wintel solution that costs $100,000 for the back-end software and hardware. Because Oracle poses no software and hardware limitations, the company could recommend a $10 million hardware and software platform to replace your current $100,000 solution. Anyone can achieve a 300 percent throughput gain given an unlimited ability to add hardware capacity.

This offer is by invitation only. Oracle reserves the right to decide whether your Web site qualifies: "After you register, we will contact you to determine your Web site's eligibility. If your Web site is eligible . . ."

And, needless to say, all dealings with Oracle are confidential, at Oracle's discretion. Therefore, you probably won't hear about failures. "By registering for this offer or participating, you: (a) agree that your dealings with us in connection with this offer, including the results of any testing conducted to measure Web site performance, are confidential and you may not disclose details or information regarding these dealings to any third party without our prior written permission."

I apologize in advance if I incorrectly characterized the Oracle offer. For the record, I had an email exchange with the Oracle public relations folks and asked some detailed questions for clarification. Oddly enough, they never replied after I identified myself as the SQL Server Magazine news editor.

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