Confessions of an ex-Oracle customer: "The costs were phenomenal"

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© iStock

“If we continued and had to keep investing in Oracle we would eventually probably go out of business" - an ex-Oracle customer talks about the trouble with the vendor when your business is scaling fast

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A small financial services company from the USA spoke about its difficulty scaling its business using the Oracle RAC database, saying that reliance on the vendor was quickly pushing it into the red.

Speaking at M18 - the customer conference for the open source database MariaDB - William Wood, director of database architecture at Financial Network said: "We looked into extending our Oracle footprint but the cost meant we wouldn't be able to provide a competitive cost base using Oracle, so we started looking at other solutions."

Financial Network is an American SaaS company providing loan origination and credit decisioning services to more than 20,000 customers, mostly other financial services companies.

It is currently running Oracle RAC databases on a 2 node cluster, one for dev/test and one for production, but the need to scale quickly led to astronomical costs for a company of its size.

"Your Oracle licence is based by processor. That's not very scalable from an economic, fiscal standpoint," Wood said.

"We can't afford to upgrade hardware because we go from a quad-core processor to the latest and greatest that has 96 cores in a single CPU," Wood said. "Can you imagine the cost of that at $47,500 per core? That is a big chunk of money."

He added: "It's astronomical just to get that licence. Then once you're licensed you're hit every year after for support and if you want to expand then you're hit with more licensing, and some very interesting sales strategies."

Simply put, he said: "We are a small company, if we had to keep investing in Oracle we would eventually probably go out of business."

Wood remembered speaking to his account manager about this: "The answer is always 'well, the more stuff you buy from us the better price you get.' We're a small company! We can't buy more stuff and we don't need more stuff from Oracle, what we need is something like MariaDB which is cost effective and scalable."

Open source alternatives

The company quickly turned its attention to open source relational database vendors.

"We looked at Postgres, Informix, Sybase," Wood said. "They are all basically the same cost, they just take a little different path to get there. Then MariaDB came out in 2015 with data encryption at rest, that was the clincher for us."

As a regulated financial services provider, the key issue for Financial Network when choosing a database solution was the need for enhanced security, specifically encrypted data at rest.

"With Oracle we had to purchase the advanced security option, which was another chunk of change," he said. "We need data at rest encrypted and can't get that with standard Oracle database, so you need to get the enterprise version and pay per processor on [advanced security] and RAC and any performance and tuning tools, so it doesn't end."

The other requirements Financial Network had were more industry standard.

"It had to be able to handle volume, high load at 24/7, 365 days a year. It needed to be stable with failover capabilities and hardware agnostic," Wood said.

Migration away from Oracle

The company is currently migrating away from Oracle Enterprise RAC databases to MariaDB. Wood said that it had been fairly painless with just a few "bumps in the road". Since he was speaking at a MariaDB event, it's not too surprising that he didn't want to go into specifics though.

That migration isn't finished yet but is moving fast. Financial Network now has six MariaDB databases in production and 64 databases in test. It has now processed a million billable transactions through MariaDB.

For context, the company was running 5 percent of customers through MariaDB in 2017, and it is now at 42 percent. "We are hoping to be a lot farther by Q4 of this year and want to be 90-100% by the end of the year," Wood added. "I think we can do it."

Without getting into specific figures Wood said that shifting to MariaDB has saved the company "in the neighbourhood of half" it would have been spending with Oracle, without considering the man hours lost to migrate and re-training.

"Moving to MariaDB the scalability is there," he added. "We can run it on any kind of hardware we want and it's not going to cost us any more because we pay for a licence for that server and it doesn't matter what that server is."

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