IBM Pushes The Migration Of Oracle To DB2

IBM's recently concluded Information on Demand 2010 event in Las Vegas covered a tremendous amount of ground on numerous topics. One of the most intriguing was the dedicated push that IBM is making to have Oracle database customers migrate to its own DB2 solutions. Given that migration from one database to another has been described by many analysts as "heart surgery," how can IBM possibly expect customers to willingly embrace so difficult and potentially risky a procedure? In the immortal words

David Hill

November 15, 2010

7 Min Read
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IBM's recently concluded Information on Demand 2010 event in Las Vegas covered a tremendous amount of ground on numerous topics. One of the most intriguing was the dedicated push that IBM is making to have Oracle database customers migrate to its own DB2 solutions. Given that migration from one database to another has been described by many analysts as "heart surgery," how can IBM possibly expect customers to willingly embrace so difficult and potentially risky a procedure? In the immortal words of the late radio commenter Paul Harvey, that is "the rest of the story."

Interestingly enough, though DB2 offers organizations some clear technical merits, IBM has been wise to resist trying to sell DB2 vs. Oracle on a head-to-head technical basis. Why so? Because Oracle database administrators (DBAs) tend to be very loyal to Oracle and the chances of making a successful bottom-up DB2 sale with these technical decision makers is likely to be "slim and none, and Slim's left town."

Consequently, IBM has taken a different approach, focusing on top-down sales to executive or managerial decision-makers by making a business case, not a technical speeds and feeds case. This is a tried-and-true approach for many enterprise IT solutions but has rarely been tried against Oracle due to the company's reputation outside the mainframe market as the "corporate standard" database. To be successful, IBM must not only make a very strong case for particular DB2 business use cases, but also show that transition to IBM will be relatively painless and that IBM can coexist with Oracle without strain.

IBM does not lead off these discussions with a push for migration but rather a free pre-sales services engagement that uses an assessment methodology to help IT organizations understand the cost structure of their online transaction processing (OLTP) and data warehousing environments and solutions. This business assessment yields a financial analysis, including the ability to accurately compare total cost of ownership of Oracle and comparable IBM solutions. The company feels that it can often show a guaranteed 30 to 40 percent return by switching to selected IBM products, of which one -- surprise, surprise -- is DB2. Because in applications that demand very large databases, administration costs are a large component of overall TCO so this claim is entirely credible.

Moving on to the transition part of the IBM sales pitch, we note that the company can also provide a technical analysis to show how the migration to selected IBM products is not just technically feasible within the IT organization's application environment but is also entirely practicable. One of the major difficulties encountered in virtually any database migration is coping with the large mass of existing stored procedures that must be supported with minimal or no code change if the migration is to be painless. IBM DB2 9.7 has made major strides in this area, making its claim of relatively painless and swift migration much more credible.The final part of the IBM business pitch is in how the company will care for the customer after the migration is over, in effect insuring that the new database will coexist in the user's enterprise architecture without strain. This is an area in which IBM has an unmatched reputation. In general, the old, old saw that "no one got fired for buying IBM" was true to a great extent due to how the company took care of its customers in times of trouble.

In the case of databases, IBM's high service/support reputation means that customers can not only count on the company to handle a changed, probably heterogeneous environment, but also expect that IBM will provide proven, well-tested ways of extending and evolving a solution with features such as master data management and composite-application development support.

In other words, IBM's business case involves not only TCO advantages but also ongoing new-application development improvements that will continue to improve ROI. And finally, IBM has increased its methodologies around (and reputation for) being open to other vendors' products, making customers very possibly less prone to vendor lock-in.

The first notable point about IBM's DB2 migration strategy is the way it relies on executive management to override DBAs and CTOs overly-attached to Oracle. While these individuals have a long history of thwarting migration plans by citing the dangers to run-the-business Oracle-dependent apps, in fact is that these dangers reduced markedly over time. Despite Oracle's success in using hard-charging sales tactics that reward customer loyalty, today's enterprise datacenters, even outside the mainframe realm, are only rarely pure Oracle environments.

Databases of all stripes are now scattered across lines of business and departments encroaching on the data center. Today's DBAs and CTOs therefore typically understand that dealing with multiple vendors is a fact of life in their organizations and that migration of an app to a new database is seldom, if ever, a threat. With such lessening resistance, it is no surprise that IBM can claim good success in its strategy and can name companies that have successfully made the migration.A second point is that, despite IBM's habit of selling mainly to its existing customers, with the Oracle-to-DB2 initiative, IBM also attacks what it calls "white space" prospects. These are companies that do not currently use any IBM hardware or software; a point that, inevitably, makes the sales process more challenging.

One obvious and immediate target is Sun Microsystems customers dissatisfied with Oracle's embrace, especially larger pre-dot-com companies that feel as if they can no longer count on Sun's new parent to deliver cost-effective hardware and storage scaling to match the needs of their growing data stores.

To give these potential clients an additional level of comfort, IBM has very strong sales business partners and has put in place attractive incentive plans to encourage them to push the IBM migration strategy. The recent dramatic cooling in the relationship between Oracle and HP has provided IBM another large target; HP customers concerned about whether or how the dispute will affect their IT investments. For these companies, hedging their bets by migrating to IBM DB2 may be a reasonable option.

Well, should Larry Ellison (and Mark Hurd) turn their attention more to IBM and less to its erstwhile partner HP? That depends upon how significant the IBM DB2 attack is against the Oracle flagship database, which is still the most vital engine of its overall revenues. To decide, they must first determine whether the IBM attack is an ankle-biter, a leg chewer, or a go-for-the-throat threat.

An ankle-biter threat only nips at the heels of Oracle. Although it would lose some accounts, as a whole, its database hegemony would not be seriously threatened. A leg chewer would take away enough accounts to make a pained Oracle sit up and take notice (as their profits would be significantly impacted). The likely response to this type of threat would probably be the old industry favorite of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) as well as the promise that the next release would solve all the problems that IBM trumpets.A successful go-for-the-throat threat normally requires the affected company to rethink its business model. Oracle is unlikely to consider this seriously, but it could try to tinker with some of its sales and business practices in order to stem the tide.

So which of the three is IBM's DB2 migration strategy? Frankly, it is very unlikely to be a go-for-the-throat threat. Even with the company's innovative sales approach and the significant improvements to DB2, it is highly improbable that the next few years will witness a massive array of existing large-enterprise Oracle implementations switching over to IBM. Overall IT conservatism, as well as the "stickiness" of Oracle's existing customer relationships, also makes this scenario highly unlikely.

On the other hand, IBM's strategy is at least an ankle-biter today and, if executed properly, has the potential to become a serious leg-chewer over the next year or two. The fact is that information architectures as a whole are becoming more and more important to customer success -- in some cases, even more important than enterprise applications. Therefore, even minor shifts in database usage or administration methodologies could mean major advantages in upcoming cloud and BI implementations.

And that's the real message of IBM's well-thought-out push to encourage Oracle migration. Now, enterprise database customers can be assured that if worse comes to worst, there is indeed a credible and innovative alternative to Oracle for applications ranging from existing very-large-scale business-critical solutions to effectively moving into cloud computing. That, for savvy IT buyers, may be the biggest takeaway from "the rest of the story."

IBM is a client of David Hill and the Mesabi Group. Please note that this blog is a collaboration with my good friend Wayne Kernochan of Infostructure Associates. Wayne kindly agreed that I could use the piece on my blog. Wayne can be reached at Infostructure Associates.

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