Oracle Woos Lapsed Customers with Free Y2K Upgrade

Got an old or unsupported version of an Oracle Corp. database or tool that may not survive Y2K? Oracle wants to upgrade it -- for free.

Specifically, Oracle’s Upgrade2000 program will replace Oracle 7.3.3 or earlier unsupported versions of Oracle’s database server and software with Y2K-compliant software, including the company’s flagship Oracle8i database. The offer is good through the end of April.

"We’re targeting customers that share two basic attributes: they're running obsolete versions of Oracle and they don’t have a support agreement," says Greg Kuhn, Oracle’s regional vice president for the Y2K Task Force. "We estimate that this target population is about 3,000 to 4,000 customers worldwide, about 3 percent of the installed base."

Kuhn describes those customers as small- to mid-sized companies and small government agencies or municipalities. These customers so happen to be prime candidates for Microsoft Corp.’s SQL Server 7.0, which is widely expected to sweep the low-end to middle market.

Kuhn dismisses any suggestion that Oracle is trying to stave off migration to SQL Server. In the past, when Oracle wanted to target Microsoft, it did so openly through criticisms of SQL Server or appeals to Microsoft customers to switch to Oracle.

"We’re really not worried about SQL Server. We want to get this customer base on the best Oracle can deliver," Kuhn says. "We don’t want to encourage complacency among our installed base about running desupported Oracle products. Most of these obsolete products run on top of non-Y2K compliant operating systems."

Analyst Carl Olofson with International Data Corp. (IDC,, says the move defends Oracle against two possibilities as Y2K approaches. One is customers fleeing to other databases for quick Y2K compliance. "Certainly SQL Server would be on the table as well as other databases," Olofson says. "One aim of this is certainly customer retention, by making sure that [customers] use that software to recommit technically even if they haven’t recommitted contractually."

Olofson’s other scenario is the embarrassing flipside to Kuhn’s comment about avoiding customer complacency: Customers whose non-compliant systems crash come Y2K may run to the media to complain about Oracle. Officials with Oracle declined to discuss whether concerns over Oracle’s legal liability with Y2K played any role in the decision to offer Upgrade2000.

Oracle set up a toll-free number for Upgrade2000 so customers could call to receive a free CD with the latest version of the software on it. When customers call, Oracle representatives will pitch new support agreements, migration services and Y2K risk assessment services, Kuhn says. "The key point around this part of the offer is these are not strings attached. They can say, ‘We don’t want support or migration,’" and still receive the software upgrade.

IDC’s Olofson calls Upgrade2000 the "right program at the right time" and says he can find no financial catch in Oracle’s offer.