back to article UK.gov issues internal 'ditch Oracle NOW' edict to end pricey addiction

Whitehall bean counters have ordered government departments to find fresh ways to end their reliance on Oracle. The Cabinet Office is understood to have formally contacted central agencies within the last month and asked them to look for ways to “get rid of Oracle". No. 10 is believed to be concerned about the amount civil …

  1. WalterWonkite

    No Boats for larry!

    So they've been taken to the cleaners, or should I say the taxpayer has funded Larry's boat obsession for long enough. For fuck sake!

    1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

      Re: No Boats for larry!

      And fighter aircraft not that I would not do the same type of thing if I had the boodle

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: No Boats for larry!

        Oh well, Google just rented the Valley of Temples in Sicily for their own party - maybe they didn't try to buy it because if wasn't on sale (anyway, it was rented for a mere 100,000 euro, pocket money, for them).

        Guess megalomania is becoming a typical job-related illness for many CEOs...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No Boats for larry!

      I wouldn't be so sure. I can't help wondering how much he'll sue for in compensation for the knock to the share price resulting from this uncommon incident of common sense.

      1. deive

        Re: No Boats for larry!

        He would (sue for compensation) if TTIP goes though... corps suing government over their decisions is one of the items on that agenda!

    3. Bob Vistakin
      Thumb Up

      Re: No Boats for larry!

      Thumbs up from me!

      Oracles business practices fucking stink, matched only by the incompetence of HMG procurement. Why they are finally waking up to this is anyones guess, but the faster they are shown the door the better.

  2. Philip Storry

    I laughed

    Oracle brought this upon themselves with opaque and over-priced licensing, and I wish the government good luck in moving to something cheaper. Perhaps gold-thread-adorned monks carving on platinum slabs with diamond-tipped drills?

    (Or maybe just PostgreSQL.)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oracle is only part of the problem

    If your department is buying 2 million licenses and has10,000 staff.

    Granted, Oracle is expensive but this is massively exacerbated by poor license management.

    1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

      Re: Oracle is only part of the problem

      Ahh someone who has not come into 'conflict' with the Oracle licensing proposition. It is not as simple as 'one licence per user' - it can be anywhere from that up to 'one licence per user per customised app per application per oracle install per process cores per colour of CTOs underwear' and other variations on the theme.

      It is tempting to suggest that the licences were agreed by legal beetles (actually not beagles have more sense) without projecting costs with increased system complexity, growth in the user group, and expansion of database applications.

      It makes TP & NG's cry for sanity look simple....

      “Along with the standard computer warranty agreement which said that if the machine 1) didn't work, 2) didn't do what the expensive advertisements said, 3) electrocuted the immediate neighborhood, 4) and in fact failed entirely to be inside the expensive box when you opened it, this was expressly, absolutely, implicitly and in no event the fault or responsibility of the manufacturer, that the purchaser should consider himself lucky to be allowed to give his money to the manufacturer, and that any attempt to treat what had just been paid for as the purchaser's own property would result in the attentions of serious men with menacing briefcases and very thin watches. Crowley had been extremely impressed with the warranties offered by the computer industry, and had in fact sent a bundle Below to the department that drew up the Immortal Soul agreements, with a yellow memo form attached just saying: 'Learn, guys...”

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oracle is only part of the problem

        This reminds me of a bit out of Good Omens:

        Along with the standard computer warranty agreement which said that if the machine

        1) didn't work,

        2) didn't do what the expensive advertisements said,

        3) electrocuted the immediate neighborhood,

        4) and in fact failed entirely to be inside the expensive box when you opened it, this was expressly, absolutely, implicitly and in no event the fault or responsibility of the manufacturer, that the purchaser should consider himself lucky to be allowed to give his money to the manufacturer, and that any attempt to treat what had just been paid for as the purchaser's own property would result in the attentions of serious men with menacing briefcases and very thin watches.

        Crowley had been extremely impressed with the warranties offered by the computer industry, and had in fact sent a bundle Below to the department that drew up the Immortal Soul agreements, with a yellow memo form attached just saying: "Learn, guys..."

        Oracle probably employs the same people (for licensing and/or selling your soul. My understanding is that they're roughly equivalent)

      2. Steve Gill

        Re: Oracle is only part of the problem

        The number of licenses Oracle require for their systems is ridiculous and, probably intentionally, very confusing. They probably get less customers because of the difficulty but those they get usually end up paying vastly more than they should so Oracle's happy.

        1. TheVogon
          Headmaster

          Re: Oracle is only part of the problem

          "They probably get less customers "

          You mean fewer: e.g. Are you one of the less intelligent posters or one of the few intelligent posters?

          1. dajames Silver badge

            Re: Oracle is only part of the problem

            "They probably get less customers "

            You mean fewer

            The individual customers probably also become less, on account of not being able to afford to eat.

      3. storner

        Re: Oracle is only part of the problem

        Here in Denmark, an Oracle-based database was used for a traffic information system while expanding one of the main highways around Copenhagen.

        Oracle initially tried to license it "per user", meaning every car that could potentially pass by one of the electronic information signs. With roughly 1 million cars in the greather Copenhagen area, this would have contributed nicely to some Oracle serfs' bonus account.

        1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

          Re: Oracle is only part of the problem

          They tried the same stunt on the database behind (at the time) one of the biggest e-commerce sites in the country until we told them to go forth and multiply. They wanted to count each unique visitor as a licensed user with thousands visiting per month.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oracle is only part of the problem

      Perhaps Oracle said that every benefits claimant who claims online counts as a "user" and needs a seat licence?

  4. Hans 1 Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Move away from each and every proprietary piece of junk you're running, switch to FS.

    Get PostgreSQL on GNU/Linux, switch all desktops to Linux ...pay a flatrate for support, I am sure they would end up paying 1/1000 of the price for licensing, compared to what they pay now.

    They would have to train everybody for Windows 8/10 anyway, might as well train them to use Linux.

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      remotes

      Instead of actually running Linux desktops, an even better plan would be to switch users to remote Linux desktops. Easier to manage, and you avoid the hardware compatibility hell of installing Linux on diverse desktops and laptops, whose manufacturers care less than nothing about Linux compatibility. The clients could in fact be cheap "landfill" Windows laptops, because the only application of interest is the remote client (VNC or similar) that requires very little memory or CPU power. If the machine breaks, it is simply recycled and the employee goes to get a new one at the office depot. Support costs would plummet.

      1. Bob H

        Re: remotes

        To be fair Libre/Open Office isn't as good as MS Office, I've been trying for years to reconcile the issue but it doesn't come out in the wash. I did recently spend two years using mostly Google Docs, it justifies the lack of features because the document collaboration is so immensely good but the formatting and working options aren't nearly as good.

        But in contra to my own argument my mother has been using Linux as a desktop for the past few years and is barely concerned that it isn't Windows.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: remotes

          Who cares how well internal government documents are formatted? Let them use plain text.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: remotes

            Who cares how well internal government documents are formatted? Let them use plain text.

            ...but then how will the legions of civil servants while away their days, without those halcyon hours spent mindlessly stabbing at [B] and [I] buttons and fighting with autoindentation, you psychopath?

            1. Captain DaFt

              Re: remotes

              "...but then how will the legions of civil servants while away their days, without those halcyon hours spent mindlessly stabbing at [B] and [I] buttons and fighting with autoindentation, you psychopath?"

              Put'em to useful work! Are there no streets that need cleaning? No chimneys that need to be swept?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: remotes

          Libre/Open Office isn't as good as MS Office - true.

          But for 99% of users it is perfectly adequate.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: remotes

            "Libre/Open Office isn't as good as MS Office - true."

            This is why all Microsoft staff have E series Mercs for company cars; the alternatives aren't quite as good.

          2. TheVogon

            Re: remotes

            "But for 99% of users it is perfectly adequate"

            In any sort of normal work environment, I think you mean more like for 9.9% of users it is perfectly adequate.....

            For starters there is no VBA support, very flaky ODF support, loads more bugs, it is much slower, and is missing lots of features and integration options compared to MS Office.

            1. phil dude
              FAIL

              Re: remotes

              Ok so LO is not perfect - but the quantity of cash governments are throwing at $CORPS, it could be fixed using target funding.

              The central problem is there is a vested interest in having gigantic companies run these contracts, so the middle manager machinery justifies its existence.

              Having an enterprise Linux installation with customisation as necessary funded from the deployment costs, returned to the software packages.

              Let's stop paying for problems that were solved decades ago, and the whole boat rises....

              P.

              1. Dazed and Confused
                Happy

                Re: remotes

                > Ok so LO is not perfect - but

                then neither is Office where every new release is worse than all the previous ones and all the bits that you used to use have now either been hidden, broken or both.

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: remotes

              "very flaky ODF support"

              ODF was invented in Libre/Openoffice. It's MS'es implementation of it which is flakey.

              1. TheVogon

                Re: remotes

                "ODF was invented in Libre/Openoffice"

                Nope, OpenDocument is not the same as the older OpenOffice.org XML format and these formats are not directly compatible. ODF was actually developed by OASIS.

                "It's MS'es implementation of it which is flakey."

                Nope - MS have by far the best ODF implementation that is currently available - and it fully support the latest ODF version - even in Office 365. If you look through LO support forums and bug trackers you will see that there are loads of issues with it's implementation of ODF. For instance crashes saving a file that can be opened / saved in other Office packages.

                Just a few examples:

                https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/libreoffice/+bug/1292360

                https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/libreoffice/+bug/1412448

                https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/libreoffice/+bug/1072033

                Also there are vast numbers of bugs when handling MS Office formats - that most businesses rely on.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Thumb Up

              Re: remotes

              For starters there is no VBA support

              Which given the history of VBA and its use in malware and poorly constructed information systems, I'm happy to consider the lack of VBA a feature well worth having!

              1. LDS Silver badge

                Re: remotes

                The malware part is true, but a lot of organizations rely on heavily "programmed" document templates, especially in the spreadsheet world. I've seen banks with programmers dedicated to it - and those templates generated document to manage a lot of money. I guess in many government departments is more or less the same.

                Do you really believe saving some dollars/euro to get rid of MS Office, lose those functionalites and need to re-implement them, looks a good move for them?

                Sure, maybe not every office needs them, but as long as some offices need them, to simplify deployment, management and interoperability you choose a single product.

                Open/LibreOffice needs to cover this requirements also, if it aims to become a full replacement for MS Office.

            4. John Watts

              Re: remotes

              In any kind of normal work environment WordPad is perfectly adequate for 99.999% of users.

              Most word processed documents I see have fifteen carriage returns in place of a page break.

          3. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: remotes

            "But for 99% of users it is perfectly adequate."

            It's that statement which has Microsoft shitting housebricks.

            Word and their ilk weren't as good as WordPerfect. But they were good enough - and cheaper.

            Postgresql isn't as good as Oracle - but its good enough for 99% of usage cases.

            And the raw facts are that Oracle make a great database, but _everything_ else they touch turns to a steaming pile of shit - ESPECIALLY their financial packages. My employer just moved from a terrible Oracle product to an even worse one.

            1. LDS Silver badge

              Re: remotes

              Oracle, lilke other big companies in the same arena, suffers from the "Indian syndrome" - applications built out of a lot of Java (or the like) code written by lame Indian programmers paid a few rupees, while the applications are sold for many $$$$$.

              Not that our SAP system is built by more competente programmers...

        3. MacroRodent Silver badge

          Re: remotes

          To be fair Libre/Open Office isn't as good as MS Office, I've been trying for years to reconcile the issue but it doesn't come out in the wash.

          I beg to differ. It is nothing but a matter of what you have grow used to. I have mostly been using OpenOffice and LibreOffice for years, and now trying to MS Office for some project is driving me nuts. LibreOffice just fits my way of working better, and gives more support for producing a consistently formatted document. Maybe there are some places where MS Office wins, but I don't know of any other than being more compatible with the MS Office file formats. This advantage would disappear if more people used OpenOffice, LibreOffice or other tools that properly process OpenDocument formats.

          Maybe some day...

          1. John Watts

            Re: remotes

            r1c1 notation for spread sheets.

            Excel does that and OpenOffice doesn't. For me that makes Excel superior. For word processing I find each application equally annoying.

        4. keithpeter
          Coat

          Re: remotes

          "To be fair Libre/Open Office isn't as good as MS Office, I've been trying for years to reconcile the issue but it doesn't come out in the wash."

          Any more detail?

          What use cases?

          Is it compatibility with existing MS Office files?

        5. channel extended
          Flame

          Re: remotes

          Only if you absolutely have to have the dancing bear at the bottom of evey page. Everyone learns some "cute" trick in MS office and then pesters the world. I simply want text and some MINOR formatting for readability If you are saying MS is better because it has more "features" then you are right, but if you are claiming to be better because the product produced is clear and presentable you are far from correct.

        6. Mk4

          Re: remotes

          OpenOffice Writer is great. I had to start using it a few months ago for a course I'm doing and it suddenly made so much more sense having the same application on my MacBook and my Windows desktop.

          Running Office 2011 on my MBP, Wordpad on my Windows desktop (on the few occasions I needed to write something) and MS Office at work was just horrible. If I could use Writer at work I would, it doesn't randomly f**k up my document formatting like Word does.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      You fail to notice that a lot of those Oracle instances already run on Linux, for which both Red Hat and Oracle itself make you pay happily. Also Oracle makes maybe more money from "mandatory" support than the licenses themselves.

      The GPL doesn't enforce any price or support model - what make you believe if everybody switch to FS you will be offered only cheap flatrate support?

      Once you get locked in some "enterprise" supported version of Linux/Postgres/whatever you like from which you can't simply switch away easily - and being FS doesn't make it easier at all (unless you're Google, maybe) - do you believe you will still get a cheap flat rate support price? Do you have ever read Red Hat support agreement, for example?

      I guess they will start to make you pay per seat, per user, per processor per whatever they like to make more money - most people like money, a lot of them. And less competition, the more you can charge - that's why Oracle can charge so much and still be able to sell obscenely priced products.

    3. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      @Hans 1

      It's likely that a large part of the licensing and support costs relate to Oracle applications, rather than simply to the database. Databases are pretty much a commodity item these days, corporate systems, less so.

    4. Lars Silver badge
      Happy

      @Hans 1.Yes indeed, Oracle moved to Linux desktops internally years ago. I have worked in fairly big and fairly well run IT companies and I know it's a hell of a problem to keep track of all the licenses used. Invoices are cleared by people who don't know enough about it. And developers/programmers feel it's not their job to report on what's in use and what has been scrapped years ago. It's not just Oracle it's all of it including even hardware. The more people involved the more difficult it gets, and the invoices just keep coming.

    5. F0rdPrefect

      "Get PostgreSQL on GNU/Linux, switch all desktops to Linux"

      Oooh! The boom in consultancy for re-inventing all of the unique functions that have been created for the various government departments, and the training at the desktop.

      "They would have to train everybody for Windows 8/10 anyway, might as well train them to use Linux."

      a) what makes you think that they are going to move off XP/7?

      b) The few that i am aware of are/have already decided that ClassicShell is the way to go.

  5. Bob H

    Much noise about cost savings, the departments will ignore it or find ways to show it would be too expensive to change and nothing will happen. Ah the civil service... we do admire your gall.

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "get rid of Oracle"

    Sure, but replace it with what ?

    I cannot imagine the sheer volume of data stored and managed in a government-level group of Oracle databases, even taking into account the fact that there is no oversight or global planning of any kind (good one there, way to ensure economies are impossible).

    You don't just get rid of Oracle. You need to find a suitable substitute, redesign the applications, create a parallel environment, migrate the data onto said parallel platform, design a test suite to validate the transfer and test the new environment and validate it.

    When all that is done, you can start migrating the users. You'll be doing that bit by bit, so as not to have everything blow up in your face with the inevitable unexpected complications that will arise.

    Just planning this kind of thing will be a major project which will require external expertise.

    Hmm, do I smell the presence of yet another pork barrel for yet another vast, government-wide IT failure ahem, project ?

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: "get rid of Oracle"

      Some databases may be easy enough to migrate to other RDBMS. Others could be very, very difficult - a lot depends on how they were implemented, and what Oracle features they use. It is true Oracle is absurdly expensive and its licensing is close to blackmailing, but it is also true it offers some very advanced features other databases often lack, and you can't easily replace if your rely on them.

      Also, moving to another database may mean to redesign the applications built upon it because transaction/concurrency model are often not identical, and if you don't care about it, bad things will happen.

      It is also true there are also DBAs so worried about upgrades they would still run Oracle 6 on a VAX system if they only could find the hardware - forcing you to buy even more expensive support (and Oracle knows it and doesn't make upgrades as easy as you could wish...).

      Moving away may not be easy, and Oracle takes advantage of it. An effort from some big customers to move away from Oracle is welcome, maybe someone there will rething its licensing strategy - but I'm afraid if someone else just believe to slap a Postgres/<put your preferred RDBMS here> database here and there and import data, it could become soon another expensive bloodbath.

      Moreover, it looks what they really need is a good database to manage licenses to avoid buying millions they don't need...

      1. phil dude
        Linux

        Re: "get rid of Oracle"

        "expensive bloodbath" - a touch alarming!!!

        If there are problems, write a RFP for modifications for $RDMS or $OFFICESUITE to address them.

        Look at the software that runs on supercomputers, that has been funded to solve very complex problems.

        It can be done, and *stays* done.

        P.

        1. LDS Silver badge

          Re: "get rid of Oracle"

          Guess you never saw - and thereby worked on - a large, complex database with a lot of complex data types used (which may not be easily mapped to other platforms types), a lot of data logic (correctly) implemented as packages/stored procedures, and a lot of highly optimized complex queries using often some database specific SQL features. And that without speaking of some advanced features which may be available on some high-end databases and not on others - and could require third party tools or be reimplemented maybe at the application leve.

          Trying to move this kind of databases to a different engine is a very long, complex task. Sure, if you have small "data dumps" - data written in simple tables, and nothing else - and simple CRUD applications, porting could be easy enough.

          Software that runs on supercomputer has nothing to do with large databases - but maybe some big data analytics that work on data *extracted* from a large database in a format suitable for processing.

          But if you believe IT is an OS and an office suite, well, believe me, there is far far more to learn.... one day, maybe, you'll learn by experience...

    2. future research

      Re: "get rid of Oracle"

      "Just planning this kind of thing will be a major project which will require external expertise."

      This is why oracle will be safe for a fair few years, I bet they will ultimately decline like IBM, because of current business model of screw all the current customers. Larry doesn't care about that far in the future, he wants his boats today.

    3. GitMeMyShootinIrons
      Facepalm

      Re: "get rid of Oracle"

      Duh, replace it with MS Access. Obviously!

  7. sandman

    Please, please get rid of Oracle

    Then I'll be able to make a fortune contracting to create training for the new systems. After that I'll be able to do the same again when half of them move back to Oracle because the new systems don't do what they wanted. Retirement plan sorted!

    "How can you be too cynical?"

  8. Hollerith 1

    I still wake up nights screaming

    Two years of hell first trying to stop Oracle being brought in by themanagement lads that wanted Big Kit, and then trying to get it to do what we needed it to do (a zillion kilometres of bespoking) and watching the money in the budget evaporate into Oracle's coffers while we limped on... I left, underwent intensive therapy, and am a abetter person for it (the twitches are pretty infrequent now).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I still wake up nights screaming

      It could have been worse, they could have brought in SAP.

  9. Aitor 1

    Simple solution

    Hire more employees, then the software per employee cost will fall.

    This is absurd, only a politician could come up with this nonsense.

    I am all for removing Oracle, but seriously, license per employee? So in the "IT revolution" they pretend to spend less.. and expensive software that reduces headcount and saves money will be automatically discarded.

    1. BongoJoe

      Re: Simple solution

      Hire more employees, then the software per employee cost will fall.

      But, shirley, you'll need to get more licences for those more employees...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Orable

    Bloody hate 'Orable - had to put up with it during my stint at UK Gov. The story, which should sound depressingly familiar to any IT bod, goes:

    1 - New HR Director arrives

    2 - HR Director wants to be seen to make changes

    3 - HR Director, an 'Orable fan, gets approval to replace the existing, perfectly fine Employee Database and Holiday system

    4 - ??? (I suspect that various meetings happen during Golf with greasy salesmen)

    5 - New system gets implemented, massively over budget

    6 - Staff hate it, absence records become sporadic at best, everyone gets a bonus holiday day due to some weird quirk about it being a leap year, paper forms are soon introduced to help track manager approvals, appraisals (Ha!) are no longer complete... I could go on, but you get the idea

    7 - Next round of the Employee Satisfaction Survey, the new system is Public Enemy Number 1, 2 and 4 out of 5 for all staff

    8 - HR Director inexplicably gets a bonus and pay raise (seen in the next annual report).

    And now I am getting a headache as I just found myself grinding my teeth in frustration and acrimony

    1. Richard Taylor 2 Silver badge

      Re: 'Orable

      What was 3 just out of interest? Management or Politicians?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 'Orable

        Management (I reckon 3 got blurred with 4 somewhat). This was mid 2000's sometime, during the heady days of the Blair era of New Labour, where cash was just splurged around and many empires sprung up and some real dubious, big brother style stuff got done (Heard about something on the grapevine called the ILR from another agency that was rumoured by some staff to be part of the ID card scheme. Not sure if it is true or not though). Government jobs seemed to be everywhere and easy to get...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 'Orable aka Horrible

      We have Oracle and Peoplesoft.

      The Oracle timesheet won't let you enter a time of zero hours. But when you add an activity it fills evey line Mon-Friday with a '0'.

      Then you can't actually put in the hours that you work. Only the standard work week hours.

      They have the nerve to actually charge $$Lots$$$Lots$$$Lots$$ for this POS?

      Then the expense claims section has error message that bear no resemblance to the real problem. The last three expanse claims I submitted got 'lost'. I got the ack email but it never reached the person who was suppose to approve them. POS.

      Peoplesoft is so slooooooowwwwwwww it hurts. Even if you access it when no one else is using it (04:00 Uk) it takes an age to do anything.

      At the moment, I hope ORacle goes belly up

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: 'Orable

      > 4 - ??? (I suspect that various meetings happen during Golf with greasy salesmen)

      Suspect?

      Suspect???

      Auditing the financials of said management would likely be worthwhile.

  11. DarkwavePunk

    I've been banging on at work to transition to EnterpriseDB for years. It's still massive amounts of work, money, training etc... Oracle really have you over the barrel once you've gone down that particular rabbit hole.

    1. Roo

      "I've been banging on at work to transition to EnterpriseDB for years. It's still massive amounts of work, money, training etc... Oracle really have you over the barrel once you've gone down that particular rabbit hole."

      One day you will have to move on from what you have now simply because Oracle won't actually support it any longer - however much money you throw at it. You then have the choice of throwing more money at Oracle to help you move to another Oracle system or move on to something else. The *real* transition cost should work out the same either way because you are having to fund replacement of the system & retraining.

      The sooner you make the decision to move to something else, preferably something that can be sourced from multiple vendors so you aren't held hostage to lock-in, the lower that transition cost will be.

      Deferring the decision break the lock-in simply ensures that your profit margins and business decisions will be dictated by what suits the vendor. Meanwhile the vendor is aiming to maximise their profits, which in practice means charging as much as their customers can bear in return for delivering as little as possible. Of course if the vendor decides to cut you off because they aren't making enough money out of your organisation you are SoL.

      Folks can argue about the details until they are blue in the face it doesn't change the big picture.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Universal Discredit ?

    Last time I touched the car-crash that is Universal Credit, it was an Oracle salesperson's wet dream. The business rules engine, Oracle Policy Automation, was at the throbbing heart of UC and was licenced to the value of Xty meellion dollars even after very very deep discounts.

    But that was probably a special case - OPA is designed for big fish government projects.

    I'm sure some beard face from GDS thought he could replace it with a javascript library.

  13. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Is Oracle the problem, or is it the symptom of the problem?

    It is somewhat frustrating to think that if a decent FOSS solution existed for any of the many IT tasks that governments have to perform, then governments all over the world could probably adapt it to their local laws (quite possibly for free, since it is in citizens' interest to keep their own government's costs down).

    Of course, you'd need a decent spec. That's probably why it hasn't happened and why the commercial sector (who don't have to publish the spec, let alone the code) are the only ones who can cope with government contracts.

    Perhaps that's what really needs to change here. If the Cabinet Office insisted on publishing the detailed *requirements* for every software contract, that would give the contract winners less wiggle-room to produce over-priced rubbish. They might even get some free submissions, and then contractors would have to compete with those (or support-contracts-for-those).

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Linux

      FOSS

      On a European scale: 1 per cent of all similar (big) projects for developing FOSS and we'd save a much larger percentage within a couple of years. Support of said FOSS should (IMHO) be left to commercial enterprises.

      That would be intelligent politics, so not going to happen.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: FOSS

        Do you believe governments are good at software development projects?

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          Re: FOSS

          LDS: That's why the "O" is important. By starting with the requirements in the public domain and by encouraging FOSS solutions where the solution would be in the public domain, we reduce the risk of waking up in ten years time having spent all the money and developed nothing at all of any value, but it has all been messed up in secret so we don't know who to blame.

          1. LDS Silver badge

            Re: FOSS

            A marketing statement, yours, which actually says nothing. The quality of requirements, and the quality of outcome, has nothing to do with being FOSS or not - depends only on the quality and skills of those working on them.

            A government funded FOSS project can easily suffer from all the same issues government projects suffer from - i.e. assigning the funds to entities for political reasons and advantages instead of quality/skills reasons, and in turn this could keep away other people who could contribute on the project. Sure, you would have a public domain project - which is still crap and of no use.

            From where I work, I already see it, with government projects assigned to university X in city A only because the minister in charge is from city A too, and gets his or her votes there. If the minister changes, then funds could be reassigned....

        2. BongoJoe

          Re: FOSS

          Do you believe governments are good at software development projects?

          When I worked for the Gov many decades ago one massive and important project was written in APL for no plausible reason.

          So, I think: No.

    2. MonkeyCee

      Spec

      Ah, government specs. Always good for a laugh those. They often read something like:

      1. New system should do everything current system does, only faster. No, we don't have a feature list of current system

      2. New system should include all the things we think we'd like.

      3. Including the things we've not realised yet.

      4. Oh, and a bunch of things we had assumed as well

      5. Plus whatever the committee(s) wants added too.

      6. This should cost x. Yes, we know it will end up costing x^y but for now we'll say x.

      Then once someone has made an attempt based of the partial requirements list, repeat items 2 through 5 until it becomes clear the system needs to be redesigned from the ground up.

      You've never seen a clusterfuck like a combined public/private sector clusterfuck.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Spec

        "You've never seen a clusterfuck like a combined public/private sector clusterfuck."

        The best way is to first of all work out what the current system does and needs to do better.

        That isn't done by talking to management, nor is it done by committee.

        A classic example is the businessman who set a design committee to provide a device to allow hikers to be rescued if they got into trouble. It ended up as an all-singing, all-dancing map, smart-phone device that would have lasted half a day on batteries - not the EPIRB unit he usually chucked in his backpack when hiking that has batteries lasting 6 months or more.

        He knew they'd do that. The object of the exercise was to establish why committees are one of the worst possible ways to design systems.

        I've yet to see researchers for any "overhaul" of a system sit down individually with people who actually have to work with the existing system and ask what they need to do and what's needed to do it better.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "Is Oracle the problem, or is it the symptom of the problem?"

      Well you might ask.....

      The primary reason that projects are screwed up is because targets are poorly defined and goalposts constantly being moved (not to mention being changed along the way form simple wooden uprights to something not out of place on a Mod's scooter)

      Most of the time, the project won't work as specified, however any vendor who says that will be summarily ejected from the bidding process. Those who keep quiet can hit the original target on budget, then charge a fortune for all the extra work required to make it go.

      Dealing with incompetents is a wet dream for any large vendor. They get to write their own contract conditions and then charge whatever they want for as long as they want. Whether it works at the end or not is irrelevant - what matters is getting the most profit and as long as you hit the initial poorly designed targets you're on the gravy train for life.

      If you want to fix this kind of thing, you need to sack the career civil servants who skip merrily from clusterfuck to clusterfuck with glowing recommendations because that's the only way to get rid of them. Ordinarily a set of glowing recommendations should be a big red flashing warning sign and klaxon for any potential employer, but these people are hired according to who they know not how good they are (a really good employee can pretty much command his/her own salary if they're that critical)

      Having proper service definitions and competent people working out what's actually required is more expensive up front, but better long term. Because of that, it will never happen in the UK.

  14. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Good luck

    On the one hand, Oracle pricing astonishes me. On the other hand, a point that seems lost on many is that a dollar spent on consultants or otherwise on support weighs as heavily as a dollar spent on licensing or hardware. I wish the UK all luck in cutting loose, but the process of doing so could be extremely expensive in the short term.

    1. phil dude
      Linux

      Re: Good luck

      Not consultants. RFP, the result, source code back into the pool.

      Apply some proper project management, but once you have a proper list of subject neutral specifications (e.g. must work with MS Office or $TOOL is a common way to crowbar in specific licenses).

      I have a bias. sure. I am scientist and we would never make progress if we had these crappy license issues.

      But these are solved problems and not cutting edge research.

      P.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: Good luck

        Oh, I've seen scientists become very proficient at licensing their patents whenever they can make a lot of money from them... or become very "political" when they can siphon taxpayer money for their petty researches - and not always with good outcomes from them...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Good luck

        "I am scientist and we would never make progress if we had these crappy license issues."

        The scientists I work with insist on using "software" (IDL) manifestly unsuited to the tasks they're trying to do, because many years ago someone thought it was a good idea to use it for displaying results and then extended that to doing heavy math processing data behind the displaying. The software company exists pretty much to service this science discipline worldwide, despite the software being unsuitable to the task.

        They use it because they've always used it and quite frankly the coding quality of most "scientists" is abombinable.

        My classic example is the IDL mirroring program - which called wget 2.5 million times to retrieve files from a webserver, instead of simply using wget with the right flags - once.

        The person behind that particular pecadillo writes code for systems which is used extensively by the insurance industry to calculate risks due to extreme weather events (This is worth a few tens of billions of pounds each year to the industry). When he was "indisposed" recently, the system had to be shut down as all the inputs were hard coded for each run and was written so badly that noone could understand what the code was trying to do.

        At least half the code I run across that's written in-house uses tools which aren't so much a hammer being used to bang in screws as a carpenter's plane being used as the hammer for that task.

        And of course they won't hire in actual analysts or coders to implement things properly because that would cost too much.

        Anon, for obvious reasons.

  15. W. Anderson

    common sense attitude in tech use at last

    At last the UK Government is using common sense and intelligence, in first adopting Open Document Format (ODF) standard for full compatibility with and to replace Microsoft Office lockin and costs, and now (rightly) kicking ridiculously priced and cumbersome Oracle technology to the curb.

    Fortunately for them, the very latest Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) PostgreSQL database suite of applications offer probably about 90% plus of the functionality of top Oracle products, and the similarities in admin and configuration language tools make it significantly easier to migrate with minimum of pain. Such an adoption of PostgreSQL would also allow the UK government to customize the applications specifically the the needs of government agencies without any significant pounds outlay to Larry Ellison and Co.

    It is about time the UK stop mindlessly following much of the fading USA technology dominance.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: common sense attitude in tech use at last

      "PostgreSQL database suite of applications offer probably about 90%"

      Do you have any reference to support this claim? Moreover, government databases are often on the large, complex side - I may agree that Postgres covers most of the needs for small-medium sized databases, and some large ones, but its coverage for very large, complex database is still not so complete.

      Even if Postgres offers the easiest path to migrate from Oracle, it could not be the right choice if you really want to migrate away from Oracle, depending on your needs.

      Customizing a database engine requires skilled programmers in the field - not just a DBA...

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: common sense attitude in tech use at last

        "Customizing a database engine requires skilled programmers in the field - not just a DBA..."

        The problem is that most govt projects are a clusterfuck before they even _GET_ to the choice of database engine.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: common sense attitude in tech use at last

      "At last the UK Government is using common sense and intelligence, in first adopting Open Document Format (ODF) standard "

      I recently received stuff from the DfT in some proprietary Apple format and they refused to redo it in a readable one.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Replacement

    Giant excel spreadsheet with 60 million citizens data in it. What can go wrong?

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Replacement

      "Giant excel spreadsheet "

      You might be joking, but I know of several regional health authorities and hospitals which are _entirely_ run on Excel.

  17. Robbin McDobbin
    Thumb Up

    Gimme a job at your best rates and I'll convert .gov.uk to postgres

  18. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    The myth of "hardware hell"

    "you avoid the hardware compatibility hell of installing Linux on diverse desktops and laptops, whose manufacturers care less than nothing about Linux compatibility. "

    There is no hardware compatibility hell. I'm serious, you can find plenty of stories of people running into problems with some computer or other, and it makes it sound like hardware support is an utter basket case. But you're ONLY seeing the reports of people who have something not work out of the box.

    The reality is, you're FAR more likely with Linux to be able to just pop in the install CD (or USB), install it, click "alternative hardware drivers" thing IF it shows up (mostly this installs nvidia's or ATI's provided video drivers instead of the default free & open source ones), and you are done, then I've ever seen with a Windows install.

    The Windows install, you'll be able to get to work too, assuming your hardware isn't too new or too old for your WIndows version, but you're almost guaranteed to have to download extra drivers instead of having them included and possibly fiddle with things.

    All that said, I'd heartily recommend ditching Windows for their desktops and going to a nice Linux distro, Microsoft probably is a large part of their costs after Oracle, but, if they have all these Windows-specific apps I could see not doing it. And I certainly wouldn't bother to rip-and-replace just to do it, I'm all for transitioning things over in an orderly manner in a case like that.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: The myth of "hardware hell"

      "There is no hardware compatibility hell. I'm serious, you can find plenty of stories of people running into problems with some computer or other, and it makes it sound like hardware support is an utter basket case. "

      The only time there are problems is when people buy systems blindly and then try to make them work afterwards. People do this at home because they buy as cheap as possible. If you do that when you're purchasing a fleet of systems then you deserve to have your arse bounced on the sidewalk outside the front door as security eject you from the building.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anaplan

    unstoppable

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Those defra licenses will be for "RM". I work for the DWP and have to use RM for personel related things like overtime and expenses claims and logging staff sickness absences. If I need to reset my password I email a defra email address. I'm pretty certain HMRC use RM too and I guess most other departments do too.

    Although it's a shitty way to account for the licences it's not quite as scandalous as 200 licences per member of defra staff.

    *I'm just guessing all of this but it makes pefect sense.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There's an idea

    I'm sure they realize the only sane alternative is to go full out open source, and redirect spending to salaries and educational benefits for top notch in-house talent.

    Governments and companies have been stupidly throwing money at big firms like Oracle, Microsoft and IBM for decades, leaving little to build and maintain an in-house team -- leading to further dependence on the big boys for support that never really materializes.

    Of course this is probably just a feint to allow the Microsoft lovers at No. 10 to flood the country with PFY subcontractors whose CVs come up in a bulk search for ".NET development". I heard HMRC is now using tax form that can only be filed using Adobe's proprietary Reader software -- someone should go take a look around management offices there and see if they find any undeclared Adobe branded swag.

    The definition for insanity comes to mind at this moment: doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. But then we already knew the people running the governments in the UK and US are completely mad, so no real news there.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: There's an idea

      " I heard HMRC is now using tax form that can only be filed using Adobe's proprietary Reader software"

      That would be a direct violation of open government directives. PDF is ONLY to be used for read-only purposes.

  22. lucki bstard

    Makes you wonder if they dumped all the IT solutions and went back to pen, paper, interdepartmental memo's and people filling in forms in triplicate it would save money and probably be more efficient....

  23. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "Makes you wonder if they dumped all the IT solutions and went back to pen, paper, interdepartmental memo's and people filling in forms in triplicate it would save money and probably be more efficient...."

    Honestly: It would do.

    UK civil service computerisation has almost entirely been done in a way as to not reduce staffing requirements.

    If done right, then staffing numbers should be slashed by half without affecting the coalface and without imposing more crap on them.

    Any time more work is dumped on the coalface or ends up requiring more people to make it all go, the project has failed.

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