Top 5 Myths About Patching Apps Environments
By Steven Chan (Oracle Development) on Jun 07, 2007
A rational person might contend that actions follow attitudes which follow beliefs. Bad news: there's a substantial amount of psychological literature that suggests that this isn't how we really tick.
There's an equally large body of empirical data that suggest that beliefs are relatively intractable. Once established, certain beliefs don't change, regardless of the best data, clear reasoning, and eloquence that can brought to bear on the subject. Recent fMRI studies suggest that brain structures may develop in such a way that people with strongly-held beliefs are actually unable to process new information that contradicts those beliefs.
The broader implications of this are kind of depressing to contemplate. But I digress.
For the narrow purposes of this discussion, I'm compelled to make an admittedly-quixotic attempt to persuade you that the benefits of keeping your E-Business Suite environment up-to-date far outweigh the costs.
"We Can't Upgrade Because..."
- It requires too much downtime
- Testing is too expensive for end-users
- It's too complicated
- We don't have enough staff
- It ain't broken; why fix it?
This seems rational on the surface. After all, a downtime for patching seems worse than no downtimes.
Remember that we issue patches for four major reasons:
- To add new functionality
- To improve stability
- To improve performance
- To improve security
- How much downtime is currently caused by unplanned outages due to unpatched stability bugs?
- How much downtime is needed to bounce your application servers due to unpatched JVM memory leaks?
- How much downtime would be required if an attacker takes advantage of an unpatched security risk?
Myth #2: Testing is Too Expensive For End-Users
Many organizations recruit business users to participate in User Acceptance Tests for patches. If you do this, it's true that this may reduce participants' productivity for the duration of your testing phase.
If you don't keep your environment up-to-date, the key consideration are:
- How much productivity is lost for all end-users -- not just the testers -- due to unpatched performance, stability, or security bugs?
- How much could productivity be improved by new features?
Myth #3: It's Too Complicated
All DBAs know the drill: before patching, print all patch READMEs and spread them in neat piles across a big surface. Read them, highlight them, then reread them. Download more patches. Repeat.
Every patch has some set of prerequisites. These prerequisites lead to other prerequisites. The key thing to remember is that it's always easier to patch an up-to-date system than something that's much older. The bigger the gap between your current system and target patch level, the more complex the upgrade will be.
The best way of reducing the complexity of upgrades is to keep your system up-to-date.
Myth #4: We Don't Have Enough Staff
I need to be candid here: there's a kernel of truth in this one. This is a direct outcome of believing Myth #3. If you haven't patched your E-Business Suite Release 11i environment since it was installed in 2001, then you may have a big and complex upgrade project on your hands. This might take more staff than you have.
So, the best way of avoiding the truth of this one is to keep up-to-date with your patching. If you're up-to-date, applying a given patch is less complex and requires fewer staff.
Myth #5: It Ain't Broken; Why Fix It?
With apologies to English teachers everywhere, that old axiom has a seductive ring of truth to it. After all, your system seems to be running just fine, thank you. Why bother potentially destabilizing something that everyone's happy with?
Repeating the key points made in Myth #1: new releases are issued to provide new functionality and improve stability, performance, and security. If you're running an older release, it has -- by definition -- issues in these areas that you may not have noticed yet.
The Worst-Case Scenario
If I were an IT manager running an older E-Business Suite release, say 11.5.2, this would be the nightmare scenario that would keep me awake at night:
My business requirements changes due to an acquisition or a change in business practices. These changes trigger a different load or usage profile on my E-Business Suite environment. This triggers a Severity 1 outage. My production system is down.
I call Oracle Support for help. Good news: they can reproduce the problem on 11.5.10.CU2. Bad news: due to technical dependencies (and supported by the fact that 11.5.2 is out of Premier Support status), they can only issue patches on top of 11.5.10.CU2. There's no way of getting that patch backported to 11.5.2.
Now I'm faced with a huge upgrade from 11.5.2 to 11.5.10.CU2. My production system is still down, and it will be down for the duration. Users are burning me in effigy in the parking lot. Business impact analysis, user acceptance testing, load-testing, fail-over testing -- all of those activities are jettisoned in my panicked attempts to get my environment running again.
At this point, I suspect I've lost most of my readers. By now, they've clicked on the latest YouTube video or something more cheerful.
For the handful of my remaining readers: if you're in a hole, it's never too late to stop digging. Less metaphorically: just because you're behind in patching doesn't mean that you should just give up entirely.
We can help you put together a strategy for getting up-to-date. Your first call should be to your Oracle account manager. He or she can engage specialists in Sales Consulting or Consulting to help. There are also excellent groups in our Advanced Customer Services organization (a.k.a. Field Support, On-Site Support, Premium Support) who offer a number of of packaged and customizable support offerings in the patching realm. Alternately, there are a number of excellent third-party consultants who can help you with this. Or, if you're really intent on doing it yourself, there are forums on the Oracle Technology Network and elsewhere where you can brainstorm possible upgrade strategies.
Whatever path you choose: start now. It's never too late.