EPM Support Documentation
Thanks to Oracle’s well-worth-following Business Analytics – Proactive Support blog, I’ve been introduced to a couple of interesting support policy documents relating to the EPM stack:
- Support Document ID 1617238.1: Oracle Enterprise Performance Management Software Error Correction Policy (I’ll call this ‘ECP’)
- Support Document ID 1590676.1: Oracle Enterprise Performance Management 11g Grace Periods for Error Correction (‘GPEC’)
These documents also reference the more widely applicable Lifetime Support Policy: Oracle Applications (‘LSP’).
With no disrespect intended, I’d guess that many EPM practitioners are unaware of some finer points of support policy. I know that I was! And without understanding the content of these documents, it’s impossible to give comprehensive answers to questions such as ‘For how much longer is Oracle committed to providing fixes for my 11.1.2 system?’ (the answer may be more complicated than you think). However, the documents themselves tend towards legalese, and they don’t always make completely clear what the real-world implications of the policies are. The GPEC document was updated on March 6th to include 126.96.36.199 information, so this is an opportune time for a plain-English review.
Defining Terms – Part 1 (Software)
In the EPM community we throw terms like release, version and patch around loosely and in ways that often don’t mean exactly what Oracle means by them. This is unfortunate, because Oracle specifies its support policies using, naturally, its own definitions. These are provided in the ECP document:
- Major Release — a change in the 3rd version number, e.g. Essbase 188.8.131.52. Requires use of the EPM installer to apply.
- Patch Set — a change in the 4th version number, e.g. Essbase 184.108.40.206. Requires use of the EPM installer to apply.
- Patch Set Update (PSU) — a change in the 5th version number, e.g. Essbase 220.127.116.11.500. Applied with the OPatch utility.
- Patch Set Exception (PSE) — the PSE itself has a number, e.g. 12417382, but there is no change in version numbering. A PSE is produced only for critical issues with no workarounds, and does not introduce new functionality. Applied with the OPatch utility.
The names given to changes in the first two version numbers are not provided. At the time of writing EPM has remained on 11.1.x.x for almost seven years, and only one such change has happened in the entire duration of Oracle’s ownership of the former Hyperion suite.
It’s interesting to note that while 4th or 5th version number changes are mere Patch Sets or even Patch Set Updates in Oracle’s official terminology they sometimes bring in significant and brand-new functionality rather than just tweaks and fixes. An obvious example here is Hybrid Essbase, which arrived as part of PSU 18.104.22.168.500. Similarly, significant functionality can be removed and ‘desupported’ in Patch Set changes — for example, the end of the VB API and Essbase Integration Services in 22.214.171.124, or the painful removal of the Spreadsheet Add-In in 126.96.36.199.
Defining Terms – Part II (Support Lifecycle)
The LSP document identifies a number of classes of support, along with the windows for them as they apply to the last few EPM Major Releases:
- Premier Support — Typically available for five years from the GA date of a Major Release. Includes updates, fixes and certification with (quote) ‘most new third-party products / versions’.
- Sustaining Support — Continues indefinitely for as long as support fees are paid, but does not include any new updates or fixes.
- Extended Support — Available for three years beyond the end of the Premier Support phase for an additional fee, and providing essentially the same benefits – save for an explicit warning that third-party products / version may not be supported. Extended Support is not made available for all Major Releases; for example, it is unavailable for EPM 11.1.1.x which exited Premier Support in mid-2013.
An important point given the EPM context of this blog post is that, in fall 2013, Oracle chose to extend both the Premier and Extended windows for EPM 11.1.2.x by three years. These windows now close in April 2018 and April 2021 respectively.
Having established from the LSP document the Premier Support timeline for EPM 11.1.2.x, we move on the the Error Correction Policy document. The key takeaway here is that Oracle will not continue to produce Patch Set Updates or other fixes for every Patch Set (4th version number) in a Major Release (3rd version number), even while the major release is in its Premier Support phase. Instead, fixes will be produced for the latest Patch Set, and for the preceding Patch Set for the duration of a specified grace period. Similarly, Oracle will only produce Patch Set Exceptions for the current Patch Set Update, and the preceding Patch Set Update for that PSU’s specified grace period.
The GPEC document tells us exactly what these windows are. I don’t want to reproduce big chunks of an Oracle document here, but some particularly relevant points with respect to Essbase:
- The 188.8.131.52 Patch Set ceased to be eligible for fixes in April 2014.
- The 184.108.40.206 Patch Set is eligible for fixes through February 2016. Note that this is one year from the release of the subsequent 220.127.116.11 Patch Set, and this (one year) seems to be the standard Patch Set grace period
- The 18.104.22.168.505 Patch Set Update is eligible for Patch Set Exceptions through August 2015. Note that this is six months from the release of the subsequent 22.214.171.124.506 Patch Set Update, and this (six months) seems to be the standard Patch Set Update grace period.
Making Sense of It All
So, having extracted some essentials from the source documents, a few practical and perhaps not universally understood conclusions:
1. To remain eligible for fixes to any defects that you encounter, you need to upgrade to each new Patch Set within one year of that Patch Set’s release. The fact that your Major Release still has years to run in Premier Support will do you no good in this regard.
2. Oracle have been known to remove significant features in what are nominally Patch Sets. This seems a little (as we Brits say) ‘cheeky’. You may have bought the functionality as part of a Major Release that has five years of Premier Support to run, but you are now faced with a dilemma: upgrade to the new Patch Set lacking your favorite feature, or remain on your current Patch Set and accept that once the grace period runs out, new fixes may not be produced. I faced exactly this situation with a client last year, being forced to upgrade from 126.96.36.199 to 188.8.131.52 (losing support for the Excel Add-In several months earlier than planned) in order to receive a fix to an ASO bug that Oracle decided not to resolve for the 184.108.40.206 Patch Set.
3. Some good news: Premier Support ending for your Major Release does not mean point-blank ‘unsupported’ as is sometimes casually stated. As long as you continue to pay maintenance you can still raise SRs under Sustaining Support. But if you find a new bug, or run into another problem that would require a code change, such as a compatibility issue with a new OS patch, you will be out of luck, and this is clearly not a desirable situation long-term.
Finally, while I’ve summarized some key points, the source documents themselves are well worth reading and digesting if you frequently deal with Oracle Support, ‘own’ an EPM system, or give advice on upgrade strategy. Personally, I have favorite-d them in MOS, and set up my Hot Topics email to notify me of any changes.