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A relatively small change to the way SAP represented characters four years ago is threatening to complicate upgrades to the latest edition of its software.

SAP's implementation of Unicode - now widely adopted - has massively expanded the amount of data held in the databases underpinning many customers' SAP systems, increasing their size of systems.

And the increasing bulk and complexity is causing worries about system failures following in the wake of potential upgrades, according to a recently released survey by SAP partner Macro4.

Almost all - 90 per cent - of SAP's customers in the UK, France, and Spain are now facing upgrade challenges thanks to the increased size of their databases, the Micro4 poll of 135 customers said. Organizations are looking at longer upgrades and increased complexity - 73 and 60 per cent respectively.

There's a fear among 41 per cent that these big and complex systems could lead to system failures following an upgrade, with 39 per cent concerned about losing their data.

A large percentage of the data in question, 67 per cent, is not even important to day-to-day business operations, according to Macro4. It's static or historical information.

Macro4, which specializes in document management for SAP systems, said the problem effects customers moving to SAP 6.0 - which implements Unicode and was introduced in 2005 - and off of versions 4.6 and 4.7. Macro4 recommends archiving before upgrading.

Companies are only now facing up to the size of their databases because many are still running 4.6 or 4.7, which are due to be end-of-lifed by the end of December this year and in 2012 respectively. Typically, upgrades can take up to twelve months while new implementations of SAP take years to complete.

Macro4 SAP product specialist Markus Fehr told The Reg that Unicode requires four bytes of memory per character, leading to a growth in the size of an SAP database or SQL Server from Microsoft running an SAP system of between 30 and 60 per cent. He said SAP's rival Oracle had done a bit better in managing the increase in data growth when it adopted Unicode.

Oracle, meanwhile, has tossed out a minor pricing concession to keep its customers from turning on it in the way SAP's customers recently turned.

The giant Monday said it has waived the first year of extended support fees for Oracle E-Business Suite Release 11i 10 until November 2011, JD Edwards EnterpriseOne 8.11 until December 2010, Siebel CRM 7.8 until May 2011, and Oracle Database 10g R2 until July 2011. Oracle's extended support for PeopleSoft Enterprise 8.9 has been waved until June 2011.

Oracle offers three types of support: premium, which last five years and covers database, application and middleware maintenance and upgrades; extended, which adds another three years on to premium; and sustaining, which provides help through call centers and knowledge bases.

The company said in a statement the move would help customers reduce the total cost of ownership of their Oracle systems. It is unclear how many customers will be affected by the change, or how much they will save.

The change comes after SAP customers reacted against SAP's increase in support costs just as IT budgets were being cut. Long-running, European customers - particularly in Germany - have become concerned that SAP 's becoming more like Oracle by pushing up prices to make a profit. ®

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