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Are older releases of the database really unsupported?

I see posts on Oracle related forums about various releases (anything that isn't 11.x or 12.x) being "unsupported". This is wrong. Of course you should upgrade any 9i or 10g databases, but you don't have to.

Oracle Corporation's lifetime support policy is documented here,
Lifetime Support Policy
take a look, and you'll see that release 10.2 was in premier support until end July 2010 when it went into extended support. At end July 2013, it goes into sustaining support. Sustaining support will continue indefinitely. Even release 8.1.7 will have sustaining support indefinitely.
So what is sustaining support? That is documented here,
Lifetime support benefits
To summarize, extended support gives you everything you are likely to need. What you do not get is certification against new Oracle products or new third party products (principally, operating systems). But does that matter? I don't think so. For example, release (still in premier support) is not certified against Windows 8, but it works fine.
Sustaining support has a more significant problem: no more patches. Not even patches for security holes, or changes in regulatory requirements. The security patch issue may of course be serious, but regulatory issues are unlikely to matter (this is a database, not a tax management system.) Think about it: 10g has been around for many years. It is pretty well de-bugged by now. If you hit a problem with no work around, you are pretty unlucky. Sustaining support gives you access to technical support, available patches, software, and documentation. That is all most sites will ever need.
Right now, I am working on a database. It cannot be upgraded because the application software is written by a company that does not permit a database upgrade. Why not? Well, the reason may be commercial: they have a replacement product that is supported on newer databases. But that is nothing to do with me. The database works, the software works. Making it work better is a challenge - but that is what a DBA is paid to do. Don't just write it off as "unsupported".
Of course I am not suggesting that users should not upgrade to current releases - but upgrades are a huge project, and can have major implications. Running out dated software is silly, unless you have an irrefutable reason for so doing. The lack of security patches make you vulnerable to data loss. The lack of regulatory patches may make it illegal. The lack of newer facilities will be restricting the utility of the system. You may be losing money by not taking of advantage of changes of newer technology that can better exploit your hardware.
If anyone is looking for consulting support to upgrade their database - my boss will be happy to give you a quote. But I won't refuse to support you in the meantime.
John Watson
Oracle Certified Master DBA

Preparing for the Unexpected

I agree with you on the general thought behind what you are saying. Let us say you have been running an 8i database for 15 years and have not encountered any major issues, I think you can probably play the odds and not ever have a problem with the database and you definitinely don't need any of the new features. I have worked in shops that still are running version 7. I do caution though that you probably need to consider the unexpected and have plans to account for them. What happens if suddenly the disks you have your software on die? Your database files are fine but do you have backups of the binaries? Do you have the original installation disks? Can you get a hold of any? You probably also need the same OS you were on for all those years, because the 8i install disks may not play well with current OS. Working with old software can be tricky on new hardware, even with virtualization so advanced you will still need the OS software for the install. The biggest fear I would have as a manager is that my DBA that has been working with this version 7/8i database for years suddenly quits on me. Do I have all the right information available to continue to manage the database? Can I find someone or find resources for the right commands and syntax to work with this system, even just to restart it if it shuts down?

Just something to think about.