Recently, with the help of ESRI Support, I was able to resolve a problem we were having using the SDE command line tools on a Windows server that I thought I'd share.
We need to have the full, 32-bit Oracle Client installed to support other software that runs on top of core ESRI, but the SDE command line tools require a 64-bit Oracle client. To get around this, we installed the 64-bit version of the Oracle Instant Client in parallel with the full 32-bit client. (the Instant Client is available from ESRI Support or Oracle; and there's not actually an install involved - just need to copy the folder/files local to the workstation/server you will be running the SDE command line tools).
In order to support both clients, the path to the 64-bit client folder needs to be first in the PATH system environment variable (Start > Computer > Properties > Advanced System Settings > Environment Variables, on Windows Server 2008).
To connect using the Easy Connect naming method (eliminates the need for service name lookup in the tnsnames.ora file and bypasses the 32-bit client), use the following syntax (sdeversion, in this example):
sdeversion -o describe -V DEFAULT -i sde:oracle11g -u sde -p <sde_pword>@<HOST>:<PORT>/<SERVICE_NAME>
This syntax should work for any of the tools - the critical part being the '-i ...' connection parameter info.
You can ask your DBA for the HOST, PORT and SERVICE_NAME parameters, or just view the results of a tnsping of your database.
Hope this is of some help to some folks.