Following an extended on stage advert for Intel and Oracle's hardware and software partnership, Larry Ellison, recently 'demoted' Oracle CTO, took to the stage at Oracle Open World 2015 in characteristically combative fashion.
Aiming his verbal guns at more or less everyone including Amazon, IBM, SAP, Workday and Salesforce with a nod in the direction of Microsoft, Ellison declared Oracle as the fastest growing cloud technology vendor. Not that means anything given that the bulk of Oracle's cloud earnings are coming from medium sized businesses, a segment the company is keen to play up. But we give Ellison full marks for consistency in replaying the last earnings call data.
That aside, my concern in listening to an otherwise engaging address, is that while Ellison is talking a great game, the company is not following the same hymn sheet and looks like a mass of contradiction. At some points, I was left flummoxed at what he really means but then I learned long ago that Oracle is a master at recasting history to suit its own marketing agenda.
Other than yet another replay of Oracle's long gestation history as a cloud player, a good chunk of Ellison's presentation was given over to a declared requirement for operating according to industry standards. The premise for this is choice. Customers can move seamlessly between on-premises, Oracle cloud, somebody else's cloud and program using pretty much any language they want including nods in the direction of fashionable Docker containers, node.js and the rest said Ellison. But is that real?
Only a few weeks ago, Oracle was in court in Nevada, attempting to persuade a jury that customers should only choose Oracle support for Oracle owned applications. Does that sound like the kind of choice that Ellison expounded on stage? Not to me it doesn't. But then Holger Mueller asks:
— Holger Mueller (@holgermu) October 26, 2015
It only matters if customers are looking to hook up end to end processes, Ellison's extended agenda that positions everything from Oracle infrastructure to platform and on to applications as he natural choice. If that's not real, then Ellison's jabs at competitors Salesforce and Workday are rendered moot.
Most startling, Ellison took a direct poke at Salesforce, arguing that its platform isn't standards based. Yet it was only a few years ago Ellison was laughing at Salesforce for the fact it runs entirely on Oracle. Salesforce is still built upon Oracle. So which is it? Perhaps the 2013 bromance we discussed in some detail is finally at an end.
If all this sounds confusing then check out Brian Sommer's assessment:
— Brian Sommer (@BrianSSommer) October 26, 2015
Yes - there was a touch of that in the sense that in an earlier session, Bob Evans, chief communications officer Oracle was quoted as saying:
The cardinal sin of the computing industry is the creation of complexity.
Well - there's lots of ways that complexity enters the IT landscape and customizations is one of the most egregious. Positioning Oracle as the place where you can do exactly that seems wholly out of whack with what needs to be done in order to help companies move into the digital age that Ellison envisages.
Confusion aside, Ellison announced cloud based manufacturing, SCM, e-commerce and learning. These are biggies and I will follow up on some of this in the coming days.
Talking to security on several occasions, Ellison posed a series of questions to the audience about how systems can be made way more secure than they are today:
Our bad, there should be no on and off button for security, it should always be on.
Ellison then tempted the audience into thinking about how security might be baked into the hardware, a topic to which he promises to return on his next keynote. He needs to do so convincingly. New security methods allow customers to wrapper their applications so that the application --- the weakest link --- is not exposed to attack. Pushing security down to the hardware layer sounds attractive but we need to know more before declaring this an Oracle win.
The biggest issue for me is that while Ellison tells a tremendously convincing story, it doesn't stand up to scrutiny in the real world. The express statement that, as it relates to Amazon:
Our goal is to have the lowest acquisition cost and lowest TCO
Sounds fantastic and truly welcome. But it doesn't stand up when weighed against customers' understanding of what they're paying for and then being clobbered by software audit teams. In a recent conversation, one consultant said to me that it is virtually impossible for a Fortune 500 customer to know what they're licensing from Oracle at any point in time. In another conversation, a consultant reported what sounds to me like a highly questionable insistence upon a 150% re-engagement fee.
The unstated agenda in all this is that Oracle is perfectly well aware that the transition to cloud means a swapping of higher margins for greater volume. Like SAP, it endeavors to manage investor expectations by talking up the customer acquisition numbers in the hope they can compensate for on-premise decline. But that is far from resolved as a consistent sales strategy capable of delivering the results Oracle needs.
The sadness is that the many genuine technology advances Oracle is bringing to market get lost. Some muppets were complaining about the Intel presentation, considering a hardware pitch to be irrelevant to the audience. When you triangulate what Intel is saying about performance improvements coming out of joint engineering against the large enterprise need to both process and compute vast amounts of data, it is hard to think of a better combination than Oracle and Intel for bringing that to market. But then you've got to expect some idiots in the crowd.
Oracle wheels out Ellison half a dozen times a year. He's still the company's best salesperson as you'd expect from a founder with the passion he clearly holds for technology in which he truly believes. However, the practical realities on the ground leave me wondering the extent to which Ellison's vision can be delivered in credible fashion.
We will see in the days to come.
In the meantime, here is a link to the curated tweets I assembled during the keynote. Enjoy.
Disclosure: Oracle, SAP, Workday, Salesforce are premier partners at time of writing.