Professional counselors call this the five stages of grief. But since this is merely a shake-up to my worldview rather than a true bereavement, in this case let's call it the five stages of 'Good grief!'
Denial: When the first rumors of the announcement surfaced last week, it was easy to discount their significance. As my colleague Stuart Lauchlan wrote,
Salesforce.com of course is a long-standing massive Oracle database customer behind the scenes, so again perhaps there's not so much to see here.
Right, there was no way Salesforce was getting into bed with Oracle, we thought. How wrong that proved to be!
Anger: Many of us cloud fanbois fondly remember the way we laughed along with Marc Benioff three years ago at Dreamforce when he first labeled Oracle's Exadata platform as "the false cloud," a theme he would reprise many times over at subsequent events:
"As I go around the world, I just try to let people know that they should be aware [pause to unveil a slide showing a small cloud partially masking a massive Oracle Exadata server] of the false cloud. Because the false cloud is not efficient, it's not democratic, it's not economical, it's not environmental. And this is our fundamental message on what is cloud computing," Marc would say.
How could our sainted campaigner against the evil of the false cloud suddenly turn around and agree to run Salesforce.com on those despicable machines of the devil? The sense of betrayal was deeply felt.
Bargaining: Of course, we realized later on as we parsed the detail of the announcement, isn't Salesforce.com just stringing Oracle along? As I wrote earlier this week reflecting on Oracle's tie-up with Microsoft, a cloud provider doesn't have to run its entire infrastructure on a single platform, and there have been various whispers of Salesforce.com preparing to move to an upgraded new architecture after more than a decade of running on the Oracle database. Surely this deal is more about fooling Oracle's sales teams into promoting the cloud CRM package to the larger vendor's installed base, in exchange for a figleaf of cloud respectability that will soon be exposed as worthless once Salesforce.com transitions to its next-generation infrastructure?
Depression: On the other hand, this is a nine-year deal and the language employed by Salesforce.com co-founder Parker Harris, the man in charge of Salesforce.com's technology destiny, was definitive: "Deploying Exadata engineered systems throughout our data centers." I had not realized how much I'd tempted fate when I had speculated last October Is Salesforce the new Oracle? Does it matter? I never foresaw that it would end up in the nightmare scenario unveiled this week.
Acceptance: Probably the truth of the matter runs like this:
- Oracle has found a way to virtualize its database that continues to satisfy Salesforce.com's needs far into the future, rendering the search for a new database platform redundant. After all, as Oracle often asserts, many of the leading cloud applications run on its database. The vendor has worked closely with them to understand their needs and has a track record of fixing those problems that have arisen as cloud providers such as eBay and Salesforce.com have scaled up to ever larger and more complex instances. It will be interesting to see the details of the multi-tenancy option that is said to be offered with the soon-to-be-launched Oracle 12c.
- For Salesforce.com, getting Oracle to integrate its Fusion HCM and Financial Cloud offerings with its platform gives the company an entrée into Oracle's installed base that it has never previously had, due to the bitter rivalry with Oracle's Siebel product line. It can now begin to repeat with Oracle customers the successes it has had in the SAP customer base with organizations such as Burberry and Kimberly-Clark, who have implemented Salesforce.com as the CRM layer working with SAP back-office systems. Where that leaves Siebel, especially Siebel OnDemand, is a question that neither company has yet addressed.
- Salesforce.com approaches multi-tenancy differently from most other SaaS providers. Its architecture consists of very large instances that run on highly scaled-up systems, whereas most SaaS providers replicate much smaller instances distributed across scaled-out commodity systems. Putting those scaled-up instances onto Exadata boxes merely takes Salesforce.com's architecture to its logical conclusion. With hindsight, perhaps this move was only a matter of time.
As for the line that Exadata is a false cloud, that always was a risky stance to take. Even Google owns hardware. Every cloud provider, if you look at their infrastructure from the back-end, operates a private cloud; it's just the resulting service that is publicly accessed. As long as Salesforce.com chooses to operate its own infrastructure without subcontracting any of it to outside providers (apart from Heroku, which does run on Amazon Web Services) then it has to buy boxes from someone. That someone used to be Dell. Now it's going to be Oracle. Best get over it.
Disclosure: Oracle, Salesforce.com and SAP are diginomica premium partners. Salesforce.com is a recent consulting client of the writer.
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