Oracle doesn't have SAP in its sights, HP is the prize

Summary:What is Oracle's real motive in continuing with its bad mouthing of HP and trying to drag SAP's former CEO into court. Could this be about an Oracle tilt at HP?

Larry Dignan reckons the Oracle/HP spat, largely being played out through Larry Ellison's increasingly incendiary emails to anyone who will print them is about unsettling sales prospects at both HP and SAP. Maybe.

As the tirades have become increasingly inflammatory, I started to wonder whether Mr Ellison has become unhinged. It would not be the first time that an emperor had lost the plot, deluded into believing their own omnipotence. I'm not alone in that opinion but there may be an altogether different agenda in play here. One that would put HP in Oracle's acquisition team's gunsights.

Many commenters have thought that Mr Ellison's real motive is to put doubt in the minds of HP shareholders and its board about the wisdom of appointing Leo Apothéker to HP's CEO spot. It has the double 'benefit' of making the HP board look silly while undermining both Mr Apothéker and Ray Lane, HP's chairman and one time operational chief at Oracle. At the time of the appointments, I thought (and still do) that the Apothéker/Lane ticket is a powerful combination.

I doubt the email fury coming out of Oracle will hurt HP sales in the short term. Erick Sherman at BNET provides a well reasoned argument as to why Mr Ellison's tactics run the risk of backfiring:

...beware urinating on those who can push your competitors’ software products rather than yours. And that’s exactly what Ellison continues to do to a company [HP] that happens to be an important business partner as well as a competitor.

The same could be said of SAP which effectively resells many hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Oracle's database. Only the other week, Oracle had a well attended stand at SAP TechEd, talking up the benefits of Exadata for SAP. In short, buyers are largely ignoring the media circus.

Even so, the channel is none too pleased. Earlier in the month, CRN reported that:

"Both companies [HP and Oracle] need to get out of the high-school lunchroom and focus on supporting their partners and growing sales," said Bob Venero, president and CEO of Future Tech Enterprise, a Holbrook, N.Y., VAR500 company. "This is just rhetoric and dirty laundry that shouldn't be aired externally."

It seems Mr Ellison didn't get that memo. But then things are hardly rosy in Oracle's garden.

Internally at Oracle I am hearing that Mr Ellison's antics are leaving (at least) some people, uncomfortable. While no-one wants to get into the detail, the troops are concerned about the impact Mr Ellison's actions might have on their sales prospects and the generally unsettling atmosphere it is creating.

Oracle Open World 2010 can hardly be dubbed a success when Debra Lilley, Oracle UK User Group Deputy Chair blogs about Mr Ellison's two keynotes:

[Keynote 1] Let me say it and be done with it, I was really hacked off by Larry’s keynotes, which you can hear for yourself here. A large percentage of Oracle’s sales come from Applications and we have not been a headline for years at OOW...

[Keynote 2] At the scheduled finish time, Larry was still ranting away at SalesForce and people were beginning to leave the hall in droves. If I wasn’t waiting for the Fusion launch I would have too. Even I was dreading > 50% again! As Larry handed over to the Fusion Demo Team with the scantiest of introductions, he and Mark Hurd left! I tweeted and won ‘Tweet of the Day’ for ‘Audience leaves in Hurds’, but I wasn’t joking - it was a mass exodus.

I would have hated to been giving the demo, but Steve Miranda and his team ploughed on. I suspect they should have been followed by a big blaze from Larry, but he had long gone.

SAP found out a long time ago that it isn't a good idea to mess with influential customers and customer groups. Does Mr Ellison think he's immune? Debra wants to say nice things about Fusion Apps so why alienate people like her?

In the madcap frenzy of emails, court hearings and ongoing competition you have to wonder what the heck IS going on? Competitive hijinks is one thing but what if Oracle wants to snag HP? This is what someone 'close to events' said to me in email:

...this is all about Oracle's strategy and plans for trying to control HP (for an eventual positioning as an acquisition target...his swan song mega-acquisition).  I don't think Larry was counting on an outsider being brought in to lead HP at the CEO level, and I don't think he saw Ray Lane coming on as Chairman.  I think Ellison & Co. was counting on an internal promotion of HP executives to the leadership post.  This plan has not gone as Oracle wanted, and with Leo [Apothéker] and Ray at the helm - control of HP will be much more difficult (if not impossible with Ray Lane).

I believe this has led to a fierce campaign by Oracle to interfere in the internal affairs of HP, trying to create an atmosphere where the Board is put under tremendous pressure to justify their selection and find themselves in defensive posture.  I think Oracle would like to ultimately through public pressure and pounding "knock out" both Leo and Ray, remove them as roadblocks for Oracle's plan, and then leave the HP Board looking for a very conservative, non-controversial internal candidate...the one Oracle wanted in position as CEO all along.

My correspondent concludes by suggesting they have no factual insight but if you stand back then there is a certain ring of truth about this set of assumptions. If Oracle can sow enough seeds of doubt as to create chaos at HP's board, the share price will be punished. If customers start to take fright, the stock price suffers even more. And then? Oracle comes in as a knight in shining armor, ready to relieve HP of its troubles, firing the whole board and embedding its own people under Mark Hurd's restored leadership. Does that make sense to you?

There is a certain logic to this argument but the internal talent at HP would likely view this as a nightmare scenario. That's never bothered companies that have their eye firmly on what stockholders think rather than on customers.

So - are we witnessing the first salvos in an Oracle endgame that sees the company undertake the mother of all rollups?

Topics: Collaboration, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, SAP

About

Dennis Howlett has been providing comment and analysis on enterprise software since 1991 in a variety of European trade and professional journals including CFO Magazine, The Economist and Information Week. Today, apart from being a full time blogger on innovation for professional services organisations, he is a founding member of Enterpri... Full Bio

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