Has Oracle's Ellison finally stepped over the line?

Have Larry Ellison's jibes at competitors and creation of confusion gone too far. I think this time he has stepped over the edge. It will be difficult to get back on solid ground.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor on

Those of us who follow the antics of CEOs in Silicon Valley like nothing better than a slugfest. It's even better if Larry Ellison, CEO Oracle is on deck. We've all come to expect that one or more targets will be treated to his particular brand of satire. Mostly it is amusing at one level but in recent times it has taken on a more disturbing and darker edge.

That is a concern. Despite the fact the company behaves imperiously towards any hack or analyst who strays too far from the party line, I am detecting a mood of anger that will not be easy to roll back. Rule by fear works for a period of time but as pretty much all dictatorships have discovered, there is an invisible line over which you cannot cross without there being dire consequences.

It has gotten to a point where certain high level officers among Oracle's competitors have been seriously thinking of taking Ellison on. Whenever they've asked my opinion, the answer has always been the same. You cannot win because Ellison is always three steps ahead of you. Just do what you do best and ignore the rest. The only person I know who has been able to out quip him is Scott McNeally but nowadays he doesn't really count.

Banana skins aplenty

The latest outing - this week's Oracle cloud announcements provide a good case in point. Elsewhere, I commented that there was much goodness to take away from the content, even if it is largely a rehash of past pronouncements. However, I felt that Ellison spoiled the pitch by making statements about competitors that are untrue. That's one of those lines I don't believe you can cross without becoming a parody of yourself. His first tweet was brutal:

As I said in other commentary:

...when you go to the [Oracle] public cloud website and sift through what they are offering there are only 13 Fusion CRM apps and nine Fusion HCM apps on display along with what looks like a solitary social network play.

In the Java section there are is little detail while in the Database area, the company talks about: "The Oracle Database Cloud Service includes a set of business productivity applications. All of these applications are easy to use, support mobile devices, and can be provisioned in seconds."

I don't see how this all adds up to 100 applications and none of them are available now.

This has led to confusion among other analysts. Frank Scavo points out:

Oracle claims 100 Oracle Fusion cloud services but provides no list of the applications. Seeing that Oracle announced five during Open World, it's difficult to understand how it is now claiming 100, unless it is talking about very small pieces of functionality. During the post-event analyst briefing, I believe Tom Kurian did promise to deliver a list--so we'll have to wait for that.

Frank got in touch with me about this post saying that he could not remember ever being so tough on Oracle. I sensed a touch of sadness in that remark and it is sad for the many customers who put their trust in Oracle and the great engineers who have worked for years on Fusion. He concludes:

Oracle has fallen into a pattern in its public events of overstating its successes, misrepresenting its competitors, and touting statements-of-direction as accomplishments. This is unfortunate because it causes observers to discount what is in fact some very impressive technology. I hope that, in the future, Oracle will take a more understated approach that will do justice to its people, products, and services.

Analysts are just as snarky a bunch as anyone but when the remarks made by a company executive blur what is being said in a public presentation you have to start wondering what to believe. In Oracle's case, it has always been a case of reading between the lines, checking in with colleagues, checking in with other stakeholders and then rechecking to make sure your picture is as accurate as you can figure out.

The current disconnects between the picture the company is putting out augmented by some of Ellison's wilder statements is now making it difficult to be certain what is going on. That is a recipe for disaster. When analysts are left scratching their heads about the real story then that is what gets conveyed to customers. Along with a great deal of discomfiture. Oracle has no control over that and therefore runs the risk of being misrepresented but only because its own story is both confused and larded with untruths.

David Terrar, who I know is not given to rising up on his hind legs Tweeted:

Oracle's Behavior Undercuts Its Own Cloud Accomplishments - @fscavo on Larry Ellison keynote bullshit #cloudfscavo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/oracle…

Rewriting the multi-tenant history

Ray Wang, CEO Constellation Research said in regard to Scavo's assertion that Ellison is trying to rewrite history:

Many salient points from @fscavo about#oraclebit.ly/Lht9Pw#oraclecloud#oraclesupport. MyPOV: you can't rewrite history #ensw

Winners get to rewrite history all the time but that usually occurs after they've defeated their enemies. That is not the case here. What are we talking about? Scavo notes that:

At the beginning of his presentation, Ellison claimed that Oracle began to rebuild all of Oracle's applications for the cloud, calling it Project Fusion. But some of us have a long memory, and we've written blog posts on Oracle's Fusion program over the years.

He then goes on to outline the history on this topic, linking to past articles that explain his understanding of Fusion at different times. In trawling through those articles, I was struck by how many twists and turns Fusion has taken. I certainly remember the days when Fusion was being written off as middleware. But then the plot thickens.

An anonymous commenter to Scavo's piece says:

You're wrong about the history rewrite. The main goal of Fusion applications was to combine (not integrate) their acquisitions. But the original design was for a multi-tenant application suite that would run as well in the cloud (or "on demand") as it did on premise. I had a number of conversations with Oracle strategists as a customer on the Fusion strategy council, and I am 100% certain that their original intention was to enable Fusion applications to run in the cloud.

Larry was simply emphasizing a feature that he may not have emphasized in the past. He was not rewriting history.

This doesn't square with my understanding of multi-tenancy or that of SIs I've spoken with. Recent conversations with senior people in Oracle's user community leave me to believe that they are just as confused. The other month I asked one representative if they knew for certain whether Fusion is multi-tenant. The answer was a resigned shrug but accompanied by the statement: 'But we do know it is bloody hard to implement.'

If anything, Oracle's current position is reminiscent of the SAP days of the so-called 'mega tenant' where every customer sat on their own hardware. Those who know that particular history will also know that some of us dragged SAP through the mud saying they'd never get it to work. And they didn't. In Oracle's version, Ellison has been consistent in talking about not 'co-mingling the databases' but talks about virtual instances.

Even then, Oracle is saying that customers will have choice about the timing of upgrades. That heavily implies hand crafting for every customer. As SAP found to its cost, that's a very expensive exercise. It's a far cry from the super efficient world of multi-tenancy practiced successfully by Salesforce.com and Workday, Oracle's current targets for derision. That seems to be confirmed in the last line of this Oracle document on the topic:

Autoprovisioning is not available for the groups.

The best we can therefore say is that Ellison is putting forward a version of multi-tenancy that suits Oracle's architecture argument but is what Marc Benioff, CEO Salesforce.com and others would likely call 'false cloud' and which I do not recognise as valid in the current multi-tenancy orthodoxy among analysts I respect.

When the music stops

There comes a point in any song and dance act where the music stops. Given this latest round of confusion, half truths and FUD one wonders whether this is that moment for Oracle. What I do know is that Bob Evans, late of SAP and recently minted as one of Oracle's communications supremos has got an uphill battle on his hands if he thinks this is going to go away.

In a piece Evans penned: Do Oracle Customers Deserve a Better Choice? on behalf of SAP he referenced a particularly tough analysis by Josh Greenbaum entitled: The Customer Comes Second…..Oracle’s Engineered for Investors Software Stack. It is in the comments that we start to see the genesis for where we are today with Oracle:

Let’s face it Oracle has played its game well …..and rewarded by Wall Street. The real culprits are the industry analysts who if they spoke as you do with plain speak and honest criticism then Oracle would have to play a new game – bringing forward real innovation that helps their business customers not their “close” friends in the IT industry!

Scavo picks up the beat yesterday, others will surely amplify. And then what?

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