What the Oracle-Autonomy flap is really about

Oracle is taking aim at Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch. Here's a look at the strategic rationale behind the public spat.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Oracle skewers Autonomy CEO Mike Lynch over whether the content management and search company was shopped to Larry Ellison's gang before HP bought it. Cue Oracle slides and public statements and you have quite brouhaha.

On its earnings conference call Sept. 20, Ellison said started the Autonomy campaign. Ellison addressed a question about unstructured data and Autonomy this way:

We are constantly adding features to our database to support the storage and the searching of unstructured as well as structured data. Autonomy was shopped to us. We looked at the price and thought it was absurdly high. We had no interest in making it the Autonomy acquisition. We think we're much better off with a couple of smaller acquisitions and to continue to innovate in that area so that the unstructured data and the structured data both find their way into an Oracle database where it's secure, it's scalable, it runs on Exadata. We think -- we really don't want to have two separate databases, an Autonomy-like unstructured database and an Oracle structured database. We think that data should be integrated with a single database technology. That's always been our strategy for Oracle.

If you follow Ellison's taunts regularly each quarter his comments weren't all that bad. The consensus view is that HP overpaid for Autonomy.

Howlett: Oracle skewers HP with alleged Autonomy 'shopping' gaffeZDNet UK: Autonomy: Oracle is 'confused' over supposed sale offer

Lynch, however, argued that Autonomy wasn't shopped to Oracle. That's like poking a bee hive. Ellison couldn't resist another statement.

Oracle said:

CEO Lynch insists that it was a purely technical meeting, limited to a ‘lively discussion of database technologies.’ Interesting, but not true. The slides Lynch showed Oracle’s Mark Hurd and Doug Kehring were all about Autonomy’s financial results, Autonomy’s stock price history, Autonomy’s Price/Earnings history and Autonomy’s stock market valuation. Ably assisting Mike Lynch’s attempt to sell Autonomy to Oracle was Silicon Valley’s most famous shopper/seller of companies, the legendary investment banker Frank Quattrone. After the sales pitch was over, Oracle refused to make an offer because Autonomy’s current market value of $6 billion was way too high.

Oracle also posted slides, but the presentations look largely inconclusive. In other words, we have a he said, he said situation.

Now Lynch is denying that Autonomy was shopped---again.

Let's fast forward and get to what this Oracle-Autonomy spat is really about.

  • By taking on Lynch and Autonomy, Oracle is opening questioning the ethics of HP's prize acquisition.
  • As this banter goes on the perception that HP paid too much for Autonomy only becomes more solidified.
  • Autonomy technically could become a competitor with its unstructured data management efforts. Naturally, HP will create an Autonomy appliance. Why not tar Autonomy before HP closes the deal?
  • New HP CEO Meg Whitman supports the Autonomy purchase so Oracle gets to make life difficult for the company's new leader. Remember Ellison bashed Leo Apotheker, who is gone, but isn't a fan of Ray Lane either.
  • Autonomy is just another target for Oracle, which already has HP limping by not supporting further Itanium development.

In other words, this is classic Art of War behavior in Silicon Valley. As we get caught up in the war of words just remember Oracle's overall objective: Cripple HP.


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