To say that it wasn't always this way would be a massive understatement, and its both illuminating and highly entertaining to review some of Ellison's comments on and reactions to cloud computing before he got the religion that was so much in evidence here at Oracle Open World.
It's illuminating because it emphasizes dramatically how rapidly the IT landscape is shifting around us: acquisitions, new business models, new partnerships, new products and combinations of technologies, and the incessant attempts by IT vendors to become more relevant to customers and to impart to them newer and higher levels of value.
Four months ago, commenting on Ellison's new-found tolerance for the cloud, I wrote this:
After all the showmanship and on-stage theatrics, it really comes down to this: Larry Ellison is allowing his company to love the cloud because orange is the new pink for Oracle.
This story offers a, uh, colorful example of how leading IT companies eventually manage to get out of their own way and adapt to the realities of the marketplace to come up with creative approaches to solving customer problems. Microsoft puts Office online, SAP puts its heart into SaaS, IBM reenergizes its hardware business, Hewlett-Packard moves beyond infrastructure, and Dell offers services. . . .
But oh what a difference a year or two—and a potentially lucrative market—can make! Today, Oracle offers two sets of cloud-enabling products and technologies: some of its core technologies like grid computing and middleware, still bearing their traditional names; and a second and newer group of tools to which Oracle has attached the very term—cloud computing—that only very recently sent Ellison into conniptions. (End of excerpt.)
In such a dynamic and turbulent business, then, it's important to be able to read between the lines—for example, what the heck did Ellison mean in the excerpt above when he said that for Oracle, "orange is the new pink"? Let's take a look at what he said exactly two years ago at Oracle Open World 2008 via an audio file on YouTube:
"I have to say that the only way I can understand the computer industry—the computer industry is the only industry that's more fashion-driven than women's fashion. I was reading W magazine and I found that orange is the new pink—and cloud is the new SaaS, or the new virtualization—I mean, it is the most nonsensical—I read these articles and I have NO idea what—and maybe I'm an idiot—but I have NO idea what anyone's talking about! It's really complete gibberish."
Ellison then offered a bit of historical perspective, and it's again illuminating to see that the very question he asked at Open World 2008—what is cloud computing?—also formed the core of his opening remarks at this year's event. Again, from my transcription of the audio file from 2008:
"Then there's a definition: what's cloud computing? It's using a computer that's 'out there.' These people who are writing this crap are out there! They're INSANE—I mean it's the stupidest--I've been through this: 'Open source is going to destroy our business, and there'll be nothing but open source and we'll be out of business.' And minicomputers are gonna destroy mainframes and PCs are gonna destroy minicomputers and open source is gonna destroy all standards and all software's gonna be delivered as a service—WHEN is this IDIOCY gonna STOP?? I've been at this a long time, and there's still mainframes—but it was the first industry that was gonna be destroyed and watching mainframes be destroyed is like watching a glacier melt. . . . What the HELL is cloud computing??"
Now contrast those remarks with some comments he made about 10 months ago during an earnings call with analysts, which I wrote about at the time in a column called Global CIO: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison On The Future Of IT: