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9/24/2010
01:27 AM
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Oracle's Success Breeds Fear And Loathing At New York Times

The Times does a hatchet job with strident but unproven claims about widespread fear and intimidation among Oracle customers.

Even if you're not an Oracle customer, you'll probably be intrigued to hear about a highly subjective account of Oracle's strategy and business practices in the New York Times, which makes the totally unsupported claim that Oracle customers throughout the world live in abject fear of what Larry Ellison will do to them next.

The Times story is headlined "Oracle Growth Plans Worry Rivals and Customers" and is based on a smattering of interviews conducted during this week's Oracle Open World event, which drew 41,000 attendees from more than 100 countries and 500 IT-company exhibitors. (And anyway, don't most companies want their competitors to be worried about them?)

The reporter bases his Oracle-as-grim-reaper premise on brief snippets from exactly three (3) Oracle customers—including one from a database developer whose core insight is that "It's freaking terrifying for some people."

The article also leans heavily on some condescending remarks by the reporter about the refreshments and hospitality at Oracle Open World, plus one unintentionally hilarious comment from an independent consultant, and mostly the reporter's own apparent beliefs that bold innovation, aggressive competition, and naked ambition are all bad. And scary, to boot.

I know a thing or two about Oracle, and I was at Open World all week, and there's no question the company has its detractors—probably even more than most IT companies have. Lord knows lots of people dislike Larry Ellison, either because competitors often dislike each other, or because Ellison says what he thinks, or because Oracle beat or bought the griper's company, or merely out of small-minded jealousy.

There's also no question that Oracle is big and getting much bigger, that it unquestionably plays to win in every facet of its business, and that its aspirations are to become the most-influential and perhaps also the biggest IT company in the world.

On top of that, it's not unreasonable to assume that Oracle has set its sights on displacing Microsoft as the most-profitable tech company on the planet.

But what the heck is wrong with all that? When did we begin to look down our noses at big dreams, relentless focus, high-risk daring, and unwavering confidence?

Do you prefer your strategic IT partners to have mediocre technology and shaky finances? Do you want them to be third or fifth or ninth in their competitive set because their CEO lives in the past and their salespeople don't believe in their products? Are those the types of lousy bets on which you're willing to bet your careers?

Well, that seems to capture the preferences of the New York Times, based on its article. Here are some excerpts, first from the three (3) customers whose airy comments are supposed to represent this worldwide climate of fear caused by Oracle, and then from the reporter's own myopic perspectives of Oracle:

Customer #1: "It's freaking terrifying for some people," said Jason Carey, a database software developer for a credit services company. (That's his entire comment.)

Customer #2: "Maureen Miller, who oversees technology infrastructure work for the National Science Foundation, put it this way: 'We are becoming an all-Oracle shop, but not by choice. They bought every company we deal with. And we don't tend to want to put all of our eggs in one basket.' "

Customer #3: Barclays Capital director of software research (and with a title like that, is he a customer or an analyst?) Israel Hernandez seems to have been the reporter's mother lode of deep (?) information. First, here's Hernandez on the fear Oracle inspires: "Customers will always gripe about giving too much control to any one company."

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And here he is on the battle among Oracle and three larger competitors (HP, IBM, and Cisco) for data-center accounts: "We will see more concentration because that's where the market is going."

And on the hiring of Mark Hurd as Oracle president: "It implies a step up in mergers and acquisitions." (Earlier in the article, the reporter says Oracle has acquired 66 companies in the past five years—so is it really a shock to anyone that Hurd will likely be involved in acquisitions, since history tells us that over the time specified by the reporter, Oracle has averaged more than one per month?)

That's it for evidence of Oracle inspiring fear among customers. That's the sum total of support for reporter Ashlee Vance's claims of Oracle's heavy-handed dominance, and for the widespread sweaty-palmed fear and high anxiety spawned by that dominance, to which he refers repeatedly throughout his article. Check out these excerpts, accompanied by my followup comments in italics:

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