Ever since Hewlett-Packard ousted Mark Hurd four months ago and later replaced him with former SAP CEO Leo' Apotheker, Larry Ellison has blasted the HP board and Apotheker several times, questioning their competence, their intelligence, and their integrity.
But Ellison has been careful in confining his tongue-lashings to the board and to Apotheker, and has avoided bashing longtime strategic partner HP itself.
During his introduction last week of some powerful new systems and his announcement of Oracle achieving a new world record in database speed, Ellison hammered HP's hardware products in general and its servers in particular, ridiculing them for being pitifully slow and going so far as referring to HP's top-of-the-line Superdome as "Turtledome."
Not exactly the sort of commentary that CEOs generally make about fully committed strategic partners, is it?
Most ominously for the future prospects of the 30-year Oracle-HP alliance, Ellison promised on three separate occasions that Oracle's new high-end systems would provide the means by which Oracle would "go after" HP in the marketplace.
Lest you think I'm overstating the case, here's Ellison in his own words from my transcription of his remarks at a Dec. 2 webcast of the debut of the Sparc Supercluster. As this excerpt opens, Ellison is describing how Oracle's new system handled itself versus an HP system and an IBM system in a controlled trial of database performance:
"So: how did we do? We have all these great technologies and we put 'em together and tested it to see what kind of performance we'd get. Well let's go back down memory lane a little bit and look at how the other vendors are doing in database," Ellison said.
"HP's got their biggest machine and it's called the Superdome—it's a fast machine, it's a big machine, it runs on a chip called Itanium from Intel and they actually got up to 4 million transactions per minute on one big honkin' Superdome—the biggest thing they could put together," Ellison said.
"And that's the best HP has ever done: 4 million. That's HP's claim to fame."
Ellison then brought up the next slide in his presentation, and this one showed HP's performance at 4 million transactions per minute and IBM's at 10 million per minute. Ellison pulled out his knife and took his first swipe at HP:
"Well—that's a little embarrassing!" he said with a chortle.
Ellison then spent a minute discussing the IBM system and its results, and then brought up his money slide showing the relative performances of HP, IBM, and Oracle/Sun. At the bottom was HP with its performance of 4 million transactions per minute; then IBM in the middle with 10 million transactions per minute; and then at the top, Oracle/Sun with 30 million transactions per minute.
Clearly, it was a resounding victory for Oracle, and one that the slide showed unmistakably. But Ellison deliberately pounded away at HP in language suitable for an arch-rival rather than for a longtime strategic partner.
"So if these computers were animals—I mean, the question is—I don't know how many people have seen the Wall Street Journal, but we ran an ad that said, 'If these computers were animals, what kind of animals would they be?' " Ellison asked.
And then up came the next slide, with Oracle portrayed as a huge cheetah, IBM represented by a mid-size racehorse, and then HP lampooned as a little turtle. Laughing and clearly having a great time, Ellison said, "I hope no one's offended by this—but if they are, I guess that's okay too.
"We're one big cheetah, and IBM's a stallion . . . and HP's a Turtledome," said Ellison with a huge laugh. And then he made his and Oracle's intentions toward HP unmistakably clear:
"Make no misunderstanding—there should be no misunderstanding—we think the HP machines are vulnerable, we think they're slow, we think they're expensive, we think they're vulnerable in the marketplace, and we're gonna go after them," Ellison said (emphasis added).
"We're gonna go after them in the marketplace with better software, better hardware, and better people, and we're gonna win market share against those guys in the database business, in the middleware business, in the server business and in the storage business because we have better products. We just have better products," Ellison said.
"And they're far behind."
The next slide showed side-by-side images of the Sparc Supercluster and the IBM P7, with a red starburst graphic saying "Dethroned!" over the IBM machine, and Ellison had some fairly nice things to say about IBM and its technology:
"Okay—the former world champion, the P7—the P7's a good product—what can I say? IBM has good products. And they've got an excellent chip, and the guys that our Sparc guys compare themselves to are the IBM Power PC guys.
"Nonetheless," Ellison said, "we beat them 3 to 1 in throughput, with 30 million versus 10 million; better price-performance; and the most shocking number of all is response time that's 3 times better. Our response time was less than half a second for these 30 million transactions—average response time was less than half a second. That's an amazing number."
Then Ellison showed side-by-side images of the Oracle machine and the HP machine, with the latter having the red starburst-thingy over it but this time emblazoned with the word "Destroyed!"
"Way better than HP," he said. "The amazing thing is they [HP] take up 24 times as much floor space with their computer as we do, [and] consume vastly more power."
And then, in case anybody missed his first two pledges of the new dynamic between Oracle and HP, Ellison reiterated Oracle's stance toward HP, and if this is what an "alliance" is all about, then I'm going to reconsider my enemies:
"Again, we think they're vulnerable, and we're going after them," Ellison said. "We're over seven times faster, dramatically better cost-performance, and in terms of energy consumption and floor space and all of those things, we're leagues in front of HP."
And earlier in his remarks, Ellison deliberately left HP off the list of hardware partners working with Oracle on new high end systems for which Oracle will offer "gold-standard" service:
"So a new level of support and testing that's backed up by a new service-level agreement based on a gold standard—and I like the term 'gold standard' configurations—and by the way, we're gonna do that—Sun/Oracle's gonna do that—and we expect to announce partners that will have their own gold-standard configurations," Ellison said.
"This is not merely Sun/Oracle—we're gonna have partners like IBM and Dell and Cisco that join in and create those gold-standard configurations that we jointly test all of our new releases against, all of our bug fixes against, so that customers have choice in terms of the hardware and software they use that's thoroughly tested. So we think choice is very important."
Yes, choice is very important—unless, it seems, you want to choose HP.
So: is the HP-Oracle alliance officially dead? Well, if it's not, then based on Larry Ellison's comments, it's the new posterboy for the zombie brotherhood.
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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