It would be a strange world indeed if Microsoft executives started saying warm and cozy things about archrival Oracle, so it was no big surprise to see Microsoft Server and Tools president Bob Muglia try to hammer away at Oracle's strategy at a tech conference last week.
But what was surprising was the ham-fisted approach taken by Muglia in his attempt to convince the audience of investors at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference that Oracle's strategy of offering vertically integrated systems will stunt customer choice while Microsoft itself wants nothing more than unlimited options for customers—that is, as long as all those options are x86.
Muglia was asked for his opinion on "this trend we're seeing in the market to vertically integrate," and the questioner offered three examples: Cisco and blades, EMC and VMware, and Oracle and Sun. Not surprisingly, Muglia ignored the first two and went right after Oracle:
"In terms of your second question with the verticalization of companies like Sun and Oracle, there's no question that there has been a trend—I sort of look at it, and I admit I shake my head. It's the back to the future sort of trend of this highly verticalized company that feels a lot like the mini-computer companies of the 1970s, and sort of the structure that's expected where everything will be purchased from one vendor," said Muglia in a transcript of his conversation with Goldman's Sarah Friar and then audience Q&A.
"I don't believe that's what customers will want in a long-term perspective. I think that customers want to have the ability to have choice at different layers of the stack and the horizontal nature of the computing industry that's emerged over the last 20 years, I think there's still some major fundamental dynamics that make that incredibly interesting for customers to be able to choose their hardware vendor, to choose their software operating system supplier, to choose their applications from different vendors, and ensure that they're able to get best of breed associated with those things."
Now, I wasn't able to attend the event itself, so I can't say whether Muglia had a straight face when he was laying down those lines about how he (and I would assume, by extension, Microsoft) believes it is "incredibly interesting for customers to be able to choose . . . their software operating systems supplier."
Yes indeed—over the past two decades that Muglia's been at Microsoft, if there's any company that's been leading the charge for customers to have unfettered choice of operating systems, it's, uh, well . . . (do all those lawsuits and other anticompetitive really matter any more??), yeah, right, it's Microsoft, that longtime enabler of Linux and all other non-Windows operating systems.
So Muglia says Oracle's desire to offer optimized systems was a real head-shaker for him. And he had to shake his head even more when he mused about why the heck Oracle just doesn't kill Sparc and do what everybody else does and get in line for the Wintel x86 standard that has become an absolute industry standard because customers have so many options when picking which chips to use that, well, let's see, how can I put this . . . ahah! How about this: customers don't have to worry about wasting time having to pick from lots of choices because with Microsoft's help there are almost no other options.
Here—let Muglia explain it because he, after all, is the guy who finds it "incredibly interesting for customers to be able to choose" what components go into their stacks:
"There are some things that Oracle is doing that I just shake my head at. I don't understand what's going to happen—what they think they're going to do with Sparc. I don't see how Sparc can live long-term," said Muglia.
"The economics associated with competing with the Intel ecosystem associated with performance characteristics and power characteristics of the X86 architecture are so powerful that the idea that Oracle is going to be able to overcome the natural evolution of the industry and be able to maintain what is unambiguously a dying architecture I don't know what to think about that, except that it's fine if they want to go off and spend a lot of money on doing it. We'll just continue to sell X86 systems to our customers. And we'll work with partners like HP."
Now, nobody ever said this IT stuff was easy, and now I think I understand it better: it's always better to have unlimited choices—in fact, it's "incredibly exciting" to have a vast array of choices—except when it's not good to have choices, as in those cases when a product competes with Microsoft.
Two closing thoughts: first of all, as for Muglia's confusion over "what they think they're going to do with Sparc," Oracle CEO Larry Ellison says he's going to invest more in Sparc than Sun ever did. Muglia might think that's bad for customers—confusing and all that—but I suspect CIOs will always be happy to see competitors put some pressure on hugely dominant suppliers.
And second, I love competition and the razor-sharp claims and counterclaims that go with it and that can sometimes help illuminate the deeply technical stuff that ultimately makes up the IT business. As far as I'm concerned, Bob Muglia and every other Microsoft executive have a fiduciary responsibility to take the fight to Oracle as aggressively and with as much lethal intent as possible.
But when they do that, those executives should remember that there's a big fat line between competitive brawling and silly name-calling.
Muglia picked two of the very worst topics possible for attempting to attack Oracle and defend Microsoft: customer choice and x86. He could have gone after them on pricing, support policies, ecosystem range and depth, cloud commitment, and much more. But instead he took the easy way out and went after the caricatures.
So when a top-level Microsoft executive like Bob Muglia says that unlimited competition is great except when it runs counter to Microsoft's interests as Oracle's Sparc does, and when he attempts to position Microsoft as a champion of customer choice in everything including operating systems, well, he shouldn't be surprised to discover later that such comments did very little to undercut the credibility of Larry Ellison and Oracle, but did a lot to undercut the credibility of Bob Muglia and Microsoft.
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.
For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at [email protected].