06:52 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans

Global CIO: Oracle's Larry Ellison Embraces Cloud Computing's 'Idiocy'

After Ellison's colorful rants about the cloud's absurdity, idiocy, and nonsense, Oracle's expanding its cloud technology, advocacy, and marketing.

Welcome to Part 6 in our week-long series on "IT's Golden Opportunity."

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 re-energizes its hardware business, Hewlett-Packard moves beyond infrastructure, and Dell offers services.

And, perhaps most unlikely of all, Larry Ellison learns to--well, perhaps "embrace" is too strong a word; let's go with tolerate--the cloud.

Because in the case of Ellison and Oracle cloud computing, just nine months ago we had one of the world's most driven and competitive people (that would be Ellison) not just objecting to the idea of cloud computing, or expressing discomfort at the name (as IBM CEO Sam Palmisano and Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd both did at about exactly the same time), but absolutely ranting at the "ABSURDITY" of the idea and the "NITWIT" venture capitalists trying to invent a new industry by simply coming up with a new term.

A year earlier, in another high-energy rant about the sheer "IDIOCY" of cloud computing, we had a thoroughly bewildered and exasperated Ellison ask, "What the HELL is cloud computing?"

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.

Oracle's website now includes things like the Cloud Computing Resource Center, and articles and podcasts on Clouds Bring Agility To the Enterprise, and information on Oracle's ongoing series of Cloud Computing Forum events held in dozens of cities around the globe.

And the company is not trying to ool-fay Ellison by slipping this cloud stuff out there in a secret language, either--here's part of Oracle's description of its bluntly named Cloud Computing Forum global road show:

"Ready to break through the haze around cloud computing? In this full-day event for IT professionals, Oracle experts clarify how organizations can take advantage of enterprise cloud computing. You'll learn the what, why, and how of cloud computing, so you can develop your organization's own cloud strategy and roadmap," says Oracle.

Contrast that to these comments about the cloud from Ellison just nine months ago in his entertaining and candid interview at the Churchill Club:

"My objection is the absurdity--the absurdity!--it's not that I don't like the idea--it's this [he sneers] NONSENSE--I mean, the guys say, 'Oh, it's in the CLOUD! Well, what is that? And then [to interviewer] you say, 'Are we dead?' Uh, yeah, we're dead--if there's no hardware or software in the cloud we are so [big sneer] screwed ... But it's NOT water vapor! All it is is a computer attached to a NETWORK--what are you TALKING about?? [crowd roars with laughter] I mean, whadda you think Google RUNS on? Do they run on WATER VAPOR? I mean, cloud--it's DATABASES, and OPERATING SYSTEMS, and MEMORY, and MICROPROCESSORS, and THE INTERNET!! [big applause from crowd]

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"And all of a sudden, 'NO, IT'S NONE OF THAT--IT'S THE CLOUD!!' What are you TALKING ABOUT?? Now--and the VCs--I love the VCs: 'We only fund--oh, is that cloud? Whoa, whoa--Microsoft Word--change 'Internet' to 'cloud'--mass change--and give it back to these NITWITS on Sand Hill Road!"

So what changed Ellison's mind? What made this most decisive and single-minded of men accept into his company the very concepts he so frequently ridiculed as lunacy, nonsense, and worse?

There are three answers, and they come in this order:

First, the fashion-driven culture of the computer industry; second, orange becoming the new pink; and third, the immortal wisdom of reality.

Ellison himself said as much in these comments at Oracle Open World in September 2008, from 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."

But with that, Ellison was only warming up--and next he delved into a bit of existentialism interlaced with some history:

"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??"

But whether driven by realism or pragmatism or simply his highly tuned capitalist instinct, Ellison has certainly relented in stages over the past 21 months to the point where he now weaves the terms and concepts of cloud computing into this public comments, as he did six months ago on a quarterly earnings call when he described his vision for the Oracle-Sun systems business:

"And those clusters are now called private clouds--that's the more-fashionable term for clusters--and we're using our software, our operating system--both Solaris and Oracle Linux--and our virtualization--the ability to dynamically allocate and reallocate resources, which is essential for cloud computing--as well as integrated networking and integrated storage to deliver a complete private cloud to our customers." (From our column Global CIO: Oracle CEO Larry Ellison On The Future Of IT.)

So what made Ellison relent--what drove his great metamorphosis? I think it was because no matter how much the idea of "the cloud" offended his own internal logic and experience, Ellison knew that customers sometime want a little fashion to accentuate the big and substantial things they're trying to achieve with the not-so-fashionable world of servers and networks and highly virtualized environments.

And he said as much 21 months ago in spite of his vehement objection to the whole cloud phenomenon when, immediately after he asked, "What the HELL is cloud computing?", he said this:

"But we'll make cloud-computing announcements because if orange is the new pink, we'll make orange blouses! I mean, I'm not gonna fight this thing--but, y'know, yeah yeah yeah, fine, maybe we'll do an ad--I don't understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud computing, other than change the wording on some of our ads. It, it's crazy."

And so it has come to pass that, no matter what your color experts might try to tell you, orange and pink make a golden opportunity for IT.

Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

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].

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