"One day they want to be the cloud leader, the next they don't want to have it at all. One day cloud computing is ridiculous, the next day they're saying that they're the dominant player." So said Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff as he kicked off CloudForce London by kicking Oracle's cloud cred to the curb.While it's become standard dog-bites-man fare for Benioff to take shots at Oracle, his comments this week in London indicate that he's continuing to step up his pointed attacks on what he claims is Oracle's apparent ambivalence about one of the hottest technology issues in the enterprise space today: cloud computing. But Benioff's jabs, while entertaining at one level, are also out of synch with more-recent comments from Oracle about cloud computing.
To be sure, in the past Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has made a number of public comments that seem to belittle terms such as SaaS and cloud, even as he's been simultaneously spurring his company's efforts to become more of a player in that space. At a lively meeting with financial analysts in December during which he emphasized the "conspicuous" wins Oracle was racking up over Salesforce, Ellison described one of those wins as "our largest deal ever of salesforce-on-demand, or cloud computing, or whatever you want to call it."
But in analyzing last month's call with analysts, we wrote the following in Global CIO:
As noted in a news story yesterday by InformationWeek's Mary Hayes, Ellison said in a conference call with financial analysts that Oracle's commitment to cloud computing is more vigorous than SAP's, and that Oracle has simply made investments in new-product development that SAP has not matched. In making those points yesterday, Ellison's references to Oracle's commitment to cloud computing did not include the dismissive type of language he's used in the past when referring to SaaS or cloud-based products. … So while the $3 billion annual [R&D] investment is by far the most-credible commitment the company is making, Ellison's language also offers a strong indication that he has given his full blessing for SaaS and the cloud to move well within the mainstream at Oracle.
Now, as I said, actions speak a lot louder than words in today's rough IT marketplace, so Oracle's customer wins cited by Ellison last month carry a lot more weight than Benioff's verbal shots at Oracle's cloud strategy.
At the same time, however, it will surely create some lively debates among CIOs in London and other European cities targeted on the CloudForce tour when they hear Benioff say things about Oracle and Ellison like he did earlier this week in his interview with MyCustomer.com:
"Larry is my mentor - he's really smart - but Oracle just doesn't understand cloud computing," says Benioff. "One day they want to be the cloud leader, the next they don't want to have it at all. One day cloud computing is ridiculous, the next day they're saying that they're the dominant player. They're just having a hard time in articulating the vision for the company in general. They don't know how cloud computing fits with its foes in their world."
Even if his comments are a bit out of date, the success and momentum Benioff has created at Salesforce have earned him the right to zing Ellison and Oracle, and without question Benioff eagerly seizes every opportunity to do so, as he did quite forcefully in his company's last call with financial analysts. And across the last decade since he founded Salesforce, Benioff's relentless championing of the cloud model has helped make it the disruptive and high-value platform it has become today.
Ultimately, though, the issue isn't so much about the war of words between Benioff and Ellison, or about whether Ellison's vocabulary in describing his company's new products matches up with Benioff's requirements for how to define the cloud. Rather, as I wrote in a column last month called "Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff Has Declared War - Are You Enlisting?," the real issue will be which company CIOs believe can do the best job of helping them transform their IT operations from old, slow, and expensive to flexible, fast, and affordable.