Is Larry Ellison really anti-cloud computing?

William Hurley looks into the background of the Oracle chief's recent outburst

The buzz from analysts and reporters is that Larry Ellison is rethinking Oracle's cloud computing strategy. Just last year, when asked about cloud computing, Larry said, "Maybe I'm an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It's complete gibberish. It's insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?" If he's flip-flopping, it's interesting. Since Oracle's one of the titans of Silicon Valley, it's news. You know what's bugging me? Is Larry really "creeping into the space just nine months after he mocked the business model" as recently reported in The Wall Street Journal? Really? The guy who embodies going against the grain, and stands by his own opinion even if it's wrong, is backtracking? Say it ain't so! According to The Wall Street Journal, that's exactly what happened during a call following Oracle's fourth-quarter results. On the call Ellison said that some portion of revenue from Oracle's Fusion products could come from subscriptions in the future. This is in stark contrast to the business model that most Oracle customers know – one-time fees for one-off sales. I respect the Journal, but I'm not so sure Larry's headed back to the future. I think he just didn't have an answer ready when asked about cloud computing last year.

Larry's not as anti-cloud as the press makes him out to be. He has a large stake in NetSuite, a company that he helped found via a significant, personal financial investment. Oracle has also been offering official support on Amazon Web Services for months now. Add that to Oracle's recent Sun Microsystems acquisition and it doesn't strike me as a company that doesn't understand or isn't moving into cloud computing. Larry's comments about cloud computing remind me of the times he bashed virtualisation back in the day. Everyone spread similar rumours then, and the transition from hatin' to embracin' looked almost identical.

In other words, Larry didn't have an informed opinion the first time he was asked about virtualisation. Once he did, his story quickly changed from disparaging virtualisation to announcing Oracle VM, and eventually acquiring companies like Virtual Iron. So far my sources say the alleged cloud computing reversal is the same situation. What do you think? Does Larry have a plan? Did he really have a change of heart, or was he just spouting bull the first time around?

Comments online in response to this column include: "If I can afford Oracle, I'm not running it in a cloud which sacrifices security, stability and privacy of data. Cloud (Shared computing as it was called 20 years ago) computing is not even on our radar scope".

Another reader had this to say: "Will somebody please tell me what Cloud computing is? I'm sitting here with a paper entitled IBM's Cloud Computing Strategy Defined, and frankly I'm scratching my head. Not to pick on IBM, as it all sounds good, but I reach the conclusion that 'Cloud' is an exercise in marketing. Maybe Cloud is an extension of blue sky".

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