Disclaimer: My company was a Sun Microsystems partner (that later became part of Oracle) but now I no longer have a business relationships with this company anymore.

Before the end of the year I had a lunch with a couple of friends: one Oracle’s employee and one partner of the same company. We weren’t there to talk about the most hated software company (and perhaps the wealthiest one) of the market but, eventually we opened up and shared each other some anecdotes.
All the IT vendors have their fanboys and detractors, but I think that Oracle (not its products) is the one that could hold the record for the highest number of detractors!

The most important reason to end my partnership with Oracle was the strong disdain for the company and its way of thinking about partners and customers (diametrically opposed to both mine and old Sun’s Micro point of view). At the beginning, after the acquisition, I was very thrilled by the new winning paradigm (Oracle+Sun could be an interesting technological stack) but, after the first partner meeting, all the magic was gone.

Who is Oracle

Oracle is a very wealthy company and it spends a lot of time communicating it to the world! Every single presentation (even the most product oriented) has a prologue full of enthusiastic financial data and awesome margins. All these numbers show Oracle’s power and how it is able to gobble other software (and hardware) companies. It seems that the first objective of these slide presentations isn’t to sell something to a customer , but to sell stocks to a new investor… This kind of approach puts customers (and partners) in an awkward situation.
Actually, the Oracle’s huge success comes from a single product: the RDBMS. This software is the foundation of many enterprise applications. It’s not disputable that its capabilities (and sometime prejudices on other softwares) make it an unreplaceable choice for many IT projects.

The dark side

Unfortunately, Oracle is very aware of what I have written above and they take the advantage of it. Many users (at least in Italy) report that Oracle’s salesmen are arrogant and standoffish, because they know that you can’t avoid their product and they work constantly to reinforce this aspect.
The “partners” (between quotes and with a lower case p, where partners means also developers) have a subservient attitude with a underlaying hatred.

Actually, many ex-Sun partners (at least in Italy) prefer to work with Oracle only on single business opportunities because they know that they can’t build a long term strategy with the software giant. (i.e.: you can find examples of what I mean by looking at the support contracts: Oracle sells renewals directly).
Also unfair practices are very widespread among customers (i.e.: the request to run a license verification tools near the end of the fiscal year or the way they calculate licenses on competitors CPUs and virtualized infrastructures).

But there is more

Oracle doesn’t have credibility on the HW front.
When Oracle bought Sun, some people (myself included) thought that something good would happen. On the contrary, Oracle applied its usual strategy and negative results came quickly. From a technology standpoint, much of the Sun spirit disappeared (people who once made the difference have now left among controversy).
From the hardware point of view, Oracle sank the x86 volume servers business (where all the players are competing and the users are buying) to focus on two things: SPARC and appliances (EXA*).
Moreover, while other Tier 1 vendors are working on stacks made of open components, Oracle is the only one to propose the (let me say the most closed and anachronistic, IMHO) mainframe-like approach. And I won’t mention the shallow offering holes and some scary products.
In fact, SPARC customers were seen as the first target for the EXAdata appliances… and former Sun employees can only wait and see.

Hardware customers bleeding began instantly and sales are continuing to slow down quarter after quarter. I’m sure that customers, conscious of what could happen, are thinking twice before buying an end-to-end Oracle’s solution. Every Q Oracle talks about a huge pipeline for its hardware (especially EXA*) products. However, when we come down to real numbers, I can’t find that many customers (I’m very curious as to how many EXA* are installed in Italy, probably my observatory is limited but I would like to prove myself wrong).

The last SPARC customers (some of them can’t migrate to other platforms) are seeing the raise in price of their support contracts and consequential degradation in service without any power to react. (some customers often talk about “Support call center guys who have difficulties understanding their language/problem and then they avoid sending you a technician to swap the failed part!”)

Bottom line

Oracle is continuing to make most of its money from DB licenses and maintenance. Actually, it is interesting to note that support revenues are higher than those generated from new licenses, and this is a bad sign! The few who are able, try to avoid dealing with Oracle or at the least limit the potential damage as much as possible.
The company’s public image is bad but its value still lies with the DB, which remains the market reference. It’s clear that this one-stop-shop strategy hasn’t many chances to work.

Some new technology trends could change things, even soon. BigData, Alternative DB platforms,Virtualization and Cloud are growing furiously. All areas in which Oracle doesn’t have good products. This means that it’s running to keep with the others, while at the same time customers can’t wait to send concrete signals to this vendor!

Of course, Oracle will not fail, but I’m sure that some good blows and a dose of humility will help them a lot.