Salesforce.com and Oracle: A Tale of Two Worlds

October 14, 2009
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In the current edition of First Thing Monday I opened by asking, “What’s salesforce.com doing at Oracle OpenWorld? At the conference, I found the answer: salesforce.com is making the most of what might be a one-time opportunity. On the first…

In the current edition of First Thing Monday I opened by asking, “What’s salesforce.com doing at Oracle OpenWorld? At the conference, I found the answer: salesforce.com is making the most of what might be a one-time opportunity.

On the first day of the conference I stopped by the company’s booth in Moscone West. At the right end of the booth sat a pair of Mini Coopers wrapped with the company’s cloud logos and bearing the “best of both worlds” messaging. Each night at 6:00 p.m. salesforce.com is giving away one of the cars. This will continue for three days. The only requirement is that winners must reside in one of the 48 continental states. Sorry, no shipments to Alaska or Hawaii, or outside the country. Outside the convention center, six similarly clad Minis make a continuous loop around the sprawling Moscone complex.

Next to the car giveaway there was a small theatre that was full every time I walked by. Periodically, a joint Oracle/salesforce.com customer would take the stage to talk about their experience straddling the two worlds. 

I stopped to talk to a couple of salesforce.com employees who were clearly enjoying their front row seats in a foreign arena. One told me that they were thrilled to be invited to participate in the “IT event of the year.”

The heart of the booth featured standup stations with product demos. The banners on top of the booths proclaimed that this was the home of “Service Cloud2,” “Sales Cloud,” and “Custom Clouds.” The latter is a reference to a new announcement with Dell where the two companies will provide cloud offerings for small and midsized organizations.

Ironically, SAP had a booth behind the salesforce.com pavilion. While this may have seemed to be a good opportunity for guerilla marketing, I sense that staffers would have preferred to be almost anywhere else. When I walked through, I saw employees talking only to each other. 

At 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jim Shepherd and I walked over to the Novellus Theatre to see Marc Benioff’s presentation. We were surprised to see hundreds of people already queuing in line despite a heavy downpour. While some may have been there to receive vouchers for one of the 500 Flip video camcorders distributed at the booth, I suspect that most were here for Marc’s theatrics.

Shortly after 1:00, Marc took the stage. He opened by thanking Oracle for inviting him and acknowledging Larry Ellison for being his first investor. He also talked about how he had appeared on this stage many times to introduce new products during his 13 years as an Oracle employee. Before long, he was into a sales pitch for cloud computing. As he talked, a PowerPoint behind him illustrated the three generations–or worlds–of enterprise computing: mainframes, client/server, and cloud computing. For me, the not-so-subtle message was that client/server was the old world that he left behind when he co-founded salesforce.com a decade ago.

After a brief overview, Marc was joined on stage by Michael Dell who recounted the various ways that their two companies have worked together as partners and mutual customers. When Michael left, Marc invited two employees to demo the new Service Cloud2 and the integration with Facebook, Google, and Twitter. In the new cloud world, social networks matter.

Near the end, Marc invited Sanjay Mirchandani, EMC’s CIO, and a mutual Oracle customer on stage. This was another brilliantly calculated move. The messaging here is that smart companies are looking to cloud applications that link to their legacy ERP system.

To be fair to Oracle, salesforce.com is a relatively important customer. Its multi-tenant architecture is built on Oracle’s database and middleware technologies. The company also runs Oracle financials as its internal backbone. 

Still, the presence of salesforce.com only reinforced that we’re on the edge of another critical technology transition. Oracle needs to step up and take a leadership position before new companies do what he did to Cullinet and McCormack & Dodge. Attendees are waiting to see what Larry has to say on Wednesday afternoon.

Stay tuned.