It's usually CEO Larry Ellison who does the competitive "trash talking" at Oracle OpenWorld. But in an apparent sign of the company's momentum, other company executives have adopted a similar tone at this year's conference. And Hewlett-Packard was the most frequent target.
The relationship between one-time allies Oracle and HP have been on a downward slide for more than a year, following Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems in January 2010, a move that made Oracle a competitor to HP in the hardware arena. Oracle's hiring of former HP CEO Mark Hurd later in the year added fuel to the fire.
Referring to HP as a "former partner," co-president Safra Catz, speaking before several thousand Oracle channel partners Sunday, noted that this is the "first time since forever" HP was not delivering a keynote speech at Oracle OpenWorld.
Catz went on to reference the Sept. 22 firing of HP CEO Leo Apotheker, after just 11 months in the job, and the hiring of one-time eBay CEO Meg Whitman to replace him. "This new management team is going to be better, I'm sure of it," Catz said in a not-so-sure tone, to the audience's laughter. "I have nothing else to say."
During a press conference and later when addressing partners, Judson Althoff, senior vice president of worldwide alliances and channels and embedded sales, contrasted Oracle's $4.5 billion research and development budget this year with what he said was "minimal investment" in innovation, engineering and execution by competitors.
"When you ignore any one of those three, it's hard to compete," he said. "We think our competition, from a product perspective, really hasn't innovated that much."
At times Althoff commenting about competitors in general. But other times he was clearly referring to HP, even if he didn't specifically name the company. He cited a vendor that had lost $80 billion in market capitalization in the last year and was considering spinning off its PC business – both clear references to HP.
HP could suffer some unintended consequences in its server business if it spins off its PC business, Althoff suggested, including losing the ability to leverage that operation's "economies of scale."
"If they're out of that business, the ability to innovate [and] provide cost-effective products in the blade [server] space is going to be challenged. It's going to be hindered," Althoff said. Oracle, he said, would try to recruit discouraged HP channel partners by offering new, innovative products such as the Oracle Database Appliance product the company unveiled two weeks ago.
Catz took aim at Oracle's other competitors, including IBM, SAP and Microsoft. Referring to IBM's $1.7-billion acquisition of data warehouse appliance vendor Netezza in November 2010, Catz said: "If Netezza is the answer, really, I don't know what the question is."
On applications rival SAP, Catz said: "They're still selling products they developed, what, 20 years ago? Seventeen years ago?"
And on Microsoft, whom Catz referred to as "our good friends in Redmond [Wash.]," she said: "I am thrilled that the Xbox 360 is doing so well. I'm hopeful those little Windows mobile phones will distract them from the business of grownups long enough for us to focus on our customers."
Ellison, in contrast, was relatively subdued when delivering his opening keynote Sunday evening, only engaging in some competitive talk when comparing Oracle's SPARC processors to IBM's P7 processors.