Partners: One Of Oracle's Biggest Channel Hires Is Flying Under The Radar

Oracle is trying to build a more channel-friendly culture, and it has hired several former Hewlett-Packard executives to make it happen, including newly appointed channel chief Rich Geraffo.

But, one of the most important figures in the Oracle channel right now comes from EMC, and partners say his role could see a significant expansion in the coming months.

Mitch Breen, a 20-year EMC veteran who was a key player in building its channel program, joined Oracle in June as senior vice president of North America sales. Oracle didn't announce Breen's appointment at the time, but his LinkedIn profile indicates he's now with Oracle.

Breen was also a board member at VCE, the Cisco-EMC-VMware converged infrastructure joint venture, prior to joining Oracle. He no longer holds this role, a VCE spokesperson told CRN.

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Oracle would not comment on Breen's role or confirm that he's a current employee when contacted by CRN Thursday. EMC did not respond to a request for comment.

At Oracle, Breen is technically on the direct hardware sales side, but he'll be working closely with Geraffo, one source familiar with the situation told CRN.

Another key channel Oracle channel figure is Matt Mills, senior vice president of North America sales, who is creating "swim lanes" that will prevent direct sales from butting heads with the channel, according to one longtime partner.

Oracle in recent months has brought in a large number of new salespeople to replace the many long-timers who've left the company, and many partners are watching to see if that triggers more channel conflict.

"Oracle is challenging to partner with, and they've been hiring tons more direct sales people lately," said the source. "If you're really looking to grow the channel, then why are you hiring more sales reps?"

Breen, who faced similar situations at EMC, could be a key part of reducing channel conflict at Oracle, the source said. "The word is that Breen knows how to exploit channel support better than his predecessors," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Oracle got into hardware in 2010 when it acquired Sun Microsystems, but this business has struggled mightily since then. Last month in its first quarter earnings, Oracle said it expects hardware sales for its current quarter in a range of minus 9 percent to 1 percent, and investors didn't react well to that.

Oracle often points to engineered systems like Exadata as a bright spot, but sources told CRN the company needs more partners with the technical expertise needed to sell these products.

NEXT: What Breen's Done At Oracle So Far

Breen is driving a recently launched Oracle initiative to identify specific hardware accounts that it's committed to serving through channel partners, said the source.

"He is trying to shake up the culture there," the source said of Breen's efforts.

Seth Feeley, vice president of sales at Cintra, a New York City-based Oracle partner, is pleased with what he has seen from Breen so far.

"It's encouraging to see the programs Mitch [Breen] is putting in place and the message he is getting out to partners. He is certainly someone who sees the value of the channel," Feeley said Friday in an interview.

Breen's role could be poised for a significant expansion in the coming months. Sources told CRN he is still bound by the terms of his non-compete with EMC, which prohibits him from working with other storage vendors. The non-compete is expiring "soon," a source with knowledge of the matter told CRN.

Patrick Dennis, an 11-year EMC veteran who joined Oracle last February as group vice president of North American storage sales, was until recently running Oracle's ZFS network attached storage business and its tape business, sources told CRN. However, he left earlier this month to become senior vice president for the Storage Products Business Unit at Toshiba, according to his updated LinkedIn profile.

Dennis' departure, along with Breen's non-compete clock winding down, could point to Breen getting responsibility for all of Oracle's hardware sales units, sources said.

While bringing in a heavy hitter like Breen could help hardware sales, the fact is that Oracle still makes the vast majority of its money from software, and software is deeply ingrained in its culture.

"Yes, we have a hardware business. Yes, we have a services business. But at the core, Oracle is a software company," Ken Bond, Oracle's president of investor relations, said last month at the vendor's annual financial analyst meeting. "Software drives earnings for Oracle. Almost 90 percent of margin is driven by software."

Whether Breen can boost Oracle's hardware business remains to be seen, but the level of respect he appears to enjoy in the channel suggests he could end up being a truly game-changing hire.