The 10 Most Controversial Companies Of 2014 (So Far)

Creating Controversy

Tech companies are no strangers to controversy. Some bring it upon themselves due to their actions, while others just can't seem to escape the kind of scrutiny that leads some folks to conclude that they're up to no good.

This year, some tech vendors have made impulsive decisions that angered their partners and customers. Others have been thrust into the spotlight due to provocative comments from top leaders. Still others were simply unlucky. Here, CRN presents 10 examples of companies that have been shaking things up in the first half of 2014.


Oracle has been making waves inside and outside the company this year. Hardware channel exec Mitch Breen left in January and sources told CRN at the time that Oracle's direct sales team was battling both internally and with channel partners.

Meanwhile, Oracle has had two earnings calls that failed to impress Wall Street. That didn't stop CEO Larry Ellison from bashing Oracle's competitors and vowing an all-out assault on the SaaS and PaaS markets.

Ellison also said Oracle's new in-memory database technology is so fast, some customers who tested it thought it was broken because they didn't realize it had already performed its functions. This despite the fact that Oracle came late to this market and has lots of catching up to do.

Red Hat

In February, Red Hat abruptly uninvited startup Piston Cloud Computing from a scheduled conference, and it later emerged that the San Francisco-based startup had beaten out Red Hat for a valuable customer contract.

A few hours later, Red Hat had a change of heart and reinvited Piston Cloud to its event, even going so far as to waive its sponsorship fee. Still, the whole incident didn't cast Red Hat in a flattering light, and it ended up giving lots of free publicity to a smaller, hard-charging rival.


Apple was sued in May for allegedly blocking delivery of texts to Android devices. According to a report from Bloomberg, iPhone customer Adrienne Moore filed suit against Apple claiming the company's iMessage system stopped delivering texts to her after she'd switched to an Android smartphone.

Apple claimed this was a bug and released a workaround that fixed the issue. But that didn't stop some industry watchers from calling shenanigans on what they felt was behavior linked to Apple's bitter battle with rival Samsung for dominance in the mobile market.


Google has been a lightning rod for controversy for a number of reasons. First, protesters in San Francisco and other cities have been protesting the search giant's use of city bus stops for its private employee shuttles. Some consider these vehicles a visible sign of the income inequality issue.

Google also has come under fire for the behavior of Google Glass users. Some pundits believe the device is an example of how technology is overstepping its bounds and violating privacy of other people. While that's nothing new, it's an issue that could impair Google's ability to tout -- and perhaps market -- the technology.


VCE, the joint venture between EMC, Cisco and VMware, has been turning in stellar results as a standalone company. Sales of VCE's flagship Vblock converged infrastructure systems are proceeding at a $1.8 billion annual run-rate.

Yet behind the scenes, the VCE relationship is a shambles, according to sources close to the company. The big issue is that EMC and Cisco pretty much can't stand each other, but it's more than that. Sources told CRN earlier this year that there's also conflict between EMC and VCE field sales, as well as the channel.

VCE is reporting solid numbers, but if the turmoil between its component companies continues, it's hard to see enterprises continuing to feel confident in making the sizable investment needed to buy and deploy Vblocks, sources told CRN.


RSA, host of the annual RSA security conference, had a tough time this year as many top security experts pulled out of planned speaking engagements to protest RSA's alleged cooperation with the National Security Agency.

Late last year, Reuters reported that RSA had signed a secret $10 million contract with the NSA to let the spy agency piggyback on intentionally flawed encryption in its BSafe toolkit. In a somewhat nuanced denial, RSA denied that this was the case, but security researchers didn't buy it.


VMware's robust partner ecosystem has helped it grab a dominant position in the enterprise data center. But at VMware's annual partner conference in February, signs of strain appeared in a couple of its partnerships.

Sources told CRN that VMware asked Nutanix and Veeam to stay away from its partner conference. Later, it emerged that VMware officials weren't happy about Nutanix poaching its engineers. VMware also is working with EMC on a hyper-converged appliance that will compete with Nutanix.

VMware said Nutanix and Veeam are welcome at its VMworld conference next month, but it's doubtful that VMware will be rolling out the red carpet for partners it now views as competitors.


Nutanix, a well-funded startup in the hyper-converged infrastructure market, unveiled a campaign in June to lure away VCE Vblock customers, along with a Vblock-to-Nutanix migration service that it's delivering through channel partners.

But after posting a series of marketing videos on its website, Nutanix found itself the target of vociferous critics who felt the videos -- which make fun of a female character called "Vicky Block" -- were offensive and sexist.

Nutanix quickly pulled the videos and replaced them with more generic ones, but that didn't stop EMC -- the majority partner in the VCE joint venture -- from calling attention to its rival's marketing misstep.


Remember HP's $11 billion-plus acquisition of Autonomy? That deal continues to generate controversy nearly three years after it was first announced. In February, HP said its internal investigation found that Autonomy had engaged in "improper transactions with certain value-added resellers to create the appearance of software licensing revenue at the end of each quarter."

In June, HP settled a trio of shareholder lawsuits stemming from the Autonomy deal. But former Autonomy CFO Sushovan Hussain went to court to try and block that move, claiming that it would hide evidence that shows that HP has no one but itself to blame for its $8 billion-plus write-down from the Autonomy deal in 2012.


Microsoft has made two big moves this year that have caused concern in the channel. In January, it slashed incentive payments to partners who influence sales of Office 365 in Enterprise Agreement volume licensing contracts.

In July, Microsoft shared some details on its plan to start offering free Office 365 migrations sometime this fall, a move that would put it in competition with partners who've built businesses on selling these services.

Microsoft has long been considered one of the industry's most channel-friendly vendors, but moves like these have some partners wondering what's next -- and looking more closely at contingencies with other vendors.