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Matthew Symonds "Softwar" book review

Oracle Tips by Burleson Consulting
Don Burleson


By Mark Rittman

Thoughts on Matthew Symonds "Softwar"

One of the books I've been reading whilst on holiday is "Softwar : An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle" by Matthew Symonds. I'm not usually one for biographies of Larry Ellison, but Amazon were offering it for 1 penny (I'm not joking, it was probably a pricing error) and I thought it'd be worth a look. Interestingly, Larry Ellison annotated some of the pages, with his take on some of the events, which was interesting as it gave a counterpoint to some of the more 'colourful' episodes.

I won't go into the full details of the book, except to say that off all the 'histories of Oracle' i've seen, it's the best read so far and gives some excellent background info to the events of the last couple of decades. Some of the bits I found particularly interesting were;

  • the effect that Sybase had on Oracle. Sybase came on to the scene around the time of Oracle 5.1, and was the first RDBMS to feature stored procedures, referential integrity, and two-phase commits. These features were yet to be found in Oracle, and their introduction lead to a complete rewrite of the Oracle server, which eventually lead to Oracle 6. Version 6 had all of Sybase's features and more (in particular, clustering) but the general 'buggyness' of version 6, almost brought the company to it's knees back in 1991. Version 7 (the first version I ever worked with) sorted out these problems, and gave Oracle the technology lead that it's had to this day. However, it's interesting to note the role Sybase had in it's day, and that stored procedures came from sybase, and not Oracle.

  • The role that Geoff Squires, and CACI, had in the early history of Oracle. I've worked with CACI in the past (for their ACORN demographic classification system) and they mentioned at the time that CACI were the first distributor outside of the USA for Oracle Software. Geoff Squires, from CACI, eventually joined Oracle and ended up running the operational side of Oracle for the USA as a whole. Larry Ellison is quotes as saying that the worst decision he's ever made was sacking Geoff Squires, who now works with Gary Bloom at Veritas.

  • The part played by other personalities such as Ray Lane, Gary Kennedy, Jeff Henley, Safra Catz, Chuck Phillips, Tom Siebel, Craig Conway and Ron Wohl. The fall from grace for Ray Lane is particularly interesting, particularly in the light of recent organisational changes where Safra Catz and Chuck Phillips are now Co-Presidents at Oracle, and Jeff Henley is now the Chairman.

  • The degree to which Oracle's sales culture has changed over the years. Together with Oracle 6i, Oracle's sales techniques almost took the company under in 1990-91, where licenses were being booked, at huge discounts, on the basis that customers bought technology that they might need in the future. Huge deals were signed, initially bumping up the sales figures but leading to drastic falls in orders in subsequent years, and it was the introduction of Ray Lane at the start of the 90's that started to change this culture. Oracle have always had a reputation of 'aggressive' sales techniques, but it does seem as if they're now trying to build relationships for the long term, and approach that was originally pioneered in the UK and Europe.

  • The significance of the e-Business Suite to Oracle's success. Version 11i of Oracle Applications was the first 'integrated' version of Oracle's applications, and at the time competed head-on with SAP and the 'best of breed' approach favoured by systems integrators such as IBM. Again, a premature release of Apps 11i almost blew it all for Oracle, but the gamble paid off for Oracle and the market has now come round to the concept of buying integrated suites rather than integrating lots of different systems. Oracle almost blew it though (particularly with the intial release, and Larry's war on systems integrators) but the 'internet architecture', and the close integration between the various modules gave oracle an architectural lead that it still has now.

If you get a chance, and you're interested in a bit of Oracle history, buy or borrow the book and take a look. I'd thoroughly recommend it.

 



 

 

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