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甲骨文学着爱上“云”

Kevin Kelleher 2011年11月07日

3年前,甲骨文公司CEO拉里•埃里森放弃了云,称这种理念是“胡言乱语”。现在,他已改变立场,而且尝试着拥抱云。但问题是,云真的愿意拥抱甲骨文公司吗?

    最初,甲骨文公司(Oracle)对云视而不见。接着,其CEO拉里•埃里森对云冷嘲热讽。而现在,甲骨文公司正尝试着以收购的方式,拥抱云。问题是,云究竟对于甲骨文公司意味着什么?

    这个问题的答案取决于云的定义。如果有所谓的标准答案的话,云计算并不是一种必须安装、不断维护的产品,而是一种犹如公用设施般,可供随时利用的服务。就像打开水龙头或开灯一样,云让人们在网飞(Netflix)上观看电影,而不是外出买张DVD;让人们通过在线文件存储服务Dropbox 共享文件,而不是用电子邮件的方式,来回发送微软Office文件。

    根据这一定义,迄今为止,甲骨文还算不上一家云公司。这家公司上财年的营业收入为360亿美元,但绝大多数收入源自帮助工商界和政府机构进行网上营运的产品:硬件、中间件、存储系统和应用程序。但这些都是甲骨文公司销售的产品。跟在线客户关系管理服务供应商Salesforce和信息一体化解决方案供应商NetSuite这些犹如公共设施般处理客户数据库的公司不同,甲骨文从来都不是一家公共服务供应商。

    甲骨文并非没有进入云领域的机会。Salesforce和NetSuite是由甲骨文前员工、埃里森昔日手下马克•贝尼奥夫和埃文•戈德堡分别创建的。埃里森甚至是这两家公司的早期投资者之一,获得过优先入股这两家云计算产业先锋的机会。但甲骨文忽略了云,继续坚持其核心业务:销售并支持让工商界从事网上营运的基础设施。

    几年后,形势已经明朗化:作为一种服务的云计算不仅仅是一时的风潮,而是一门可靠的生意。但在3年前的开放世界大会(OpenWorld,甲骨文每年一度的客户谈话会)上,拉里•埃里森却嘲讽了一下云计算:“计算机行业是唯一一个比女性时装更容易受时尚驱动的行业了。或许我是个白痴,但我实在不明白这帮家伙正在谈论的事物。这是什么东西?完全是胡说八道,疯言疯语。这种疯劲啥时候才是个头啊?”

    为埃里森说句公道话。“云计算”一词在如此多背景迥异的场合,被如此频繁地炒作,也的确像是一种昙花一现的时尚潮流。但事实上,如同女性时装,云也是一门欣欣向荣的行当。自从埃里森发表贬损云计算的言论以来,甲骨文的股价增长了96%,大大胜过标准普尔500指数39%的增幅。相比之下,在同一时期,NetSuite公司的股价则飙涨了354%,Salesforce的股价飙涨了389% 。

    虽然花了些时日,但甲骨文公司对云计算的公开评论最终还是温和了很多。去年三月,当甲骨文公布其季度收益的时候,埃里森声称,最近一个季度的良好业绩部分得益于该公司与Salesforce签署的一份长达数年的合同,而Salesforce公司大多数备受好评的云服务正是依托于甲骨文的硬件、数据库和中间件之上。“甲骨文是为云提供动力的技术,”埃里森当时如此吹嘘道。

    对于甲骨文来说,这是好事。美中不足之处在于,当人们庆祝云计算成为热门的商业领域时,接受人们祝贺的对象是Salesforce,而非甲骨文。打个比方,Salesforce是闪耀于杂志封面的明星设计师王薇薇。而甲骨文不过是一位在闷热的工厂里将她的时装设计缝合在一起的苦力而已。

    这种情形本身已经够糟糕了,但更令甲骨文颜面无光是,Salesforce公司CEO贝尼奥夫开始在他的演讲中反复强调这个令人不快的事实。就拿贝尼奥夫六月份发表的一次主旨演讲来说吧。演讲内容极富贝尼奥夫特色:神气活现、魅力十足,但却适可而止。他聊到了“虚假的云”,背后的显示屏显示的是一台Exadata机器,上面的甲骨文标识勉强用一朵云遮盖住了。贝尼奥夫说:

    “如果更强调硬件,它就不是云。如果供应商卖给你更多的硬件,软件,告诉你说这是私有云,请不要当真。如果它依然只面向精英,它也不是云。我们正在从事的是一场公有云运动,没有什么能阻止这场运动。我环游世界,我试图让人们知道,他们应该警惕这种虚假的云。”

    贝尼奥夫忠实地坚持着云的标准定义。他这番言论暗讽的正是甲骨文公司。在收购了Sun公司之后,甲骨文的利润受到如Sun公司x86服务器这类低利润硬件的拖累。“私有云(private cloud)”是甲骨文公司四处宣扬的一个术语,为的是让其客户相信,他们正在构建属于他们自己的云。但最终,甲骨文还是不动声色的予以了还击:埃里森把贝尼奥夫的名字从甲骨文公司今年的开放世界大会演讲人名单上剔除掉了。

    相反,埃里森发表了一篇在许多人看来有点漫无边际的主旨演讲。“甲骨文的云有点不一样,”埃里森现在这样说,他似乎是在给关于云计算的对话添加一份属于他自己的“胡言乱语”。上周,甲骨文再次改变其对云计算的立场,表明其愿意通过收购的方式进入这一领域——甲骨文斥资15亿美元,收购了Salesforce公司在云计算领域的竞争对手RightNow公司。

    或许,埃里森只是想让贝尼奥夫闭嘴。又或者,虽然他言辞激烈,但埃里森意识到,甲骨文的未来不仅仅在于提供帮助云运转的硬件和软件,它还需要提供这类服务。

    在甲骨文公司最近的股东大会上,一位个人投资者问埃里森,为什么IBM公司的股票表现优于甲骨文。埃里森回答道:“嗯,IBM是一家伟大的公司。我们的战略与之截然不同。IBM的确在从一家技术公司向一家服务公司转型。”

    这等于心照不宣地承认,在云时代里,甲骨文公司需要效仿IBM,转型为一家服务公司。云经济的真谛在于服务。甲骨文需要充当的,不仅仅是系统的管道。它还需要成为这套体系的源头。

    甲骨文能二者兼得吗?之前它认为设计云技术就足够了,到目前为止,甲骨文的这个豪赌收获颇丰。问题是,商界已经厌倦了技术,或更确切地说,对追逐技术升级的脚步感到厌倦。它们现在只想站在体系的上游,只需要一个可信赖的、基于云计算的公共设施。因此,甲骨文在“为云提供动力”的技术方面获得的创新仅仅只是让Salesforce这类服务公司变得更强大而已。

    现在回想起来,埃里森认为云产业是一门时尚产业的看法不无道理。当管道工或许不时尚,但云计算的确时尚。

    译者:任文科

    First, Oracle ignored the cloud. Then Larry Ellison, its CEO, ridiculed the cloud. And now that Oracle is trying to buy its way into the cloud. The question is: what exactly does the cloud mean to Oracle?

    That depends on how you define the cloud. If there is a standard definition, it involves computing that is not so much a product you have to install and maintain but a service you tap into like a utility. Just as you turn on your faucet or your lamp, the cloud lets you watch a movie on Netflix (NFLX) instead of going out and buying a DVD, or share a document in Dropbox instead of emailing a Microsoft Office file back and forth.

    By that definition, Oracle (ORCL) hasn't been much of a cloud company so far. The company saw $36 billion in revenue in its last fiscal year, but most of it came from hardware, middleware, storage systems and applications that help companies and governments run their operations online. But these are products that Oracle sells. Oracle has never been a utility-like service that handles customer databases, like Salesforce.com (CRM) or NetSuite (N).

    It's not that Oracle didn't have the chance to move into the cloud. Both Salesforce and NetSuite are founded by Oracle alumni and former Ellison proteges, Marc Benioff and Evan Goldberg respectively. Ellison even invested in both companies early on, getting in on the ground floor of two companies that would help define the cloud-computing industry. Instead, Oracle ignored the cloud. It stuck to the business of selling and supporting the infrastructure that lets companies do business on the web.

    After a few years, it was clear that software as a service wasn't just a fad, it was a solid business. But three years ago at OpenWorld, Oracle's annual confab for customers, Larry Ellison dissed the cloud: "The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women's fashion. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It's complete gibberish. It's insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?"

    To be fair to Ellison, the words "cloud computing" have been hyped so often in so many different contexts it does have the ephemeral air of a passing fashion. But the cloud, like women's fashion, is in fact a thriving business. Since Ellison disparaged the cloud, its stock has risen 96%, much better than the S&P 500's 39% gain. By comparison, NetSuite has surged 354% and Salesforce 389% in the same period.

    It took a while, but Oracle's public comments about the cloud finally softened. Last March, when Oracle announced its quarterly earnings, Ellison said that one reason for its impressive performance in the recent quarter was that Salesforce inked a multi-year contract with Oracle to build most of its vaunted cloud services on the hardware, database and middleware of Oracle itself. "Oracle is the technology that powers the cloud," Ellison boasted at the time.

    Which was good for Oracle -- except for one thing. When people celebrated the cloud as a hot area of business, it was Salesforce they celebrated, not Oracle. Salesforce was Vera Wang, the stuff of magazine covers. Oracle was the laborer left stitching together her designs in a stuffy factory.

    Which was bad enough, except that Benioff, Salesforce's CEO, began to rub in this uncomfortable truth in his speeches. Take this keynote Benioff delivered in June. It's pure Benioff: Cocky, charismatic and just this short of crossing the line. He talks about a "false cloud" while the display shows an Exadata machine with the Oracle logo barely disguised by a cloud. Benioff said:

    "If it's about more about hardware, it's not about the cloud.... If the vendor is selling you more hardware, [if] it's selling you more software and saying this is a private cloud, these are ghosts... If it's still only for the elite, it's not the cloud... We are making this movement to the public cloud, nothing can stop that. As I go around the world, I try to let people know that they should be aware of the false cloud."

    Benioff, adhering conservatively to that standard definition of the cloud, was taking some vicious swipes at Oracle. After buying Sun, Oracle's margins were weighed down by hardware like Sun's low-margin x86 servers. The "private cloud" was a term Oracle bandied about to let its customers believe they were building their own clouds. But in the end, Oracle blinked: Ellison jettisoned Benioff from the list of speakers at Oracle's OpenWorld this year.

    Instead, Ellison delivered a OpenWorld keynote that many found to be rambling. "The Oracle cloud is a little different," Ellison now said, as if adding his own brand of gibberish to the cloud conversation. Last week, Oracle again shifted its stance on the cloud to show that it is willing to buy its way in: It paid $1.5 billion for RightNow, a cloud-based competitor of Salesforce's.

    Maybe Ellison just wanted to silence Benioff. Or maybe, for all his tough talk, Ellison realizes Oracle's future isn't just in supplying the hardware and software that makes the cloud work, it also needs to offer the kind of service.

    At Oracle's recent shareholder meeting, an individual investor asked Ellison why IBM's (IBM) stock had outperformed Oracle's. Ellison responded, "Well, IBM is a great company. We have very different strategy. IBM is really becoming more of a service company than a technology company."

    It was a tacit admission that Oracle needed to become, in the age of the cloud, a service company just like IBM. In the cloud economy, it's all about service. Oracle needs to be more than just the pipes of the system. It needs to be the front end of the system as well.

    Can Oracle be both? It's extravagant bet that designing the cloud's technology is enough has paid off so far. The thing is, companies are weary of technology -- or rather, keeping pace with technology. They just want the front end now. They just want a cloud-based utility they can trust. So Oracle innovation in technology that "powers the cloud" simply makes service companies like Salesforce that much more powerful.

    In retrospect, Ellison was right that the cloud industry is a fashion industry. Plumbing isn't fashionable. But the cloud is.

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