Note: I made Oracle's Larry Ellison the head of my Cyber Privateering Fantasy League team (see my nomination of Larry here). I couldn't resist giving Larry a cameo in Destroying Angel and include it here. Interestingly, the comparison between M16 ease of use compared to the F16 fighter is actually an analogy that Larry made in a conversation with me. Enjoy
[Following is an excerpt from Destroying Angel.]
Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of Oracle, the world’s largest producer of database management software, stood in front of the New York investment analysts’ symposium. Long past his horse race with Bill Gates for the title “world’s richest man,” the six-foot-two-inch Ellison looked every bit the part. Tailored to perfection, his clothes covered the lean, muscular body flawlessly.
Ellison made this semiannual pilgrimage to Gotham—during his hiatus from the Americas Cup yacht race or his attempts to buy an NBA basketball team—to prognosticate on the state of his industry and to reassure money fund managers that their substantial investments in Oracle stock would continue to ride high. One of the analysts had just asked about a Computerworld story criticizing database state of the art and the movement toward NoSQL “Big Data” solutions.
“Some tools are easy to learn but take longer to get the job done. Others take a long time to learn but obliterate the problem instantly. Kind of like an M16 assault rifle and an F16 fighter. You can learn to use an M16 assault rifle in an afternoon. It might take you the better part of a week to kill everyone on your block, but you could get the job done. On the other hand, you could take a year learning to fly an F16 fighter. But once you learned it, you could take out your block in one pass. We have both kinds of tools. We tell our customers to choose their weapons.”
The round of laughter confirmed that Larry had scored a bulls-eye with the analysts. The next question came from a broker who’d invested heavily in object-oriented technology that competed with Oracle’s relational database systems. Ellison’s handling of this question could determine whether the investors would stay with him another year or quietly abandon ship. He decided to out-object the object-oriented industry.
“Let’s talk evolution. The old hierarchical data structures are a subset of relational database methods. And relational is a subset of object technology. We’re always moving to higher ground, and we will give our customers a seamless, painless path toward object-oriented databases. For those of you who are confused about these different technologies, let me give you an analogy that will let you get your brains around the issues.”
The pens came out. Notwithstanding investors’ tendency to follow the herd, Larry Ellison’s reputation for concisely explaining emerging technology to the layman had made his followers a lot of money. He’d out-IBMed IBM with their own relational blueprint. He’d gotten presidents of several major competitors fired by using advertising to point out their tactical and strategic stupidity. And his no-nonsense one-liners had earned a Pulitzer Prize for the one journalist who decided to follow up on one of Larry’s “what if?” scenarios.
“I would liken the days of flat files and hierarchical databases to flying into Kennedy airport and catching a cab. You get into the taxi and tell the driver you want to get to the Hilton. You then tell him how to get there, for example via the Midtown Tunnel and across to 52nd street. That’s the old way of doing things. Now comes relational.
“A relational database knows all the navigation necessary to get to the data, simply from the data’s value. Take our cab again. I fly into Kennedy, find a cab, and simply tell the cab driver to get me to the midtown Hilton. Period. The driver, or the relational engine, knows the best way to get me there. I just sit back and read Steve Militich’s analysis of my company’s earnings.”
Steve Militich, the Paine-Webber software analyst, got a laugh by standing and taking a bow. Larry used the opportunity to sip from a glass of water at the speaker’s podium.
“Now let’s talk about object technology. Same airport. Same goal. Objects are self-directing. They carry their rules for usage with them. They can be independent, free-floating mechanisms. I fly to New York. During the flight, my secretary object gets me a reservation at the midtown Hilton.” Larry made quote marks with his hands before and after his mention of the secretary object. “Then she calls a limo service and has a driver object waiting as my flight unloads, holding a sign with my name on it. I step off the plane, see my name, and go with the limo driver. I don’t have to find a taxi stand or wait in a line. Maybe I turn down the driver object because I’ve made arrangements with my girlfriend object, no sexual reference intended, to pick me up, no pun intended.”
He waited for the laughter to die down. “As you can see, objects are self-directed and independent. I could even have chartered a helicopter object to get me to the Hilton, or spotted a free Hilton Courtesy Car object, or walked. You see, I am a CEO object and can choose as much or as little independence as suits my mood. Questions, anyone?”
Again Steve Militich, the foremost software analyst in the business—especially after his competition for the title decided to quit Wall Street and become the road manager for a rock group—raised his hand. An Oracle press intern brought the microphone back to him. “Larry, it seems to me objects have some security problems, especially with Oracle taking over the Web. What would happen if your limo driver turned out to be a kidnapper?”
“Good point, Steve. The government went gung ho down that path with Ada and implementation of the Strategic Defense Initiative. Maybe it’s lucky the current president finally nuked SDI after all.”
The SDI-nuking comment got the biggest laugh of all.”
Yeah, good thing SDI got turned off,” agreed Militich, who then whispered to himself, “But what if Larry Ellison single-handedly rules the Web?”