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The Bitter Feud Between Google & Oracle is Heating Up

This past Friday Diane Greene announced that she was stepping down after three years running Google’s cloud business. She will stay on until the first of the year to help her successor, Thomas Kurian former Oracle executive in the transition.

“When I joined Google full-time to run Cloud in December 2015, I told my family and friends that it would be for two years,” Greene wrote. “Now, after an unbelievably stimulating and productive three years, it’s time to turn to the passions I’ve long had around mentoring and education.”

Greene's tenure has been rocky, she was brought on board in 2015 to bring some order and enterprise savvy to the company’s cloud business. While she did help move them along that path and grew the cloud business. She’s staffed up the enterprise sales team and won business from the likes of Spotify and Snap, but Google has failed to eat into Amazon’s massive lead in the market, and Microsoft has clearly established itself in second place. There have been talks for months that Greene’s time was coming to an end.

So the torch is being passed to Kurian, who will be joining Google Cloud on Nov. 26 and will take over the leadership role in early 2019. Greene will remain CEO of the business until then. Kurian has spent over two decades at a company that might be the exact opposite of Google. He ran product at Oracle, a traditional enterprise software company. Oracle itself has struggled to make the transition to a cloud company, but Bloomberg reported in September that one of the reasons Kurian was taking a leave of absence at the time was a difference of opinion with Chairman Larry Ellison over cloud strategy. According to the report, Kurian wanted to make Oracle’s software available on public clouds like AWS and Azure (and Google Cloud). Ellison apparently didn’t agree and a couple of weeks later Kurian announced he was moving on.

Even though Kurian’s background might not seem to be perfectly aligned with Google, it’s important to keep in mind that his thinking was evolving. He was also in charge of thousands of products and helped champion Oracle’s move to the cloud. He has experience successfully nurturing products enterprises have wanted, and perhaps that’s the kind of knowledge Google was looking for in its next cloud leader. While Google is always mentioned in the Big 3 cloud companies with AWS and Microsoft, with around $4 billion revenue a year, it has a long way to go to get to the level of these other companies. Despite Greene’s assertions, time could be running out to make a run. Perhaps Kurian is the person to push the company to grab some of that untapped market as companies move more workloads to the cloud. At this point, Google is counting on him to do just that. A former boss at Oracle Gary Bloom praised Kurian as an “exceptional executive,” but said he has no idea if it will work out at Google.

While Oracle and Google are two of Silicon Valley’s most notable stalwarts, separated by just 13 miles on Highway 101, they are universes apart from a cultural perspective. One is a stodgy old software company known for selling million-dollar licenses and racking up maintenance fees. The other is where the hipster coders want to go to work on futuristic projects. And they don’t particularly like each other.

The two companies are embroiled in a nasty eight-year legal battle related to Google’s use of the Java programming language, without a license, in developing its Android operating system for smartphones. Oracle owns the intellectual property behind Java, thanks to its 2009 acquisition of Sun Microsystems. This past March, the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s ruling that had favored Google, sending the case back to the lower court to determine damages that it now must pay Oracle.

Kurian’s former employer and new company have one big thing in common: Both have struggled to keep up with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure in cloud infrastructure. Google has been a persistent third or fourth place, unable to crack double-digit market share, despite adding more people than any other Google product group in 2016 and 2017, according to Greene. Oracle has had some success moving its traditional database customers to its own cloud, but according to industry researchers, its market share in the public cloud is tiny.

“Thomas is a really strong general manager and he understands all aspects of the business,” Bloom said. Still, Kurian has a major challenge ahead of him, not just getting Google’s developer culture to come aboard, but also getting buyers comfortable and trusting of the Google brand. In taking over for Greene, Kurian faces a significant cultural challenge that’s been a consistent source of tension at Google. It’s a consumer-focused, engineering-driven company with some of the highest profits margins in technology that’s never been able to fully embrace the realities of selling to the enterprise.

This will be interesting to see how this pans out for Kurian and Google.

Here’s Greene’s full blog post:

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