by Thomas Wailgum

The Cloud Crusades of Ellison and Benioff

Sep 24, 2010
Enterprise Applications

Larry Ellison and Marc Benioff seem to be looking to the pulpit for inspiration as they guide their flocks down different paths.

Warning: The post that follows involves the subjects of religion and enterprise software. If you adhere to a dogma on either topic and are offended by heretical observations concerning the two, please don’t read on. You have been warned.

While I was at Oracle OpenWorld this week, basking in the spiritual aura of Larry Ellison & Co. and dueling sermons of Larry and’s Marc Benioff, I just couldn’t shake the comparisons between enterprise software and organized religion.

This is the Church of Larry. This is the Red Steeple. Open it wide and see all the People.

Why did the OpenWorld “experience” have such a religious zeal to it?

First off, the personalities of Ellison and Benioff inspire intense loyalty and devotion among their flocks: the former is the Reverend of the Red Stack, the latter the Cleric of the Cloud. Both men clearly know how to own the masses when assembled.

Oracle Larry Ellison Marc Benioff

Images: Oracle (left); (cc) Kenneth Yeung –

The two (and their disciples on the corporate payroll) demand the ultimate faith among their customer sets. Most times the congregants’ faith is rewarded; their flocks have flourished over the years. Other times, however, the flock’s devotion can appear blind or foolish when proof is found lacking in what the preachers are postulating, or when their messiah’s wares don’t deliver on the visionary promises.

O Ye of Little Faith…Just buy more and you shall be taken care of forever and ever.

Let us not single out only Ellison and Benioff. For in the kingdom of enterprise software, there are many high priests who dispense similar sanctimonious rhetoric: Product announcements that are more vaporware than code complete; fire-and-brimstone sermons filled with fear, uncertainty and doubt for those discontented with the direction of the vendor; and never-ending pleas for you to pledge more to the organization from which you have already received so much.

The vendors’ leaders are prophets all about profits. They revise (tech) history to suit their own doctrines and convert more customers. It’s awe-inspiring how two sects can see the same thing and interpret it in such diversionary ways.

Witness Ellison and Benioff and The Cloud: It’s clear that both men are gazing to the clouds for future direction. Though Ellison openly dissed the cloud in 2009, he’s seen the light in 2010. Now both men are trying to stand tall as pillars of the cloud, though their visions could not be more dissimilar.

At OpenWorld, Ellison’s proclamations of the cloud—his vision of “cloud in a box”—led him to assail Benioff’s version of the cloud.

But Benioff did one better than his former mentor, urging his devotees: “Beware of the false cloud.” My God, that’s perfect.

Outside observers and customers critical of enterprise vendor leadership—those heretics!—will point out that the vendors appear to, on many occasions, have a higher power in mind: shareholders.

Behold, there are many members of enterprise software churches who are dissatisfied; but they are afraid to speak out publicly against leadership. So they save their frustration and displeasure for the hushed tones of private conversations. Yet they stand by it, locked into their chosen religion even when logic and (computer) science tells them otherwise.

Alas, I am just a lay observer of these gifted leaders and their organizations that offer technology liberation to the laggards, business-process optimization to the needy, and synergistic salvation to the deprived.

Whose religion (software vision) is the best for you? Well, heaven knows, that’s for you to decide.

Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for Follow him on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. E-mail Thomas at