Is Salesforce planning a post-Oracle future?

There's talk about Salesforce weaning itself from Oracle and about Marc Benioff taking over the Oracle leadership

Is Salesforce planning a post-Oracle future?

Salesforce and Oracle have an interesting relationship. Even more interesting is the relationship between the companies' two founders, Marc Benioff and Larry Ellison, respectively.

Benioff is, after all, a former Oracle alum and a protege of Ellison. And the two have an interesting history—sharing many perspectives (not to mention a penchant for kicking back in their respective Hawaiian bolt-holes). Indeed, the on-again, off-again war of words between the two has been excellent fodder for the peanut gallery. Who will forget the time Benioff's invitation to speak at Oracle Open World was removed?

+ More on Network World: Benioff backs Salesforce away from the cloud +

For a few years now, the technorati who watch these things have been amused by Salesforce's insistence, on the one hand, that legacy vendors cannot deliver innovative or agile solutions. On the other hand, we are all aware that Salesforce is actually built on top of an Oracle database. Indeed, at one point a thawing in relations between Benioff and Ellison saw Salesforce commit to the long-term use of Oracle.

All the while, however, speculation mounted that Salesforce was actively pursuing a resolution to its database issues and that a post-Oracle world would, at some point, come to pass.

"Project Sayonara"

That seems to be the case with recent reports of an internal Salesforce project allegedly named "Project Sayonara." According to the report, Pat Helland, previously a high-level Microsoft software architect, has been brought on to Salesforce in order to navigate a path to weaning the "No Software" company of Oracle.

Helland is no slouch when it comes to databases. He previously worked on Microsoft's SQL Server software, and he played a part in Microsoft's Bing search engine. His employment would gel with previous suggestions that Salesforce is trying to architect a migration from Oracle's database to PostgreSQL, an open source alternative. Helland has been with Salesforce for four years already, so this project—if it exists—isn't a quick fix by any stretch of the imagination.

As one would expect, neither Salesforce nor Oracle is commenting on the story, and many tech pundits have argued the pros and cons of a shift. While it is true that PostreSQL would give Salesforce more flexibility in terms of how it deploys, and the distributed nature of its architecture would be an easy fix to many customer concerns around the location of their data, others point out the immense task in shifting a customer base en masse to a new technology. Salesforce suffered an extended outage recently alongside customer data loss and will be reluctant to do anything that might cause a similar situation in the future.

There are obvious technical reasons for a shift, but more fascinating are the business reasons. Clearly Oracle and Salesforce more closely compete than they did a decade or more ago. (Oracle, though a late entrant, is moving into the SaaS space.) But more interesting is the long-term situation with regard to Salesforce and Oracle. Ellison famously stepped down a few years ago from the CEO position and appointed two caretaker CEOs, Safra Katz and Mark Hurd. The general consensus is that these appointments are not final, however, and there has been quiet speculation that Benioff is, in fact, the heir apparent to take over the Oracle leadership when Ellison finally departs.

Indeed, an Oracle acquisition of Salesforce is both ludicrous and delightfully poetic—and would see Benioff, Ellison's protege, return to the Oracle fold. All of that is, of course, total speculation, but it paints a fascinating potential picture nonetheless.

Whatever happens, one thing is certain: the Salesforce and Oracle story will deliver many more twists and turns in the months and years ahead.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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