Oracle earnings: Some growth, plenty of SAP-bashing

March 21, 2012: 10:02 AM ET

Between talk about increased software sales and the company's new cloud service, Larry Ellison and his posse took plenty of time to bash their rivals.

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison

FORTUNE -- There are some in the tech media who think covering enterprise technology is a major snoozefest. But it can actually be incredibly entertaining -- especially when Oracle (ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison goes off on a tirade against his competitors.

Redwood City, Calif.-based Oracle announced its third-quarter earnings Tuesday afternoon, beating analysts' expectations and sending its stock up in after-hours trading. After falling short last quarter, the company impressed the Street with strong quarterly sales of new software, up 7% from a year earlier.

But between talk about increased software sales, the company's new cloud service, and its Fusion applications, Ellison and his posse (including co-presidents Mark Hurd and Safra Catz) took plenty of time to bash their rivals.

MORE: Why Workday has Oracle and SAP worried

Ellison has previously referred to Marc Benioff's Salesforce.com (CRM) as the "roach motel" of cloud services, but he went relatively easy on the smaller company this time around. He did claim Salesforce.com's products weren't as "secure" as Oracle's new suite of cloud-based software. He also took a few jabs at Workday, another cloud-based software maker that has been nipping at Oracle's heels, saying the company's biggest mistake was not relying on an Oracle database (Workday would not comment on Ellison's statements).

"I think it's a fundamental mistake and it's going to create all sorts of problems for them down the road," Ellison said during the company's earnings call on Tuesday. "They're going to have to build out that tool set themselves rather than relying on us like Salesforce does, rather than relying on us like NetSuite does, rather than relying on us like SuccessFactors does, as SAP does. They all rely on us. But Workday, they're going to rely on themselves."

By far, Ellison devoted the most time to bashing SAP (SAP), the number one player in the business applications market. Ellison knocked the German software maker's attempts in the cloud and its recently-launched analytics appliance HANA, which is expected to eventually compete with Oracle's database technology.

"Six years ago, we made the decision to rewrite our ERP and CRM suite for the cloud," said Ellison. "We called it Fusion. SAP called it Confusion."

MORE: Salesforce gets into HR

When asked about the possible threat from SAP's HANA, Ellison gave analysts an earful: "Now when SAP, and specifically Hasso Plattner [SAP's co-founder), said they're going to build this in-memory database system and compete with Oracle, I said, 'duh, get me the name of that pharmacist, they must be on drugs.' And that was interpreted by Hasso as saying Larry Ellison doesn't believe in in-memory database. Quite the contrary, we've been working on in-memory databases for the last 10 years."

Ellison added that SAP will never even begin to compete with Oracle's database business, and co-president Hurd also chimed in, saying he has yet to find any HANA customers that are defecting from Oracle (SAP says it has sold HANA to companies like Procter & Gamble, Adobe, Lenovo and Cisco Systems).

HANA may be far from being a real threat to Oracle's dominance in the database business, but SAP's new analytics appliance, which stores data in memory rather than on traditional disks, is off to a promising start (a recent Deutsche Bank report jokingly referred to HANA as "Having A Natural Advantage"; the acronym really stands for High-Performance Analytic Appliance).

As for the cloud, both SAP and Oracle have yet to prove they have what it takes to make the shift to developing and selling software-as-a-service, despite a number of hefty cloud acquisitions under their belts. And Oracle has an added challenge of proving it can revive a slumping hardware business.

MORE: The marriage plot: Single CEOs make for riskier investments

One company that didn't make Ellison's public hit list -- a Las Vegas-based startup called Rimini Street. The small but growing company says it offers a 50% discount on support contracts for Oracle products. Third-party maintenance providers like Rimini Street could end up eating into Oracle's (and SAP's) highly lucrative support business. Oracle has sued Rimini Street for IP infringement, and the smaller company responded with a countersuit. The two are expected to battle it out in court in early 2013. And you know what that means -- plenty more juicy enterprise tech fodder for months to come.

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About This Author
Michal Lev-Ram
Michal Lev-Ram
Writer, Fortune

Based in Silicon Valley, Michal Lev-Ram covers enterprise and mobile technologies for FORTUNE. Prior to joining FORTUNE, she wrote for CNNMoney, Fast Company, Popular Science and other business and technology publications. She was also a staff writer at Business 2.0 and holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University.

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