September 22, 2014

Larry Ellison memories

Larry Ellison had an official job change, and will be CTO and Executive Chairman of Oracle — with the major product groups reporting to him — instead of CEO. I first met Larry 31 years ago, and hung out with him quite a bit at times. So this feels like time for a retrospective.

For starters, let me say:

Some anecdotes: Read more

July 11, 2014

20th Century DBMS success and failure

As part of my series on the keys to and likelihood of success, I’d like to consider some historical examples in various categories of data management.

A number of independent mainframe-based pre-relational DBMS vendors “crossed the chasm”, but none achieved anything resembling market dominance; that was reserved for IBM. Success when they competed against each other seemed to depend mainly on product merits and the skills of individual sales people or regional sales managers.

IBM killed that business by introducing DB2, a good product with very good strategic marketing from a still-dominant vendor. By “very good strategic marketing” I mean that IBM both truly invented and successfully market-defined the relational DBMS concept, including such conceptual compromises as:

In the minicomputer world, however, hardware vendors lacked such power, and independent DBMS vendors thrived. Indeed, Oracle and Ingres rode to success on the back of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and other minicomputer vendors, including the payments they got to port their products to various platforms.* The big competitive battle was Oracle vs. Ingres, about which I can say for starters: Read more

November 17, 2013

Software delivery and pricing — the first 55 years

The commercial computing, software and services industries have existed for half a century or so each. It might be interesting to review how their pricing and delivery models have evolved over time.

1960s and 1970s

Modern IT is commonly dated from the introduction of the IBM 360 mainframe in 1964-5. But even before then, there was a growing industry in what we’d now call outsourced services, specifically in payroll processing; major players included Automatic Data Processing (ADP), the company that gave us Senator Frank Lautenberg, and a variety of banks. This was (and to this day remains) a comprehensive service, priced by unit of work (e.g., number of payroll checks cut).

IBM mainframes, which quickly came to dominate the market, were in the 1960s and 70s commonly rented. IBM software that ran on them was hence typically priced on a rental/subscription basis as well. The independent packaged software companies, however, often preferred to get paid up front,* and hence sold perpetual licenses to their software. Annual maintenance fees for the licensed software started in the range of 10% of the perpetual license or even less, but migrated up to today’s 20-22% range.

Read more

April 29, 2013

DBMS acquisitions

Recently I expressed doubts about Actian’s DBMS-conglomerate growth strategy. For context, perhaps I should review other DBMS vendors’ acquisition strategies in the past. Some — quite a few — worked out well; others — including many too minor to list — did not.

In the pre-relational days, it was common practice to buy products that hadn’t succeeded yet, and grow with them. Often these were programs written at enterprises, rather than third-party packages. Most of Cullinet’s product line, including its flagship DBMS IDMS, was came into the company that way. ADR, if memory serves, acquired the tiny vendor who created DATACOM/DB.

Then things slowed down. A Canadian insurance company oddly bought Computer Corporation of America, to utter non-success. (At least I got an investment banking finder’s fee on the deal.) Computer Associates, which did brilliantly in acquiring computer operations software, had a much rockier time with DBMS. It acquired Cullinet, Applied Data Research, and ASK/Ingres — among others — and didn’t have much growth or other joy with any of them.

Indeed, Ingres has been acquired three times, and hasn’t accomplished much for any of the acquirers (ASK, Computer Associates, Actian).

I used to think that Oracle’s acquisition of RDB provided key pieces of what became Oracle’s own extensibility technology. Andy Mendelsohn, however, disputed this vehemently — at least by his standards of vehemence — and his sources are better than mine. Rather, I now believe as I wrote in 2011:

… while Oracle’s track record with standalone DBMS acquisitions is admirable (DEC RDB, MySQL, etc.), Oracle’s track record of integrating DBMS acquisitions into the Oracle product itself is not so good. (Express? Essbase? The text product line? None of that has gone particularly well.)

Experiences were similar for some other relational DBMS pioneers.  Read more

October 3, 2012

Oracle’s evolution — overview

The single company whose history people most often ask me about is Oracle. That makes sense — Oracle is a hugely important company, which I’ve known for almost all of its 30-year commercial life.  And of course, this being the week of Oracle OpenWorld, Oracle is top-of-mind.

Let’s start with a breezy overview, setting the stage for more detailed posts to follow. As I see it, there have been four eras at Oracle, which between them reflect just about every tech company management theory I can think of.

Startup: This period comprised initial development, custom contract with the US military (CIA, I think, even though the demo database was always naval), and initial product release. This is the one phase of Oracle’s history I didn’t witness personally. But it seems to have been pretty much a story of “build a minimum viable product for a great vision, and hustle until somebody buys it.”

Hypergrowth: Roughly speaking, Oracle grew 100% per year on its way from $5 million in revenue to $1 billion. This period formed much of the basis for Geoffrey Moore’s famous “Crossing the Chasm” series of books. In line with Moore’s later observations, Oracle’s priorities in this period were: Read more

February 17, 2012

Enterprise application software, past and present

I recently wrote a long post on the premise that enterprise analytic applications are not like the other (operational) kind. That begs the question(s): What are operational enterprise applications like?

Historically, the essence of enterprise applications has been data management — they capture business information, then show it to you. User interfaces are typically straightforward in the UI technology of the era — forms, reports, menus, and the like. The hard part of building enterprise applications is getting the data structures right. That was all true in the 1970s; it’s all still true today.

Indeed, for many years, the essence of an application software acquisition was the database design. Maintenance streams were often unimportant; code would get thrown out and rewritten. But the application’s specific database structure would be adapted into an extension to the acquirer’s own.

Examples that come to mind from the pre-relational era include: Read more

January 17, 2012

Historical notes on analytics — terminology

This post is part of a short series on the history of analytics, covering:

Discussions of the history of analytic technology are complicated by the broad variety of product category names that have been used over the decades. So let me collect here in one place some notes on how (and when) various terms have been used, specifically:

Read more

July 10, 2011

When professional services and software mix

I blogged a little last year about the rewards and challenges of combining professional services and software in a mature company’s business model. My main example was Oracle. But other examples from Oracle’s history might have been equally instructive. For example:

Read more

March 25, 2011

Software AG and the commie spies

Something (I’ll drop in a link when allowed) made me recall the story of Software AG and the USSR. Apparently, the USSR attempted to acquire a lot of Western technology, including ADABAS. Software AG of North America cooperated with the Feds to try to catch the Soviet agent in indictable technological espionage — but then, with its usual flamboyance, ran ads bragging about the event. The writeup of all this I found when searching was some subsequent Congressional testimony.

This was all slightly before my time — I only entered the industry and met Software AG in 1981. So does anybody else out there recall more of the story than I do? :)

February 12, 2011

Sterling Commerce predecessor company Management Horizons Data Systems (MHDS)

I started drafting this post along with others around the time of my parents’ deaths, then put it aside. However, I have been informed that my father’s old colleague Alton Doody has cancer himself, and if we are ever to get his input, it would be best to solicit it REALLY SOON. :( So I’m finishing this up now as best I can.

Here’s the part I know from my own memories as

My father moved to the Columbus area in 1973 to join Management Horizons, a consulting firm serving retailers. Management Horizons had its own spin-out already, a time-sharing company called Management Horizons Data Services (MHDS), with which it still shared a building on what is now Old Henderson Road in Upper Arlington. And, this being a world full of coincidences, MHDS is very on-topic for the primary focus of this blog (software industry history).

MHDS’ main business was a full suite of what we might now call ERP for distributors and/or retailers. That never amounted to much. But its secondary business was an electronic interchange for direct placement of orders, called Ordernet. Ordernet turned into Sterling Commerce, a > $1/2 billion company that has been acquired for >$1 billion more than once.

The chain of events, roughly, is:  Read more

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