Oracle hires Hurd: Who's sorry now?

Ellison thought HP was wrong to fire Hurd, and on Monday he showed why

In the span of just one month, Mark Hurd has gone from being CEO of Hewlett-Packard, which he helped turn into the world's largest technology company, to being a president at Oracle, which wants to triple its revenue and become HP- and IBM-like in size.

In hiring Hurd, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is gaining someone who has experience in running a very large company, and someone who has knowledge in areas that Oracle is counting on for some of its growth: hardware and, in particular, storage.

The fact that Oracle is also hiring someone who knows HP's strategy and markets -- and its enterprise customers -- is also a big plus.

All of this unfolded on Labor Day, in an almost Shakespearian tale of defeat, resurrection and possibly revenge, depending on perspective. Hurd resigned last month after facing a sexual harassment claim that turned up some inaccurate expense accounts. HP is still searching for a new CEO.

HP's board may have hoped Hurd would disappear into the mysterious world of private equity fund management, and not, as it turns out, go to a company with an ever-expanding desire for growth. This move by Ellison, if anything, gives HP something new to think about as it seeks Hurd's replacement.

"Should HP be worried? Very much so," said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT. Hurd "intimately understands what it takes to effectively transform and manage a world-class system vendor organization, which is exactly what Oracle desperately wants for itself."

Ellison has continually cited IBM as its top competitive threat, and on Monday Hurd echoed that view. "I believe Oracle's strategy of combining software with hardware will enable Oracle to beat IBM in both enterprise servers and storage," Hurd said in a statement released by Oracle.

Perhaps Oracle's focus will be on IBM, but it can't be thrilled with the "HP Sunset" program, which is designed to encourage customers of recent Oracle acquisition Sun Microsystems to stop using Sun products. Hurd will know "which Sun accounts were being most heavily mined and which HP accounts are the most vulnerable in the large enterprise space -- that could be very valuable," said Rob Enderle, an independent analyst in San Jose.

One part of Hurd's resume that may help him at Oracle is his background in running NCR Corp., particularly its data warehousing effort, said Jean Bozman, an analyst at IDC. That experience could be applied to Oracle's plans to develop the Exadata line of storage servers.

These Exadata systems, built with "building blocks" of small servers, flash memory and fast I/O, can scale from configurations that cost less than $250,000 to $1 million-plus setups designed to support transactional workloads and scalable databases, said Bozman.

Hurd's arrival means a big change for Oracle, too. Hurd will be one of two presidents at Oracle, joining Safra Catz. Oracle's co-president Charles Phillips resigned, a move that had been planned before Hurd's hiring, said Oracle.

In hiring Hurd, Ellison is bringing on board someone whose managerial approaches and cost-cutting actions won both praise and criticism. But in a change from his role at HP, Hurd won't necessarily have final say on the big issues, since he reports to Ellison.

If HP is worried about Hurd taking the job at Oracle, its first step might be to look closely at any noncompete provisions in Hurd's severance agreement, said analysts.

It's also possible that Hurd's move to Oracle could be cast by both companies as something that will help them further their partnership. For sure, Ellison was already close enough to Hurd to voice apparent anger over his removal, calling it "cowardly corporate political correctness."

By hiring Hurd, Ellison made very clear on Monday how strongly he believes HP acted in error -- and how quickly he could move to exploit that mistake.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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