News from last week’s Oracle OpenWorld is still flying fast and furious. My fellow industry analysts and consultants look forward to Oracle OpenWorld because it gives them material to write about: new products, client case studies, new ideas, and so forth. With all the press releases emitted from OpenWorld, Larry Ellison’s $10 million IBM challenge stands out.

For Oracle product fans, this is exciting. I’ve been accused of getting into the weeds (and analyzing the specific details) when I should just appreciate the creativity and impact of these types of visibility ploys, but I think Larry’s challenge requires some weeding.

I credit the creativity of the Oracle folks for establishing a performance challenge. Oracle has actually come up with a way of generating revenue from current customers AND prospects. They’ve actually figured out a way to generate revenue from situations where Oracle isn’t necessarily the optimal solution.

When the worlds of marketing and the legal collide, the outcome is always interesting. It’s been some time since I reviewed an Oracle software license, but as I recall, the company prohibits anyone from documenting and publicizing performance metrics about their product.

But what if someone is able to take on Ellison’s challenge and refute the “twice as fast” metric? They’ve done their diligence, used the appropriate hardware settings, configured the DBMS environment, and loaded their real-world data in a pristine fashion, and run an exhaustive set of tests. And, let’s say, just for argument’s sake, the Redwood Shores solution doesn’t meet expectations. Ostensibly Oracle comes and inspects them the results and—if the product has indeed underperformed, pays out the award money.

Unfortunately, there’s no way for someone to document and publicize their findings without breaking their obligations under Oracle’s license agreement. So, Oracle not only doesn’t have to pay the $10 million prize – they may actually be able to go after the prospect for financial damages for breaking the licensing agreement.

This is marketing, legal, and sales brilliance. If you’re Oracle, you are providing incentive for every programmer with time on his/her hands to download Oracle software, load data, and run some tests to win $10 million. The worst that happens is that someone challenges, wins, and Oracle encourages the challenger to pay for software instead of paying for breaking the license. That’s clearly a win-win if you’re Oracle. But prospective customers may not see things quite the same way.

Maybe Oracle will modify its licensing to allow customers and prosp ects to document and publish performance results. Or maybe this is just a minor oversight. I’m sure whatever the outcome – everything is always in the best interests of their customers. What other explanation could there be?

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