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Sun VARS: Hurd won't change Oracle's direct-sales focus

While Mark Hurd was seen as a channel booster at HP, Sun VARs don't expect him to change Oracle's direct-sales culture.

Some Hewlett-Packard VARs might follow former CEO Mark Hurd into the Oracle/Sun camp, saying he could moderate the company's direct-sales focus.

But others that have followed Oracle Corp. for years said no company executive short of CEO Larry Ellison can or will change the company's long-standing direct game plan. And there is zero indication that will happen. Just last night, Ellison reaffirmed that the company will continue its direct-sales and direct-support focus -- and even expand it to include its new hardware portfolio.

"We are a direct sales company," Ellison told analysts and reporters on Oracle's quarterly earnings call. "We have direct relationships in software, and we need them in both the sales and service side for hardware."

Oracle will hire 2,000 more sales staff, including sales engineers and service engineers, Ellison also said.

Even those in the channel who think new Oracle co-president Hurd will have an initial moderating influence on the company's direct sales force said it probably won't last long. Hurd will speak at Oracle OpenWorld 2010 next week and many are curious to see what he'll have to say regarding the channel's role.

"Hurd may temporarily make Oracle more channel friendly, but when he leaves it won't be channel friendly anymore," said Kevin McDonald, vice president of Alvaka Networks Inc., an Irvine, Calif., solutions provider.

McDonald said no VAR should rely too much on one vendor and should instead market his or her own value-add and brand versus that of any IT vendor. This is not just an Oracle issue, he said.

"The problem is you can't build a business model around any of these vendors," he said.

With them, when it comes to channel strategy, it's always about "the executive du jour, not about company commitment," he added. "They go back and forth between a direct and channel sales model, and every time they do, they ruin [channel] businesses."

Some HP partners have been quoted saying they might kick the tires of Sun hardware now that Hurd is aboard at Oracle. They saw Hurd as a channel champion at HP and expect him to be the same at Oracle. The problem is, Hurd had free reign at HP. At Oracle, he works for Ellison. And longtime Sun partners, many of whom have already partnered with and dropped Oracle as a software provider, said Ellison's vote is the only one that matters.

One longtime Sun partner in New England noted that Hurd will have to deal with an HP lawsuit before jumping whole-hog into Oracle's hardware business. But even if that were not the case, this partner said he doesn't see how Hurd could change the Oracle culture.

"Larry [has] money-machine thinking, and his stated goal [is] to sell direct -- unless he wants Oracle to sell low-end commodity Wintel hardware, printers, ink and cameras through the channel," said this VAR, who is moving more of his customers to IBM and HP hardware. "The partners that follow that mentality I think may be a bit naïve. I certainly wouldn't bet on it. I always say hope for the best and plan for the worst. And hope isn't a strategy."

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