Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cloudwashing, Oracle, and the "logic" of IT product naming

After hearing cries of “cloudwashing” following nearly every product announcement from established vendors these days, I started pondering a bit about IT product naming: is it helping or hurting? From IBM in the ‘90s…to VMware’s recent moves…to Oracle’s newest product this week, some amusing patterns emerge that just have to give IT buyers a chuckle now and again.

Should you hang your hat on a single letter?
Coming out of VMworld 2010, I was convinced that the ‘v’ was the ‘e’ of our decade. You remember how the poor ‘e’ was abused in the ‘90s, don’t you? Everything was either e-commerce, e-business, or e-something-else. At BEA we had eWorld and the e-generation. The list went on. Never mind that “e-mail” had already been ubiquitous for quite a while. The reality was that the IT industry latched on to that ‘e’, sunk its teeth in, and held on like a pit bull. Marketers know a good thing when they see it.

The lesson of the ‘e’? Find a good letter – and stick with it.

Fast-forward 15 years. VMware has built a successful franchise around bringing the simple idea of virtualization to a new hardware platform. From that they inspired a lot of talk about VMs (virtual machines) and companies starting their names with a ‘v’ (including VMLogix, which was snapped up by Citrix at VMworld this year). Don’t forget all the talk of migrating work from P to V (P2V, if you’re really cool). I even got into the act myself in a previous blog reminding folks about the things IT misses out on if they assume V = P in a cloud environment.

And, as we all probably should have expected, the ‘v’ product naming began in earnest. First, vCenter and vSphere. Now vCloud, vShield, and vFabric. Kudos to VMware CTO Steve Herrod for having a little fun with this and poking fun at his marketing guys onstage at VMworld for the last-minute value-add of adding the ‘v’ to vCloud Director.
And so the ‘v’ brand was born and nurtured. Pretty effective. Add a ‘v’ in front of something and it’s gotta be something virtual. True? Not necessarily. Cool? Certainly. At least at the moment. Until the next big thing comes along, which just might be…well, cloud computing.
It’s ‘v’ -- but is it cloud?
A big focus of VMworld 2010 (and even as far back as 2008 – see this “golden oldie” post from former co-worker Ken Oestreich, now at Egenera) was underscoring their plans for taking customers to the cloud. So the big question is, will ‘v’ be able to get you there (brandwise, anyway…technology is a separate discussion). One vendor voted with its feet: VMOps changed its name to several months ago. The cloud, to them, was beyond just a ‘v’.
Time for the next letter to weigh in: the Big O
As Oracle Open World was underway this week, it’s only fitting that they put their stamp on things. The Big O, of course, went from cloud-bashing rants one year to having a full slate of cloud computing sessions at their conference the next. As they do. Larry's no dummy. And he did buy those Sun guys ('s fun to watch the head-to-head video clips courtesy of Matt Stansberry at SearchDataCenter here).

But Oracle took a different naming tact altogether. They boldly went where many had gone before and made the, um, logical choice of “Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud” for their new cloud-in-a-box offering. No ‘v’, no ‘e’, not even an ‘x’(a favorite of some of the Sun folks). Nope. Instead: “logic.”
Funny. I was just musing how IT needed more creativity in product naming because so many IT products seem to end with “-logic” these days. It’s actually quite impressive. Here’s my (partial) list: WebLogic, Pano Logic, LogLogic, MarkLogic, OpenLogic, Alert Logic, and even our own CA 3Tera AppLogic. Originally I even left off Science Logic, (the former) BEA AquaLogic, and the close permutations of the aforementioned VMLogix and Passlogix.

Logical or not, is Oracle cloudwashing with Exalogic?
Larry Dignan at ZDNet ranted about Larry Ellison going from cloud skeptic to cloudwasher. There are a couple good articles on the Exalogic announcement (Loraine Lawson lists quite a few), many very aggressive in their slam on Ellison trying to pitch a physical box as a cloud.
“Cloud computing is supposed to turn capital expenses into operating expenses,” writes Dignan. “Exalogic looks like more capital spending. …But is Exalogic really elastic? Is it really cloud?” Probably not, he concludes. “Simply put, Oracle’s Exalogic box gives you capacity on demand because you’re still buying more capacity than you need.”
Others marveled (or, with all the Iron Man references, Marveled) at the high-end nature of the machinery involved – it’s certainly a far cry from stringing together a set of disposable commodity boxes – and the corresponding high-end price. My CA Technologies colleague Jeff Abbott posted a few questions about the cloud-in-a-box concept in the first place. He wondered if these kinds of systems aren't actually against the self-interest of the customer -- and the vendor -- in the long run.
Still others called Exalogic a “credible offering” and thought it would have a big impact. It’s certainly a big vote in favor of internal clouds. As Ellison said in no uncertain terms, “we believe customers will build their own private clouds behind their firewalls.” And the product certainly backs up that premise.

Time to bring on the cloud
I think it is interesting how similar Exalogic is in name alone to brands Oracle already owns – products that really had nothing to do with the cloud. At least, not originally.

The name gives Oracle the ability to fit this product line in with the software they bought with BEA, the hardware they bought with Sun, and attach it to the cause of the moment – cloud computing. And that seems to be exactly what they want to do, no matter what they said a few years ago.
The good news: they can do all of that without having to put an ‘o’ in front of all their product names. (Don’t laugh: others like MorphLabs are trying it. But I guess it’s not so wacky – sticking an ‘i’ front of things certainly hasn’t hurt Mr. Jobs’ revenues over the past decade.) However, don’t expect anything to stop them from injecting “cloud” into every one of their customer conversations.
In the end, before proclaiming this the decade of ‘v’, or getting to upset about Oracle’s choices one way or the other, it’s worth remembering that all of these products will be judged by whether they do what they’re supposed to – and at an acceptable price – for two other important letters: IT.


LogLogic said...

Thanks for the referece to LogLogic, We've had our mark since 2002, so we're flattered by all the imitation. :)
Hope all is well.

Bill Roth
CMO, LogLogic

Anonymous said...

Jay, the "m" in every Morphlabs product seems to work. We're about to announce a follow up product to mCloud Controller. You guessed it, it has an m at the start. It adds some way to make Morphlabs products unique and easy to identify in the myriad of cloud products.

Thanks for the mention.

Junnie Arreza (good thing my name is not mJunnie)