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Larry Ellison, co-founder and executive chairman of Oracle, speaks at Oracle OpenWorld 2017. (GeekWire Screenshot)

Top Oracle executives apparently can’t agree on how to move the database company forward in the cloud computing era.

Thomas Kurian, president of product development at Oracle and one of its most prominent cloud executives, announced last week that he was taking a “temporary” leave of absence from the company. On Wednesday, Bloomberg reported that Kurian’s leave of absence was due to a falling out with Oracle co-founder, chairman, and chief technology officer Larry Ellison over the direction of Oracle’s cloud unit.

According to the report, Kurian wants to allow additional parts of Oracle’s vast platform software portfolio to run on public clouds like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Ellison, who has spent years deriding AWS and CEO Andy Jassy as they rose to the top of the cloud infrastructure market, apparently does not agree and would rather force customers to use that software on Oracle’s own infrastructure.

Thomas Kurian, president, product development, Oracle. (Oracle Photo)

That doesn’t make a lot of sense. Oracle’s cloud infrastructure is years behind the rest of the industry, and the trends are not in its favor. The company stopped providing guidance on cloud revenue earlier this year, in what was interpreted as a clear signal that its cloud infrastructure and platform services business is being trampled by the strong growth of AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud.

It’s a decision not unlike the one Microsoft faced in the CEO transition from Steve Ballmer to Satya Nadella, when the company realized it was time to stop fighting the battles of the past. It opened up its office productivity software to the new mobile platforms, embraced Linux-driven cloud computing, and in doing so transformed itself back into one of the leading tech companies of our time.

Instead, it looks like Ellison’s swaggering shtick will continue to be the company’s plan to compete. Oracle thrived during an era of enterprise computing when customers didn’t have a lot of options. If it is going to reassert itself in this era, it needs to acknowledge that customers have more choice than ever, and they’re not going back.

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