Mark Hurd has been co-president of mega-cap technology company Oracle for three years now, having joined shortly after his dramatic exit as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Hurd’s dramas these days are the more typical business type: Oracle’s coming to grips that it is a giant competing against nimbler upstarts. Oracle faces competition from the likes of Salesforce.com (CRM) and Workday (WDAY) as well as more size-appropriate challengers IBM and SAP. (Oracle makes database software and many applications that run with it; Salesforce and Workday are online-only application makers, with the former focused on sales tasks and the latter on human resources. IBM and SAP have software offerings similar to Oracle’s.)
The incumbents have been scrambling to match the newbies in “cloud” computing, or software that is offered as an Internet service rather than as programs installed on a customer’s computers. Oracle (ORCL) is generally perceived to have been slow to respond to the cloud, having instead pursued an aggressive acquisition strategy that included the unlikely 2010 purchase of server maker Sun Microsystems for more than $7 billion. Moving to the cloud is tough all around for big companies — like turning the proverbial aircraft carrier — in part because Internet software generally costs less. That’s great for customers, but tough for salespeople, and Hurd, a sales executive earlier in his career, oversees Oracle’s sales force.
In an interview in his Redwood Shores, Calif., office, Hurd spoke with Fortune on the eve of Oracle’s massive Oracle Open World developers’ conference, which promises to snarl traffic throughout San Francisco from Sept. 22 to 26. Hurd addressed the state of Oracle, including the shift to the cloud, why Oracle will beat its competitors, and whether or not Oracle will abandon hardware. Edited for concision and annotated for explanation, a transcript of the conversation follows.