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Welcome to my BeyeNETWORK blog! Please join me often to share your thoughts and observations on new analytic platforms, BI and data management. I maintain a vendor-focused practice that uses primary research, briefings, case studies, events and other activities that stimulate ideas as a source for commentary on strategy and execution in the marketplace. I believe the emergence of a new class of analytic platforms, and emerging data management and advanced tools herald a next step in the maturity of information technology, and I'm excited to be present for its emergence. I hope my blog entries will stimulate ideas that will serve both the vendors creating these new solutions and the companies that will improve their business prospects as a result of applying them. Please share your thoughts and input on the topics.



April 2009 Archives

IBM's InfoSphere Data Warehouse has been a steady growth asset. As IBM has created and acquired pieces of the infrastructure and progressively created a more complete, end-to-end offering, it has continued to add new customers to (and from) one of the largest installed bases in the world. In reviewing 2008, IBM CFO  Mark Loughridge asserted compound growth of 18% since 2006. For 2008 the claim is 100 more transactions, and 50 InfoSphere customers new to DB2 while in Q4 "distributed (non-mainframe) DB2"grew at 30% growth in constant currency terms.

Now IBM is stepping it up a notch with version 9.7, released along with DB2 9.7 (discussed here), having made the investments necessary to pursue mainframe opportunities in place, and adding Informix DBMS to the prospect list. This represents two substantial additional user bases and prime opportunities for additional revenue; in fact, IBM claims that it is demand from the users that drove them to finally bring the multiple tools (and, priced options) into those environments. This makes perfect sense - why add migration to the list of requirements if you plan to build a data warehouse in an environment you have every intention of retaining?

The mainframe customer gets an array of products that makes for a complete set of requisites. IBM has moved Cognos 8 into the z environment, joining options like InfoSphere Data Architect, MDM Server, the Information Server and IBM's Industry Models - an IP asset that is progressively assuming more visibility (and value) in IBM's portfolio. Leveraging DB2's Cubing Service, the new 9.7 version's improved compression and security features, and DB2 on z's ironclad reliability makes for a powerful value proposition. Informix customers have continued to see IBM make investments in their platform, and with the addition of Informix Warehouse, they now have their own support from Design Studio, an updated administrarion console, and data transformation and loading from something referred to as SQL Warehousing - I'm not sure at this point whether this is a different ETL tool than is found elsewhere in IBM's portfolio.

There's much more. There always is in a portfolio as overwhelmingly complex as IBM's - although their messaging needs some serious work to make the components and options easier to understand in these rich packages. Still, InfoSphere is clearly poised for a step up, even in the difficult economic times IT finds itself in, and more innovations are expected soon - more exploitation of solid state disk, predictive analytics, cloud computing and more will reshape the landscape dramatically. Many of these are likely to show up in 2009 as IBM continues to raise its competitive credibility. Watch this space.

Posted April 28, 2009 8:23 AM
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Data visualization specialist Tableau Software recently spent some time with us talking about where they've come from and where they are going. After early project work for the DoD, founder Pat Hanrahan and his PHD student Chris Stolte joined forces with Jock MacKinlay, who spent some time at Xerox PARC. They spun out of Stanford in early 2003, and launched into a steady run of growth. With $5m in early funding, they've run conservatively - "cash flow even," Marketing VP Elissa Fink calls it - ever since, and just celebrated 16 straight quarters of beating the prior quarter's number.

Tableau logo

Some of Tableau's business is OEM: they provide Visual Explorer for Oracle Essbase for example; much comes from phone-based sales calls. The company has learned to empower "B2B consumers" who find them with a free trial download model, and their conversion rate, they claim, is very good. A perpetual license for the desktop product is $999; the Professional version, for $1800, connects to Microsoft SQL Server, Netezza, Oracle, Teradata, etc. and publishes interactive analytics and dashboards. The Reader is free, allowing distribution of reports in a read only mode to anyone with a browser. 


Tableau doesn't publish revenue numbers, but IT Market Strategy believes they are approaching the $10M mark. A round of funding for that amount in late 2008 is targeted at finding growth as the firm builds out its portfolio of data connectors and partnerships, resellers and OEMs. A recent succesful first user conference, a new deal with Vertica, and more to come demonstrate significant momentum in an increasingly "visible" space. Today, with a base of 3000 named accounts of all sizes - some with one copy and some with hundreds - and 30,000 users, geographic expansion looms as an opportunity. The product is internationalized but not localized, and building out distribution is a promising avenue for the next growth tier.


The best introduction to Tableau? Follow the link at the beginning of this post. Download a trial. Play with it a while. Get your checkbook out; you'll use it soon. 

Posted April 26, 2009 8:32 AM
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The Boulder BI Braintrust hosted Confio this week. Confio is fairly small (25 people focusing on product development sales and support, with most other infrastructure outsourced), and privately held with angel and operating revenue funding it. The value proposition of their product, Ignite Performance Intelligence, (I'll call it IPI from here) is to deliver information about database performance using a more BI-like interface. Prospective buyers (and today's customers, who number in the hundreds) are DBAs and application performance specialists.

IPI is used with Oracle, DB2, SQL Server and Sybase databases, and there is an add-onfor Oracle business applications. IPI collects statistics from internal tables and puts them into conventional BI cubes for the reporting interface to present to users. Confio claims less than 1% overhead on the database to do so, which is credible, and it installs no internal agents - it simply runs queries. Its customers are using IPI on transactional applications roughly 2/3 of the time, with the other third being BI applications.

While other application monitoring products see the database as a "black box" and typically measure when it's called and when it responds, IPI looks inside, and measures 14 dimensions. It measures wait time for all the steps of execution inside the database, traces them by time and date, and links them back to the user. This permits performance tracking over time (every Monday at 10 we have the following problem), identification of files or objects contributing, etc. The presentation of the information is certainly more BI-like than many other performance monitors. Confio has excellent reference quotes from customers on its site about the savings they achieved using the product.

Confio has challenges, though. It fails to present its information in the context of what matters most. IPI needs a front end that establishes KPIs for the IT staff, defining them based on SLAs, executive clout, operating costs, or whatever the governing rules are. Presenting a fairly typical dashboard as an entry point would be far more useful than an undifferentiated ranking of statistics about elapsed time or other measures. But understanding what it means, stoplighting or exceptions against established benchmarks would add a layer of value and move Confio to a nearer-to-real-time mode. (Prediction is a harder problem, but would also be useful.)

DBAs are busy; they will not spend their time simply picking the thing with the biggest bar on the graph and tuning it. And they often don't have the buying power; Confio acknowledges that once DBAs take the download and apply it, Confio needs to work with the DBAs to sell the value of what they have achieved internally to a buyer. Confio needs to put that into the product itself. Prioritization is the heart of BI, and if Confio truly aspires to applying BI thinking to performance management, they need to attack it next. So far, what it offers is backward looking; that is something it shares with a lot of BI, but it's not what Confio should aspire to.

Posted April 25, 2009 7:21 PM
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EnterpriseDB has had a steady build as an Oracle-compatible alternative DBMS. IT Market Strategy had a chance to catch up with Andy Astor, co-founder and EVP of business development, in the midst of the frenzy around the launch of IBM's DB2 version 9.7 (discussed here). Andy was gracious enough to make himself available late (very late) in the evening to clarify a few questions about the IBM licensing and use of EnterpriseDB's technology, and cleared up a few points of confusion we had.

Since its founding in 2004, EnterpriseDB has taken its version of Postgres, branded as Postgres Plus, into an intriguing place. It is positioned as "Oracle compatible", offering its customers a technology choice that avoids lock-in and the substantial expense associated with a traditional software license. Postgres Plus can be deployed in Linux, Solaris and Windows environments, and supports connections from the most widely used languages. 

The ramp has been fairly steady; early support from the Linux community, and the company's hiring of many of the Postgres team, gave it early credibility. By 2006, it had already begun effective partnering, with heavyweights like Sun weighing in, unveiled JBOSS support, added heavy hitters to its board of directors, and sustained a steady cadence of product releases. In 2008, after strong growth and international expansion in 2007, the firm raised $10M in funding to fuel further growth - and among the investors, close on the heels of Sun's acquisition, was IBM, in a relatively unusual step. See the 451 Group's discussion at the time here.

Compatibility plays are often seen as short-sighted and challenging: even if it works well, how can users be assured that products designed to be compatible with others will remain so as the target product adds features in new releases? Time has shown that this issue is not nearly as significant as expected. The persistence of "old versions" and applications that run on them is well-documented. In fact, migration to a new version of a commercial DBMS might cost more than simply moving an application that already does what it needs to do onto a low-cost compatible platform. Think of it as legacy conservation, as opposed to legacy migration. It's an intriguing value propostion in today's economic climate.

Mind you, Postgres Plus is not just a compatibility play; the firm touts wins at Autozone and others as open source DBMS successes, as well as others like Vonage and the FAA based on Oracle compatibility. The licensing deal with IBM for DB2 9.7's foray into Oracle compatibility no doubt provides another useful piece of funding -terms were undisclosed, but one imagines they must be rather substantial. With the growing adoption of open source, and Oracle's pending acquisition of MySQL, EnterpriseDB is well positioned to exploit the changes in the software industry in the years ahead.  IT Market Strategy expects to see other partners come on board. expanding OEM deals, and continued innovation in the creation of alternative software stacks, in Postgres Plus' future.

Posted April 25, 2009 4:58 PM
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Today IBM announced new features, products, and solution packages in its DB2 9.7 (Cobra ) release. And a new version of InfoSphere, including Informix and z versions. I'll post about those later, but here I'd like to just highlight a buried item that got little play: DB2 can now run PL/SQL.


In the engine.

Not transcoded by hand, not making datatype changes or worrying about what happens when you [geek alert] CONCAT a NULL, or whatever else about the differences drives you crazy. (Feel free to tell me about the differences that bug you - love those comments!) Last year, IBM licensed some software from EnterpriseDB, a small but growing player  whose Postgres Plus has carved out a niche as an Oracle-compatible product. They've been able to get a little traction, but not a huge amount so far. IBM also invested in EnterpriseDB, but that was a separate transaction at a different time - the party line is that they were unrelated. I'll post separately a bit more about them too.

Why is this important? Simple. Migration of apps running on Oracle to DB2. Less lock-in, at least theoretically. I talked to early support IBM customer Jean-Marc Blaise, an architect and practitioner at Venedim [note: site is in French], a French firm that does (among other things) Oracle migration projects for its clients. He says he has a steady stream of such work, and that "we are getting 98% coverage - it runs the code without problems. Cuts porting time to a tiny fraction of what it used to be." He's worked through several code drops and watched the number of fails go down steadily - stored procedures, left joins, NULLs, other incompatibilities simply work. He sets up an instance with the compatibility flag on, so he can rely on the Oracle behavior where he needs it, and leaves other instances alone. 

Will many people bother to port? Haven't we seen this game before? IBM has not done many migration programs. They've tried, and so have others, before, and none were all that successful. Curt Monash asks the question, and he's absolutely right to, here.

I think there is a bit more traction this time. Here are a few points I think IBM will make, which might drive some business.

  • Price. Let's face it - IBM has been competing on being cheaper to acquire, easier and cheaper to manage for a while. They step those features up with this release. And now that Oracle is about to add a lot of low-margin revenue from Sun to its portfolio, do you think Oracle will be easier on DBMS pricing? Or harder?
  • Ease of consolidation. All DBMS vendors are primary in some shops and secondary in others. Some are primary on DB2 and have a little Oracle here and there. Enabling consolidation onto a cheaper, easier to manage platform you already know is a useful play when budgets are tight - especially when doing so is not such a big project as it used to be.
  • Other software plays. Some customers are using IBM software for data integration, archiving and management, warehousing, and other surrounding non-DBMS information management needs. Why not extend their use while you consolidate some of the easier apps?
  • Leverage of developer skills. IBM Data Studio will support development in PL/SQL; binary data type support is being added. Keep those folks gainfully employed and broaden their reach. 
  • Sales heads count.  But they have a lot of feet on a lot of streets, and Oracle is the most widely installed DBMS. IBM does not need a very big percentage of wins to make a dent.
  • Just because. In the process, IBM will empower joint customers to negotiate more aggressively with Oracle, threatening their margin even more. What's not to like, if you're in Armonk? IBM plays the openness card - and it doesn't hurt that a lot of MySQL fans are worried (although it's not clear they need to be. Yet. But that's another post.)

Jean-Marie is enthusiastic about IBM's XML compression and its workload management, both also enhanced in this release, as reasons for migration. Should you be? Of course. It sounds great. But caveat emptor. This is new. Although the software IBM licensed has been out there with some success, this is new. It's been integrated into a very large code line, and some issue are sure to crop up. But if you have any reason to try it out, set up an instance and go to town. It's another weapon in your arsenal. And please - let me know how it works.

Posted April 22, 2009 5:12 PM
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