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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.



October 2009 Archives

I've talked about Illuminate in two posts already this year, and for a small firm with little North American footprint, they continue to drive a surprising number of questions I receive. I had a quick chat with Andrew Fletcher, the VP responsible for building out the partner network, and he's upbeat about the firm's progress.

Illuminate now has partner management in 3 regions of North America and they have been instrumental in adding a dozen certified partners this year. Since Illuminate's sales model depends on this channel, that's a key step forward. In the past two quarters, 27 proof of concept engagements have been launched, and Illuminate claims to have closed several, none of which are attributable yet. I'm hoping for some customers I can talk to soon, but we'll see.

Fletcher confessed to some surprise that more enterprises are coming aboard; business units inside large firms are after solutions, and Illuminate is getting even more action there than in the mid-market. The challenge there is organizational: one manufacturer took him aside and asked, "Please don't tell IT you're talking to me." The different technological direction Illuminate takes often puts the SQL experts and DBAs off, Fletcher says: "They want to translate things back to the way they are used to thinking abut them." The business users don't care; they just want results.

This is always a challenge for highly differentiated architectures. It won't go away soon, of course. Even when it's been installed in a number of well-documented successes, questions will remain about the value of an island of different technology. But for companies who have needs that aren't being met, a solution with a quick time-to-value often trumps those issues. Finding those opportunities, and people with budgets to spend, will be the challenge Illuminate's partners will need to solve. The quality of that network, and its connection to its local markets, will be the key success factor for Illuminate in the next few quarters.

Posted October 29, 2009 6:17 PM
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It's was a good Oracle Open World, unless you wanted some exciting news about Fusion Apps. All the cyberworld was a-twitter (pun intended) about them during the runup to the event. If that's what you wanted, sorry - the payoff couldn't have been flatter if the Governator had run over it with one of his Hummers. (More likely his wife would have done it while illegally taking on her cell phone.) OOW had a great theme this year: "Come With Questions. Leave With Answers." Yup. And the answer was: "Wait till next year."

If you wanted to talk about the exciting new opportunities in the Sun-Oracle partnership... sorry on that one too. But that's not Oracle's fault. The EU evidently can't see that a powerful company behind MySQL is the best possible competition for their other boogeyman, Microsoft. There was plenty of other news, much of it very good, and across so many different constituencies that Oracle Open World appeared to have outgrown its Moscone Center home. Too many venues, too many sessions, too many hotels, and too many topics in the rambling keynotes (Thomas Kurian's was the exception - a clear exposition, if long, as he drilled all the way through the Red Stack from UI to server provisioning.) Those whose favorite offerings didn't get mentioned till early in the third hour - yes, sometimes they went that long - exited in droves. In fact, the only lines that approached the ones attempting to get in to keynotes were the ones later trying to get out, especially when HP and Dell attempted during their slots to outsell the ShamWow guy. Some people never learn.

Because many analysts had non-disclosable briefings about Fusion Apps in advance, there was ample content to publish quickly. One of the best discussions you're likely to see is Paul Hamerman's, in his Forrester blog here. I won't repeat any of it; I urge you to check it out. Ray Wang's blog post lists the specific offerings and some key principles of the Oracle design, which if delivered, will certainly change the apps game. Read him too. But in summary: wait till next year.

There was good news all over the show: about business intelligence from the OBIEE gang; OLAP talk from both the Oracle DB side and the Essbase team; update stories from PeopleSoft, Siebel and JDE, anticipated impact from the GoldenGate acquisition.

But nothing was more interesting to me than what was going on in the Oracle database. When the largest vendor of DBMS software says fundamental things are about to change, you listen. And that message was unmistakable, powerful, and likely to be a very big story in the year ahead, MySQL or no MySQL. Oracle is interested in database again - at the CEO level, tio hear the team tell it. Ellison has talked about Exadata in every recent earnings call. He's driving decisions about features, and what's optional or not in design, analysts were told in today's database briefing. Welcome back, Larry.

Ultimately, in choosing from among a phenomenally rich array of content, my best decision of the event was my last: skipping the keynote that was expected to be the big launch of Fusion apps. It was the last topic Larry got to, after the database stuff and the now de rigeur IBM bashing - a yawner. And I got home in time to write this post.

Posted October 24, 2009 6:17 PM
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Open-source BI vendor Pentaho has purchased technology rights from failed BI SaaS vendor LucidEra, and plans to combine LucidEra's Clearview, a reporting and analysis OLAP front end for non-technical users, with the Mondrian open source OLAP engine used by Pentaho Analysis,  in a new offering called Pentaho Analyzer Enterprise Edition, available both on-premise and on-demand. Clearview will not be available in the free community edition of Pentaho. Existing Pentaho Analysis Enterprise Edition and Pentaho BI Suite Enterprise Edition customers will not be charged additional fees. Clearview adds substantial value to the priced portion of Pentaho's portfolio - another example of the "open core" business model. Open core is not without its detractors, and a brief flurry of chatter erupted about it in the blogosphere.

Julian Hyde, the founder of Mondrian, offered a strong thumbs-up on his blog , saying Clearview "puts Pentaho at the top of the heap, in competition with best-of-breed OLAP viewers." He noted that the existing Jpivot-based OLAP viewer was not one of the strongest components of Pentaho, a sentiment echoed by Jos van Dongen, co-author with Roland Bouman of the excellent Pentaho Solutions, a recent Wiley book on Pentaho, BI and DW. Van Dongen is evidently content with the notion that buyers won't willingly part with significant money unless they get a fairly rich product. But at least one commenter on Jos' blog is somewhat frustrated that the open source OLAP viewer replacement project, called Pentaho Analysis Tool (PAT), is lagging. He wishes that Pentaho was providing more resources to the project team, but this is, of course, one of the challenges with community-based software done "for free." To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, you can't always get what you need....but sometimes you get what you want (or what the folks contributing their time want, because the work satisfies them.)

 Forrester's Boris Evelson was quoted in the press pointing out that Clearview's existing integration with the Mondrian OLAP server would help overcome the typical problems of integration that open source players often face when attempting to knit multiple projects together. As usual, Boris is cutting to the heart of the matter; although it will take some time to see this shake out, the same resource availability questions don't apply: if someone is paying you to get that code integrated, it gets done. Certainly Julian Hyde is a believer, and although he supports the open core model where it fits, he also provides a ringing defense for open source and for Clearview:

Pentaho's faith in the open source process pays off. ClearView is proof of that. If Mondrian had not been available under a business-friendly open source license, LucidEra would probably have written it on top of another vendor's engine, and Pentaho would not have been able to use it. Incidentally, LucidEra has contributed many important enhancements to Mondrian in areas of both performance and functionality over the past three years. This has improved Mondrian for everyone, and we know that Clearview performs very well against Mondrian."

The larger question remains: is open source BI ready for prime time? It's getting closer, but still has a way to go before it cracks the business user market, says Seth Grimes in this excellent piece. For more on Pentaho and the multiple OLAP viewers issue, you can check in with Tom Barber's blog, where he discusses progress (and challenges) with the PAT project. As for me, I've drilled about as deeply in the technical side of this as I expect to, no longer being a code jockey myself. Meanwhile, I found the beginnings of another interesting avenue to pursue in the barbs being thrown back and forth about whether Jaspersoft is a good citizen of the open source community, especially with respect to the "give some real content back to the community" issue. Stay tuned for more about that one....

Posted October 21, 2009 12:47 PM
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Most people have heard the term NIMBY - "not in my backyard" - associated with a new factory, rehab facility or Walmart coming to their neighborhood. "Keep them away from here - let them stay over there." The same phenomenon often applies to organizations that have adopted their first SaaS application when it comes time to integrate the content with other apps, or a BI environment. The notion of mixing on-premise with off-premise can be very daunting, with technical, cultural and resource issues throwing up barriers to effective integration. PivotLink, a SaaS BI provider approaching its 100th customer logo with some marquee names already on board, and Boomi, with successful integrations of cloud and on-premise applications for 250 clients since January 2008,  have joined forces to tackle this problem. 

Both companies have been experiencing rapid growth.  Bob Moul, CEO of Boomi, tells me that he feels a tipping point has been reached for cloud-based products. Boomi began with on-premise application integration, and was doing well with it. The sales motion made sense :

We followed the apps guys in," Moul told me. "Once their apps were in, they were being asked how to integrate.  They were happy to work with us. The premise was much simpler for them - connect once to us, and we'll take care of connections to the other sources."

After a few years of reasonable success and a few hundred customer wins, the epiphany came  as customers started to ask about how to connect to salesforce.com and other SaaS applications. Given Boomi's generally mid-market target, the fit was obvious - even POS and supply chain systems are moving to the cloud, but how to connect them to other systems for effective BI? By now, Boomi had developed connectors to over 70 data sources, as well as files, which is very useful for XML data-based systems like Workday. Categories supported include Human Resource Management (PeopleSoft and Workday), CRM (Siebel and Salesforce.com), ERP (SAP, Oracle and NetSuite), and Marketing Automation (Aprimo and Marketo).

Meanwhile, PivotLink was watching the value proposition for SaaS BI take off: in a constrained CAPEX environment, and with midmarket companies struggling with inadequate IT resources, its time-to-value story was gaining great traction. Dyke Henson, PivotLink's CMO, tells me that in 2008, the firm grew 100%, and in the first 6 months of 2009, revenue was already at 75% of last year. PivotLink's model is designed to be viral - with a web-based delivery model, a columnar, in-memory database for rapid performance, and a visual environment for quick, IT-free development of reports and dashboards. The distribution model brings information to customers' upstream and downstream partners too - their suppliers, customers, etc.  For example, Shaklee has 5000 independent distributors using PivotLink - their response time has gone from 18 minutes to 8 seconds, and the licensing model works to keep costs down. PivotLink's Google gadget allows users to do cloud-to-cloud distribution and lets recipients put reports right into their own Google home pages. By contrast to expensive legacy product licensing,  PivotLink is "less than a latte per day" for each user, Henson likes to say. And the old kneejerk objections to SaaS are diminishing, he says: PivotLink tackles the security question with SAS 70 - Type II Certification, and that's one barrier that's falling as acceptance of the model grows in the marketplace.

The two partners' joint solution accelerates time to value further, by making it easy to combine data from cloud sources and packaged applications without IT developing and maintaining separate connectors. The partnership creates end-to-end integration and interoperability across SaaS and on-premise applications in the Boomi AtomSphere, which the company calls an  integration Platform-as-a-Service, and PivotLink likes to call a multi-tenant connector model. The solution also streamlines access to ODBC databases including IBM DB2, Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server, as well as XML-based data sources and applications in industries such as financial services and insurance. Is this a Barney agreement? ("I love you, you love me, let's do a joint press releaaassse...") No - there is significant IP development involved, serious joint marketing and selling activity being undertaken, and a commitment to supporting their joint customers. Welcome to the new neighborhood.

Posted October 15, 2009 10:16 AM
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In just 18 months, Kickfire has established itself as one of the most intriguing of the ADBMS insurgents. It espouses a radical go-to-market strategy: target the overwhelming majority of the market in the sub-5Tb space, and let others battle over who's doing best at the top end, fighting over a small group of prospects. Kickfire also takes a radically different architectural approach: it uses an "SQL chip" to run much of its work in hardware, to dramatic effect in performance. 

In April 2008, the Kickfire data warehouse appliance was announced at a MySQL conference, and simultaneously the company released 100Gb and 300Gb TPC-H benchmarks  that transformed price-performance expectations at the low end of the market. 6 months later the appliance became generally available, and 6 months after that had its first production reference. Since then, the company has had two encouraging quarters, and the product is now in the hands of some two dozen early adopters, a half dozen of whom are referenceable production sites. I spent some time recently with Kickfire CEO Bruce Armstrong to discuss the story so far, and Kickfire's recent announcement of Kickfire 1.5 and the 3000 series appliance.

Armstrong is clear about the company's focus:

"90% of the market is in deployments of 10 Tb and less. It's a $5B market; we'd be happy to take a piece with a low-cost alternative while other players fight for the biggest deals they can find."

 Kickfire quotes IDC's Dan Vesset to affirm that two-thirds of all data warehouses are in the sub-5 TB size range.  In that market, MySQL, which is a key component of Kickfire's architecture, is the 3rd most widely deployed database, and surveys indicate that 25% of its 12 million licensees are using it for data warehousing and BI applications.  Armstrong is comfortable with his firm's multi-year contract with MySQL and is looking forward to Kickfire's participation in the upcoming Oracle Open World as another opportunity to reach that huge community. 

Kickfire has also allied itself with several key open source leaders to craft an end-to-end value proposition, key at the low end of the market. The appliance is greatly enhanced by including 3 key components of a data warehousing strategy:  warehousing engine (Kickfire); ETL capability (Talend, which also offers significant MDM functionality) and BI (Jaspersoft). Other elements are either also open source or very widely commoditized: Intel hardware, CentOS (one of the more interesting Linux distributions), Pentaho (for another BI alternative), and  zmanda for backup and recovery. This makes for a strong, fairly complete story, and so far the response seems to have been steady. I'm hoping to talk to some clients about the end-to-end experience soon.

Kickfire's technical architecture addresses two bottlenecks in processing: the CPU's handling of instructions generated from SQL and the I/O challenges of large volume retrieval from storage. The latter is familiar to ADBMS followers, and is handled in a fashion similar to that of other emerging vendors: with a columnar database that only sends back the columns needed to resolve a query. Where Kickfire differs from all of its competitors is in its proprietary SQL processing chip. Seem unprecedented? It's not.  Your Cisco or Juniper router uses processors that handle networking primitives, your PC has a graphics chip that does the same thing for polygons, surface mapping and the like. Why not handle SQL  in a similar way, offloading some key processing from the CPU? That's exactly what Kickfire's chip does, and it operates on compressed data, in memory, without registers through interesting memory pipelining strategies with on-board memory next to the chip. Some gory details: [skip this if you don't want to get into the hardware side):. 

What's an FPGA? Briefly, a chip that can be designed to implement desired logical functions in hardware. The includes database operations like SELECT and JOIN. The benefits? Speed and lower power consumption - you can run at lower clock speeds, saving power. As Daniel Abadi's blog will tell you ( read it often - it's always worth the effort,) "operations that take hundreds to thousands of CPU instructions can be performed in a single clock cycle in FPGA logic."  Hundreds of these operations can execute in parallel. There's more work in the surrounding memory architecture; you can read about it in Daniel's blog and in a great discussion thread on Curt Monash's blog post.   As a result of all this work, the system can keep intermediate data sets in the chip's onboard storage, eliminating a huge amount of overhead. 

MySQL's role in all this is integrated ingeniously: MySQL parses incoming SQL, and then Kickfire's optimizer generates an execution plan that uses either or both its field-programmable gate array (FPGA) SQL chip and its software SQL execution engine. The majority of queries run natively in hardware or with just a small component in software, and with the new product release, Kickfire claims that 95% is running there, including a good chunk of DML Kickfire claims that for the kind of processing it targets, the chip is equivalent of 30 CPUs.

The resulting device delivers an order of magnitude saving. That's right: one-tenth the storage. One-tenth the cost (per the TPC benchmark data) of the Oracle/HP configuration, one-fifth of the Microsoft/IBM one. One-tenth the power- and space. When you add it all up over three years it's  a half-million dollars worth of savings in the TPC configurations compared to what Kickfire used. That's a powerful value proposition for the price-sensitive low end of the market, and departments in large enterprises as well, where the simple installation of a true appliance completes the pitch very strongly. The 2000 series starts at just $32K for a full appliance, with low rack costs (2-3RU). The 2nd unit is the SQL chip coprocessor. Yes, this a full appliance play. There's a great deal of integration and pre-installation, although not as much as there will be as the company gains more experience. Already, it includes a high-speed bulk loader and an incremental loader, which does micro-batch updating.

The new  3000 Series release, starting at $154K, is targeted for mid-range data warehouses, with more on-board storage as well as external RAID support. It ships with up to 14.4 TB of disk, to assure headroom for customers who begin to crave more data. It is multi-node enabled, and it can deploy on an HA environment. Kickfire asserts that it can comfortably handle a "query while loading" workload. A faster and easier Migration Wizard  allows customers to simply drag and drop objects onto the Kickfire box.

Like its ADBMS brethren, Kickfire has a small but growing set of happy customers raving about its performance. Like other emerging firms I've discussed here, Kickfire needed to address funding early, and it secured a $20M Series B funding from some of the industry's more astute and succesful investors, Greylock, Accel and Mayfield Fund among them. The management team has used its resources well - SI and software partnerships, marketing events of various kinds, influencer outreach, and a new product launch are evidence of strong management that's covering all the bases. Kickfire is aiming to change the game. Let's overload the metaphor counter: sometimes you skate to where the puck is going to be, and sometimes you go after the low hanging fruit. Kickfire is doing both.

Posted October 10, 2009 11:41 PM
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