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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.



November 2009 Archives

Oracle has high expectations for its newest release (Oracle Database 11g R2.) "We expect 45-50% adoption of R2 by next year," said Mark Townsend, Vice President of Product Management, at the database analyst day during Oracle Open World recently. Such a rate would be unprecedented, but Oracle has good reasons for its optimism. Many new features target extending cost-effective use of the systems (server, storage and software) in place, and the financial drumbeat was clear and consistent. Many of these benefits are due to Oracle's increasing ability to leverage organizations' architectural tiers: smarter use of  interconnected servers, storage, and memory are driving performance improvements at many levels. Should Oracle's acquisition of Sun win through, one can expect to see an acceleration of this trend.

 By now, Oracle RAC is well established (Gartner reported 15,000 companies using it as of the beginning of 2009) as a way to leverage middle tier commodity server hardware. "When RAC arrived with Oracle 9i, it was seen as a high availability (HA) play," Townsend said.

 With 10g we saw people unlocking the value of smaller servers, but it was still typically one app per cluster. Now we see big customers stand up a grid to consolidate mission-critical and departmental apps onto one cluster."

Oracle reports 40-400 databases in the wild on a single cluster. And whereas today many customers still buy the biggest box they can, SMP boxes have a" tax" associated with them. Logical partitioning of big boxes is a typical practice; 11gR2 introduces policy-managed dynamic cluster partitioning via Server Pools, which can be assigned to take similar workloads. Oracle can dynamically adjust the boundaries of the pools, and the promise for the future is to enable adjusting them based on performance, not only on failure. Prior to R2 it was possible to do so within a database; now it is possible to do so across them. It may not seem obvious to critics (and they are legion) of Oracle's pricing - especially on maintenance - but these are ways to save money. Although of course in many ways they shift spending from other vendors, not Oracle itself, an even more intriguing play.

RAC OneNode offers another opportunity: an additional way to tackle consolidation with a single instance of RAC running on one node in a cluster. Oracle calls its strategy a "Maximum Availability Architecture" - when a customer adds redundancy, the database can use it for added performance. Active Data Guard lets customers move backup and reporting to redundant machines. It's also useful in maintenance scenarios, reducing the hardware requirements: temp start a second instance, do maintenance and then roll back (this was referred to as an "Oracle Motion type of event." Increasingly, this is an "online everything" story. Apply patches across the  cluster, do full db/OS upgrades across cluster, online reorg - the opportunities are legion. One of the most intriguing features is online application upgrades. Planned downtime is always a hard problem - organizations often need to stand up an entire parallel environment for such changes. Instead, it is now possible to make code changes in a new "Edition." Redefinition views project to a  new version only seen by its users; triggers put updates into both places to ensure updates are replicated. "All Oracle's applications are instrumented to use this," we were told. An 8-node RAC cluster is the typical configuration, but some 16s are showing up, Oracle says.

Leveraging storage is the next key opportunity. "11gR2 now is a general purpose cluster file system," Townsend asserted. Storage growth is not about to slow down, and Oracle is targeting the issue by targeting storage virtualization as a means to lower costs. Automatic Storage Management helps break down the divide between sysadmins and DBAs; it implements the "stripe and mirror everything" practices in wide use. I have not looked at the relative cost numbers yet, but Veritas replacement is clearly in Oracle's sights here. The claim is that over 50% of Oracle's customers on 10g and 11 adopted ASM, but it didn't have binaries and external files. Now it will, extending its value. Customers tend to map system files to types of storage based on performance requirements - but that means year by year, they still buy both (cost) levels of storage. "In any system only about 5% of the data is active," Townsend says, "so we're enabling Oracle to move the less used data over time to less expensive storage. With 11g we can use advanced compression and get 4x compression - giving customers half of their disk back." We'll need to see what the performance hit is with real customers, but this is clearly another promising value proposition for Oracle to sell from.

Posted November 26, 2009 2:22 PM
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Sybase has announced yet another record revenue result for the third quarter of 2009.  Like other leading data management firms, its database business demonstrated continuing vitality in a difficult economic period. With 32% growth in database licensing revenues against a strong year over year comparison, the venerable DBMS provider continued a string of recent strong results.

A 30% operating margin was icing on the cake; John Chen has proved to be a careful steward for the firm as it has carefully navigated a changing environment for its database, mobile middleware, and messaging businesses. Although Europe is still not strong, Sybase's steady inroads in Asia, particularly China, continue to be a spur to growth, and John Chen called out the strong US Federal business as a key contributor as well.

Chen was upbeat about the future, indicating that the pipeline looks good and raising the guidance for Wall Street to suggest that the company will achieve another record in Q4. Expect to see a  little more presence from the surviving "tier 1.5" database vendor - but not enough. Sybase continues to hide its light under a bushel, ceding too much mindshare to noisier competitors. Perhaps in 2010 we'll see a rampup in visibility, but I'm not counting on it. And with these results, maybe they've got it right. Still, one can't help but wonder: what if they made some noise?

Posted November 20, 2009 12:01 PM
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Oracle is the company that led the industry into making RDBMS the data persistence vehicle of choice, and though its flagship is still Number One, many other topics floated around as 35,000 people attended Oracle Open World (OOW) in San Francisco recently. The spotlight stayed firmly planted: "What will Larry say about clouds/IBM/Fusion apps?"; Marc Benioff and Larry; Arnold and Larry. But if there's anything Larry Ellison is passionate about, even as he sets his sights on IBM (hardware) and SAP (apps) - his two most important competitors, he said at the Churchill Club recently - it's database, and he's energized by the appliance opportunity. Andy Mendelsohn, SVP of Database Server Technologies put it simply in a conversation: "the only product Larry has spoken of in the last 3 earnings calls is Exadata." He is more involved than in recent years, and that means one thing: everyone else had better watch out. What analysts learned about the new release makes that very clear: Oracle has been busy, and there is a lot of exciting new technology coming.

Still, at OOW the main tent venues, Moscone North and South, were filled with applications speeches, apps partners on the massive show floor, and apps customers. No database. Larry used the event's first keynote on his comedy routine with Scott McNealy, bashing IBM. The next day, Chuck Philips and Safra Katz squandered their Monday keynote on awkward handoffs and disconnected stories. HP's Ann Livermore followed with a sales pitch that sent throngs to the exits. But on Tuesday Thomas Kurian nailed the "full stack" story, despite the odd staging decision to invent a fictitious customer for demos and invite real customers on stage to comment on it, instead of discussing their own successes. Kurian's pitch became overlong, but was well done otherwise. Then came Michael Dell, who copied HP's themes - we're green, we're saving money with consolidation - and got  the same result in massive crowd departures. Larry ambled onstage for a brief appearance to thank Michael, and pointed out that Oracle has 20,000 Dell servers. I concluded that Michael can now model his lost revenue as the replacement cycle rolls on and Sun rolls in. On Wednesday, Larry returned, and spent a lot of time on his Exadata pitch, the Governator, and some vague armwaving about Fusion apps.

The usual database hyperbole was in evidence: banners like "the first OLTP database machine" are laughable, as is "first flash-optimized machine." As always, there is plenty to take issue with in Oracle's claims and headlines - but the quibbles will be forgotten. Larry says it loud, and it gets remembered. That's what matters at events like this - few checks are written for purchase on the spot, but the impressions are made, mainstream headlines appear, and the engine rolls on. A block away in Moscone West, there was another set of presentations, partners, customers and competitors talking about what made Oracle the behemoth it is today. Data. Database. Database tools. And a well populated show floor to match the floor show we'd seen on the main stage.

For the database analyst community, there was also an effective and rich day of presentations off in a nearby hotel. And that was time very well spent. What was covered? There's a new flagship release: 11gR2, which shipped  9/1 on Linux, will arrive on most other platforms in Q4 2009, and will run on Windows next year. And of course, there's v2 of Exadata: the sequel (pun intended), featuring Sun machines as HP gets shoved off the boat. V2 starts to ship at the end of October, and versions with 2Tb SATA drives will be available in December. The positioning of all the database versions is about lowering costs, and it was consistently hammered home throughout the day to us as much as it was to conference attendees. There was a lot of tech talk too, from a substantial array of new features and enhancements, deployed in various product versions from RAC to EE to Exadata. Here's just a taste:

  • Hybrid Columnar Compression
  • Smart Flash Cache
  • High performance in memory parallel query (PQ)
  • Online Application Upgrades
  • Real time SQL monitoring
  • Simplified RAC install
  • RAC One Node - packaging RAC stuff but at lower cost
  • RAC support for Oracle VM
  • ASM cluster file system
  • Secure backup (don't use Symantec anymore)
  • TimesTen (PL/SQL support)
  • Berkeley DB
  • Enterprise  Manager
  • App Express and SQL Developer 2.0
  • Audit Vault support for DB2 and Sybase
  • Database Vault (for SAP), Transparent Data Encryption for Oracle Apps

This is a huge list, and blog posts that get much longer than this one are too long. Other posts will tackle some of these topics, but not all. I will comment soon on the recent TPC benchmark result Oracle is talking about - they've been negative about TPC for a while, but now they have one to tout, and the hyperbole reaches its apex in that discussion. If you want to be sure I tackle a favorite feature/function of yours here, please leave me a comment and I'll do my best to get to it soon. But the net takeaway for me was this: Oracle is treating this as a very important release. They're locked and loaded. It's going to be a fascinating year.

Posted November 17, 2009 4:16 PM
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Lucid DB (aka "the best database for BI you don't know about") has a commercial version on the way at last. Nick Goodman, a longtime user active in the Eigenbase and other related open source communities, has stepped in. Nick has a consulting practice that builds BI implementations (many using Lucid and Pentaho), and he's now spun out a firm called Dynamo Business Intelligence to issue and support a product to be called DynamoDB. He often  found his BI clients asking what to use for a database - the default was MySQL, but he loves Lucid's features and performance, and so it seemed like time. Nick's blog can be found here.

It's early days. "We're still figuring a lot of the go to market," Nick told me last week. He's the fulltime principal - and funder. But he starts with a strong base:

 We have something that's already largely complete. We will continue in a 100% open source model, and with Julian Hyde and John Sichi (his comments here) in related projects like Eigenbase."

Nick envisions a typical annual subscription model, based on offering support, QA and regular new builds. He doesn't expect to add "inside sales"; he's hoping for a  largely self-service process. His site should be ready in a few weeks, but meanwhile "hopefully the people who download  soon will know how to slurp out data from MySQL or Oracle, etc. and use the product." As he gets it ready for market as DynamoDB, his team is working on surrounding the Lucid product with more friendly features including a UI-based admin capability for things like backup - command line is great for some, but hardly a general purpose feature. He highlights key product capabilities including the column store, bit map indexes, and java-based plugins as particularly suitable for the projects he's been involved in. Users of BI tools - open and closed - will find the transparent remote JDBC data access to have value as well, of course.

There's more detail in the blogs I've provided links to; read them. You might also want to check out the estimable Matthew Aslett of the 451 group, who does the story justice along with another interesting development about Calpont. I'll be watching this story; Lucid DynamoDB deserves to be mentioned anytime MySQL is when BI is on the table, and hopefully it will be very soon.

Posted November 13, 2009 9:06 AM
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I've been busy with the big boys for the past few weeks, but open-source offerings are in the news and demand comment. Open source DW software provider  Infobright has a new CEO, Mark Burton  and though he's an "interim," he's hands-on and has the pedigree to help get some traction. I discussed Infobright in this post from July. My conversation with then-CEO Miriam Tuerk was very enlightening, but she has since moved on, and this week I spent a very interesting hour with CTO Bob Zurek and Marketing VP Susan Davis discussing status. Infobright is now three and half years old, and first CEOs often move on in such situations: the firm is up and running, has completed a key transition (in this case to open source), and needs to bring in new skills. New CEO Mark Burton has been on Infobright's board as well as those of firms like Zend, MuleSource, and  Jaspersoft; he was a senior sales exec at MySQL, and before that Informatica, so he brings experience that the firm needs. He knows how to scale a businesses. Mark doesn't plan to stay as CEO for a long time; the commute from California to Toronto is not his ideal situation.

Infobright remains targeted at the application or business unit data mart use cases, where time to deploy and time to value are the critical issues.  They also will continue a focus on the OEM business,  "We're the best for an embedded way to deal with DW projects," says Davis. "With an interface to MySQL, easy download, massive compression, and a favorable cost model, we expect a lot of traction." And direct sales are moving along well; the company claims to have closed some 20 paid deals in Q3. They assert 25000 downloads in the past year, and are partnering with Pentaho, Jaspersoft, Actuate and soon Talend. Sun was an investor, and Infobright continues to work with the MySQL Sun team; they expect Oracle to be a good steward for MySQL.

Infobright's current financing round (a year ago) will sustain them for quite a while, so no plans for further financing are in the works at present.  They are dealing with a different go to market process, like other open source providers: identify people who choose to register; mine through that to find the most qualified people to focus your sales efforts on. (Even Infobright's Enterprise Edition is freely downloadable for a trial period.) They want to refine an end-to-end automated marketing process: capture, use Loopfuse (think of it as Eloqua light) to score leads, feed them to the salesforce, let Sales address based on scoring. They have 7 people now on their US sales team and an office in Europe. 

Infobright is keeping its name out there in creative ways. Zurek was a driver behind the recent Big Data event in Boston, getting Infobright, Kalido, Expressor and others to sponsor enough to cover costs. On short notice, the event drew over 100 attendees - they actually had to turn some away. Its presence in the open source community, and its clear targeting bide well. It will be interesting to see Burton's impact, and who is chosen to succeed him in the new year.

Posted November 10, 2009 10:07 AM
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