Much has happened while I've been heads down over the past few months finishing my book. Well, Business unIntelligence - Insight and Innovation Beyond Analytics and Big Data"
went to the printer last weekend and should be in the stores by mid-October. And, I can rejoin the land of the living. One of the interesting news stories in the meantime was Cisco's acquisition of Composite Software
, which closed
at the end of July. Mike Flannagan, Senior Director & General Manager, IBT Group at Cisco and Bob Eve, Data Virtualization Marketing Director and long-time advocate of virtualization at Composite turned up at the BBBT
in mid-August to brief an eclectic bunch of independent analysts, including myself.
The link-up of Cisco and Composite is, I believe, going to offer some very interesting technological opportunities in the market, especially in BI and big data.
BI has been slow to adopt data virtualization. In fact, I was one of the first to promote the approach with IBM Information Integrator (now part of InfoSphere
), some ten years ago when I was still with IBM. The challenge was always that virtualization seems to fly in the face of traditional EDW consolidation and reconciliation via ETL tools. I say seems because the two approaches are more complementary than competitive. Way back in the early 2000s, it was already clear to me that there were three obvious use cases: (i) real-time access to operational data, (ii) access to non-relational data stores, and (iii) rapid prototyping. The advent of big data and the excitement of operational analytics have confirmed my early enthusiasm. No argument - data virtualization and ETL are mandatory components of any new BI architecture or implementation.
So, what does Cisco add to the mix with Composite? One of the biggest challenges for virtualization is to understand and optimize the interaction between databases and the underlying network. When data from two or more distributed databases must be joined in a real-time query, the query optimizer needs to know, among other things, where the data resides, the volumes in each location, the available processing power of each database, and the network considerations for moving the data between locations. Data virtualization tools typically focus on the first three database concerns, probably as a result of their histories. However, the last concern, the network, increasingly holds the key to excellent optimization. There are two reasons. First, processer power continues to grow, so database performance has proportionately less impact. Second, Cloud and big data together mean that distribution of data is becoming much more prevalent. And growth in network speed, while impressive, is not in the same ballpark as that of processing, making for a tighter bottleneck. And who better to know about the network and even tweak its performance profile to favor a large virtualization transfer than a big networking vendor like Cisco? The fit seems just right.
For this technical vision to work, the real challenge will be organizational, as is always the case with acquisitions. Done well, acquisitions can be successful. Witness IBM's integration of Lotus and Netezza
, to name but two. Of course, strategic management and cultural fit always count. But, the main question usually is: Does the buyer really understand what the acquired company brings and is the buyer willing to change their own plans to accommodate that new value? It's probably too early to answer that question. The logistics are still being worked through and the initial focus is on ensuring that current plans and revenue targets are at least maintained. But, if I may offer some advice on the strategy...
The Cisco network must recognize that the query optimizer in Composite will, in some sense, become another boss. The value for the combined company comes from the knowledge that resides in the virtualization query optimizer about what data types and volumes need to be accommodated on the network. This becomes the basis of how to route the data and how to tweak the network to carry it. In terms of company size, this may be the tail wagging the dog. But, in terms of knowledge, it's more like the dog with two heads. The Greek mythological image of Kyon Orthros
, "the dog of morning twilight" and the burning heat of mid-summer, is perhaps an appropriate image. An opportunity to set the network ablaze.