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Dan Linstedt

Bill Inmon has given me this wonderful opportunity to blog on his behalf. I like to cover everything from DW2.0 to integration to data modeling, including ETL/ELT, SOA, Master Data Management, Unstructured Data, DW and BI. Currently I am working on ways to create dynamic data warehouses, push-button architectures, and automated generation of common data models. You can find me at Denver University where I participate on an academic advisory board for Masters Students in I.T. I can't wait to hear from you in the comments of my blog entries. Thank-you, and all the best; Dan Linstedt,

About the author >

Cofounder of Genesee Academy, RapidACE, and, Daniel Linstedt is an internationally known expert in data warehousing, business intelligence, analytics, very large data warehousing (VLDW), OLTP and performance and tuning. He has been the lead technical architect on enterprise-wide data warehouse projects and refinements for many Fortune 500 companies. Linstedt is an instructor of The Data Warehousing Institute and a featured speaker at industry events. He is a Certified DW2.0 Architect. He has worked with companies including: IBM, Informatica, Ipedo, X-Aware, Netezza, Microsoft, Oracle, Silver Creek Systems, and Teradata.  He is trained in SEI / CMMi Level 5, and is the inventor of The Matrix Methodology, and the Data Vault Data modeling architecture. He has built expert training courses, and trained hundreds of industry professionals, and is the voice of Bill Inmons' Blog on

A while back I blogged about appliances, and where I thought the market is headed. Please bear in mind that I frequently like to place myself into the future and attempt to see what will happen overall. Also bear in mind that frequently my definitions are slightly different than the common industry. As it so happens, I had the opportunity to look at and research Appliances going forward. I'd like to draw attention to the appliances in the market space and try in a couple entries or so, to help define the terms more clearly, and level the expectations of what customers may be seeing out there.

Appliances are everywhere, refrigerators, toasters, ovens, dishwashers, printers/scanners/faxers/copiers, DVD/CD players, MP3 players, cell phones (that are more than cell phones), and on and on and on. So that brings us to the IT sector and the definition of appliance. What does it mean? How should we define it? Where are the boundaries? When I look to purchase an "appliance" what should I be concerned with?

These are all questions (I'm sure there are many more) that I will attempt to answer going forward. In fact, on the cover of my latest CRN magazine, the storage standoff article: "May 22, 2006", the quote on the cover goes a little like this:

NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven prepares to take on EMC end-to-end with the launch of its first SMB product, a storage appliance priced starting at $5,000 that will combine NAS, iSCSI and, ultimately, fiber channel.

So what IS an appliance?
That's a tough definition - an appliance in the kitchen may be something that has dials and buttons, timers, and thermometers - and helps you cook or bake or toast. In the IT world, the definition of APPLIANCE is very very gray. There really isn't a clear definition of just what an appliance is. Particlarly if you look to IBM, Teradata, Oracle, Db2 UDB or other database vendors. Or how about fire-wall vendors, are those devices "appliances"? If they qualify as appliances, then we have to step back and re-think just what an appliance might be.

In my fog of concentration, I've decided that (and you may not agree - in which case, I would love to hear your comments) APPLIANCE is really a class, an organization or a hierarchy of items. At least for Business Intelligence and data warehousing, the appliance class can be broken down into hardware, and platforms. From there, it can be broken down further - hardware can include storage, networking, security, etc... Software is really a part of platforms, the platforms combine hardware and software for a "white or black box" that can be purchased and plugged in to the enterprise.

AHHH Plugged-in... What the heck does that mean?
Well, plugged in is simply where we start, from there are different sub-classes of PLATFORM APPLIANCES that include: scalability, management, maintenance, setup, enterprise class hardware parts, off the shelf hardware parts, service levels, self-monitoring, MPP abilities, NUMA Clustering abilities, and self configuration levels.

Ok, so when a vendor says: Plug in-and-play it may not necessarily be true?
Right. Sometimes the "platform appliance" requires tuning, configuration, manual manipulation. Other times the appliance really is plug-and-play into the network; it all depends on how much effort a vendor is willing to put into the engineering of their products and services.

There's a difference?
Yes, there's a difference between world-class "platform appliances" and SMB "platform appliances". World class would mean reduced mean-time-between-failure (MTBF), increased scalability (into the hundreds of terabytes) with little to no administration, world-class hardware (higher quality, higher price, more support from the vendor, and longer life-span). Sometimes off-the-shelf parts in an SMB appliance mean unsupported integration to a newer version of the platform. Remember that platform includes the hardware behind the scenes.

Example: an SMB who may stay small (say sells jewelry locally) in terms of data set, may not be able nor want to purchase a world-class "platform appliance", but may want the lower-end cheaper components. They may not need 24x7x365 uptime, nor could afford it. Yet, an international jewelry outfit may scale their data into the hundreds of terabytes, while they may start small, it doesn't mean they'll stay small. If their growth pattern can afford world-class parts, so be it.

For example, would you buy a $400 toaster for your daily toasting in your kitchen? How about a $1200 toaster or a $3000 commercial toaster they use in the hotels for feeding hundreds of guests every day? I wouldn't spend more than $120 for a toaster that might last a year or two, then buy another one when the low-end toasters have improved in quality.

My points are as follows:
* Appliances aren't always what they seem
* Appliances are a class of components; I see them more as platforms which include software, hardware, services, support, and up-time.
* Platforms are more apt to be the proper term, just because I buy a server, throw a database engine on it, and make it "available" through an API - doesn't necessarily make it an appliance.

Finally, if I look out three to five years - in all reality the customer wants more plug-and-play with higher quality and higher class parts, services will be the value-add, and self-monitoring, self-configuration will be expected to be a part of the package - not to mention scalability. Do I call this an "Appliance"? Yes - but it's an Enterprise Class Appliance, Is it really an Appliance? No - it is most likely a pre-configured enterprise class platform solution. Can a customer call it an appliance? Possibly, but I really don't care if they call it ham and cheese, or French toast. They can label it however they wish.

I still feel there is no true or single definition of what an appliance is or should be. I'd love to hear from you, how do you define "Appliance" or "Platform" in your industry?

Dan L

Posted May 29, 2006 10:10 AM
Permalink | 1 Comment |

1 Comment


Thanks for the thought-provoking comments about the definition of appliances in the IT sector in general, and for BI and data warehousing in particular. It’s amazing how much progress “appliances” have made in the market and they are appearing everywhere in the enterprise – from VPN to SOA, dashboards and data warehouses. People like to talk about virtually any dedicated hardware and software solution as an appliance. However, as you noted, it doesn’t matter what you call it but rather what it delivers to the user.

Today, the definition of appliance is crying out for clarity with a growing number of vendors’ marketing efforts making things more complicated. At Netezza, since we are the pioneers of data warehouse appliances, we believe we are in a unique position to comment on definitions for this segment. We define data warehouse appliances as follows:

  • Purpose-built for performance – combine server, database, storage and network specifically for data warehousing. This includes dedicated hardware for processing large data volumes faster than any other data warehouse solution in the market.
  • Simple to use – like a kitchen appliance, this should be dramatically easier than traditional systems. Easy to install and maintain. No tuning, indexing, partitioning, aggregations, etc.
  • Low acquisition and ongoing costs – appliances are just less costly to own and maintain – even for a large EDW implementation of 100 terabytes.
  • Enterprise compatibility – high availability; plug n’ play integration; installation in hours; standards-based interfaces; fully integrated with all major BI vendors; can have a large DW up and running in a day or so.

Interestingly, a recent TDWI survey showed that a majority of members surveyed understand that a data warehouse appliance is defined as server hardware and database software built specifically for data warehousing – not just a bundle of commodity hardware and generic software - and that the benefits of this approach are greater performance and lower cost.

We look forward to wider dialogue about this topic in the industry.


Ellen Rubin

VP Marketing


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