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Colin White

I like the various blogs associated with my many hobbies and even those to do with work. I find them very useful and I was excited when the Business Intelligence Network invited me to write my very own blog. At last I now have somewhere to park all the various tidbits that I know are useful, but I am not sure what to do with. I am interested in a wide range of information technologies and so you might find my thoughts will bounce around a bit. I hope these thoughts will provoke some interesting discussions.

About the author >

Colin White is the founder of BI Research and president of DataBase Associates Inc. As an analyst, educator and writer, he is well known for his in-depth knowledge of data management, information integration, and business intelligence technologies and how they can be used for building the smart and agile business. With many years of IT experience, he has consulted for dozens of companies throughout the world and is a frequent speaker at leading IT events. Colin has written numerous articles and papers on deploying new and evolving information technologies for business benefit and is a regular contributor to several leading print- and web-based industry journals. For ten years he was the conference chair of the Shared Insights Portals, Content Management, and Collaboration conference. He was also the conference director of the DB/EXPO trade show and conference.

Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in Colin's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

Aster Data Systems has announced the Aster nCluster Cloud Edition. The Aster nCluster is an analytical database system for supporting very large relational databases. Aster joins companies such as Vertica and Kognitio in providing data warehousing capabilities on a cloud computing platform. Aster supports both the Amazon and AppNextus cloud computing environments.

This announcement demonstrates the growing demand for analytical processing from companies that have a significant presence in the web marketplace. One of the users of the CloudEdition, for example, is Didit, a web ad marketing company. These types of companies need to analyze huge amounts of web-related data.

One interesting aspect of Aster is its support for MapReduce, which is a growing trend by database companies Greenplum has MapReduce support and IBM is working on supporting it (System S research project). MapReduce provides a framework for massive parallel processing and is used by a number of web-centric companies such as Google. A key distinguishing feature for Aster is that it supports custom SQL functions that exploit MapReduce. MapReduce capabilities could become a key differentiator in high volume cloud computing data warehousing environments.  

You can find out more about the use of MapReduce in database systems in an article I published on the BeyeNetwork entitled "Are Relational Database Systems Keeping Up with the Information Processing Needs of Companies?"

Given my database background, it's exciting to see that database products are moving away from being commodity items are now offering some important distinguishing features.

Posted February 10, 2009 8:45 AM
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Microsoft today announced major changes to its PerformancePoint BI product. The current version of the product, PerformancePoint 2007, provides three BI related capabilities: business performance management (BPM), BI analytics, and business planning.

The BPM component evolved from the Microsoft Business Scorecard Manager, whereas the analytics component is based on a subset of the functionality acquired from ProClarity. The planning component was a new component developed by the Microsoft BI group aimed specifically at financial planning and budgeting.

Today's announcement breaks out the BPM and analytics components from PerformancePoint and merges them into the Enterprise Edition of Microsoft SharePoint Server. Existing SharePoint Enterprise Edition users (with Software Assurance) will now get these components as a part of their licensing agreement. These customers will be able to download the PerformancePoint components starting April 1.

In the summer, Microsoft will release Service Pack 3 of PerformancePoint 2007. This will be the final release of the product, which will be supported for ten years.

Microsoft's strategy is to move the responsibility for financial planning and budgeting to the Microsoft Dynamics FRX and Forecaster products. However, horizontal planning capabilities will continue be added to Microsoft SQL Server, Excel, and SharePoint over future releases.

This new direction makes sense for Microsoft. Although Microsoft was emphasizing the BPM and planning capabilities of PerformancePoint, it was achieving limited success in these areas. Instead, the majority of customers were buying the product for its analytics capabilities. This was especially true for ProClarity users.

Another reason why this makes sense is that Microsoft SharePoint is a very successful product, and this is leading to companies purchasing related Microsoft solutions. Over 80 percent of PerformancePoint customers, for example, are also SharePoint Server users. The penetration of SharePoint in the market is also a key factor in the success of SQL Server and its BI components.

Given that Microsoft Office is also increasingly being integrated with Microsoft SharePoint, it means that customers will now be motivated to purchase Microsoft Office, SQL Server, and SharePoint Server as a product set in order to deploy business intelligence and related collaborative tools to a mass business user audience.

Posted January 23, 2009 9:00 AM
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I came across this article in the New York Times about the R programming language. It was interesting to note that it was the number 2 most read article in the technology section.


The article suggests R is a threat to SAS. Any perspectives on this or the use of R for data analysis?

Posted January 7, 2009 8:06 AM
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Well it’s the last day of 2008, and it’s tradition at this time of year to make predictions for the coming year. If the financial chaos of the last few months continues into 2009, which most financial pundits say it will, then the IT industry is heading for a tough time over the coming year. This makes predicting industry directions really difficult because IT organizations are less inclined to purchase new products and technologies when budgets are tight.

The business intelligence (BI) marketplace has often been immune to industry downturns. This is because companies often turn to BI in difficult times to help them identify areas where revenues can be increased and costs can be reduced. This is especially the case in front office sales, marketing, and support organizations. Given the potential size of the coming downturn, however, can even BI be immune? I doubt it.

I believe, however, that there are ways BI can ride out the coming storm and be of benefit to the business. I think the main task that organizations should focus on is using new BI technologies to reduce costs (rather than increasing revenues). This can be achieved by reducing the cost of delivering new BI business solutions and by increasing business user productivity.

The BI solutions that will have the most impact in 2009 will be those that provide IT and business users quick and low-cost approaches for discovering, accessing, integrating, analyzing, delivering and sharing information in a way that that helps business users become more productive and more self-sufficient.

This means that there will be increased interest in open source software, BI software-as-a-service, low-cost application appliances, search, the integration of BI with collaborative and social computing software, rich internet applications, web syndication, and data and presentation mashups. Many of these solutions will come from small innovative BI companies, rather than large software companies who are still struggling to integrate the morass of BI software they acquired in 2008.

The technologies mentioned support low cost and fast BI application deployment. Many of them will be used by line-of-business IT rather than the enterprise IT organization. This could result in a turf war where enterprise IT tries to control and govern the use of these new technologies by the business. This would be a huge mistake. Instead enterprise IT should look for best practices in the use of these technologies by business groups, replicate them in other parts of the organization, and look for ways of incorporating the cream of the crop into the existing IT environment.

The purists will cry that this will lead to anarchy and islands of data and software. If that is the case then so be it. In the coming 12 months we need to do what ever it takes to be productive and reduce short-term costs. This is not the time for fancy architectures, purist approaches, academic debates, or large projects.

Have a great 2009!

Posted December 31, 2008 4:14 PM
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Relational database systems, such as IBM DB2 and Oracle Database, have undergone over a quarter century of development. During that time they have managed to successfully fight off competing database technologies for supporting mainstream database management. Do you remember the object/relational wars of the eighties?

MapReduce, a software framework introduced by Google for supporting parallel processing over large petabyte files has garnered significant attention of late. IBM is experimenting with this in conjunction with Google, and GreenPlum recently announced support.

The significant interest in MapReduce, and related technologies such as Hadoop and HDFS, has led to a backlash from the relational camp. David DeWitt and Michael Stonebraker have been especially outspoken (see www.databasecolumn.com/2008/01/mapreduce-a-major-step-back.html and www.databasecolumn.com/2008/01/mapreduce-continued.html).

Here is a small quote from their thoughts on the topic:

"As both educators and researchers, we are amazed at the hype that the MapReduce proponents have spread about how it represents a paradigm shift in the development of scalable, data-intensive applications. MapReduce may be a good idea for writing certain types of general-purpose computations, but to the database community, it is:

1. A giant step backward in the programming paradigm for large-scale data intensive applications

2. A sub-optimal implementation, in that it uses brute force instead of indexing

3. Not novel at all -- it represents a specific implementation of well known techniques developed nearly 25 years ago

4. Missing most of the features that are routinely included in current DBMS

5. Incompatible with all of the tools DBMS users have come to depend on"

Does this mean the database wars are starting up again?

My opinion is that MapReduce is not intended for general purpose commercial database processing and is therefore not a major threat to relational systems. However, it does have its uses (as Google has demonstrated) for certain types of high volume processing. It also demonstrates that as data volumes get bigger, and the complexity of data and data structures increases, other types of database technology may start to gain traction in certain niche marketplaces. The use by IBM of the SPADE language, instead of StreamSQL, in its InfoSphere Streams product (System S) also demonstrates the changes going on in the database market.

What do you think?

Posted November 25, 2008 4:20 PM
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