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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!

I read with interest Dataupia’s recent press release about its new management team. In it Foster Hinshaw (its President and CEO) is described as “the father of data warehouse appliances.” This started me thinking of whether there is a difference between being a father and being a creator, or inventor, of something. As the father and creator of my children I am very proud because I built them from the ground up. Most of the work of course was done by my wife, but it couldn’t have happened without me! Is this true of fathers in the IT industry? Did they really create and invent the technology they are the father of?

When thinking about fathers of information technology, topics like data warehousing, business intelligence and relational databases come to mind The people most often viewed as the fathers of these technologies are Bill Inmon, Howard Dresner, and Dr. Ted Codd, respectively. While there is no question that these people have made major contributions to the industry and brought each of their respective technologies to the forefront of people’s thinking, did they really “create” and “invent” the technology?

Let’s consider DW appliances first. As I stated in my previous blog, Netezza was one of the prime movers in getting DW appliances accepted in the industry. Before moving to Dataupia, Foster Hinshaw was the CTO of Netezza, and therefore played a major role in the birth of the DW appliance.

Appliances of course have been around for a long time. Think of toasters, for example (the bread kind, not the Battlestar Gallactica kind). In IT, Network Appliance was one of the first vendors to introduce a hardware appliance. Cisco routers and telephone switches can also be thought of as appliances.

I personally think DW appliances go back to the days of database machines. The creators of those machines were people like Phil Neches who designed the DBC/1012, which became Teradata’s first offering. Other key people at that time were David Britton and Geoffrey Lee who created the Britton-Lee database machine. Their company and technology was later renamed Sharebase. It was subsequently acquired by Teradata who buried it.

Howard Dressner, formerly with Gartner and now CSO of Hyperion (recently acquired by Oracle), is often associated with the term business intelligence. The wikipedia entry for business intelligence states, “In 1989 Howard Dressner, a Research Fellow at Gartner Group popularized “BI” as an umbrella term to describe a set of concepts and methods to improve business decision-making by using fact-based support systems.” I really like the word “popularized.”

On the data warehousing front, Bill Inmon is viewed as the father of data warehousing. The concept of data warehousing was actually invented largely in IBM by Barry Devlin, who (somewhat tongue in cheek) describes himself the “grandfather” of data warehousing.

Nobody would question that Dr. Codd is the father of the modern day relational DBMS. He was after all the inventor (and thus creator) of the relational model. Chris Date also played a major roll in making the world aware of Dr. Codd’s work. I don’t think he would mind me saying he “popularized” relational technology. He would be appalled, however, if I described him as the father of relational database.

The bottom line for me is that there are the inventors who create new technologies, and there are people who popularize them. These roles may be performed by the same people, but often they are not. Rather than people saying they are the “father” of something, I would prefer they said they “popularized” something. This is a less loaded term and has the same impact on the industry. I of course wouldn’t say I popularized my children!

Posted March 23, 2007 3:38 PM
Permalink | 6 Comments |


Colin, one more point regarding this quotation: 'Howard Dressner, a Research Fellow at Gartner Group popularized “BI” as an umbrella term'

Dressner popularized the TERM. To bring in another example, Codd created the term OLAP but certainly didn't create the product category.

Foster Hinshaw does many things right when it comes to a startup. But Dataupia is doomed.

Megalomaniacs (even an apparently mild one like Foster) frequently run the risk of delusions. While benign delusions are somewhat useful in providing that special touch of manic zeal and conviction that carries the clueless masses, larger ones that cause severe disconnection from reality can be quite dangerous.

In his latest enterprise Foster has convinced himself that he can execute a fairly sophisticated engineering project - all by himself. I suspect some of this comes from a need to "show" the Netezza folks (from where he was ejected for undue interference in engineering).

Unfortunately (for the employees and the investors), delusions eventually wither away in the harsh reality. The only caveats to this (that may prevent a catastrophe) are the possibilities that:

(a) Foster makes enough noise (which he is good at) to convince some idiots to fund him in the second round

(b) he makes enough noise to scare some idiots into buying him out

(c) the investors actually understand enough to put in place a decent engineering leadership

Wow, some pretty harsh words about Foster from Yloh Parc. I wonder what the history is there? I've worked with Foster and I think he's doing a pretty good job.

I think the subtext of this note is that the term "father of" is a little gratuitous. Besides, if any of these gents had been women, would we have dubbed them "the mother of" whatever?

I don't agree with Colin's assessment of Foster and the appliance thing. True, there were early versions, but what Netezza did was to bring out a more or less all-in-one device that leveraged Moore's Law and attacked the incumbents on price AND performance. It spawned a slew of me-too's so I give credit where credit is due.

This whole Devlin vs Inmon thing is just silly. In the early 80's, lots of people, myself included, were building things like data warehouses. It was a logical consequence of the situation and the technology at the time. Bill has been able to trade on that title for decades, but like a real father (which I am too), you can't rest on your laurels - your kids need you. And I never heard Howard Dresner refer to himself as the father of BI.

Harsh - but not necessarily wrong. I have worked with Foster and I know about Dataupia.

I found him to be quick, intelligent and affable. The sentiment was building up to respect - but that ended soon after. Having an ego is OK. But his ego is fragile. The need to be right blocks good science and engineering - because that requires a deeper insight born out of occasional doubt.

Actually, Howard Dresner didn't even invent the term, despite his claims that he did. It was in wide use before he popularised it - at least Codd came up with 'OLAP'.

Well - just dropped by to say "told you so". Dataupia is gone and, hopefully, talentless hacks like Foster will not find money elsewhere to cause more pain and suffering. And hopefully, along with him will disappear clueless lieutenants like John Chiu, whose greed and ambition far exceeded the gifts that God gave him.

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