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Appliances, Appliances Everywhere!

Data warehousing appliances again took center stage last week as IBM and Business Objects both made appliance-related announcements.

Data warehouses and data warehousing appliances once again took center stage last week as IBM Corp. relaunched its line of DW quasi-appliances and Business Objects SA partnered with both Big Blue and appliance stalwart Netezza Inc. to promote turnkey BI and DW bundles. As if that weren’t enough, IBM—perhaps feeling pressure from arch-rival Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), which made an aggressive splash into the data warehousing arena late last year—announced its own next-gen data warehousing vision.

For a long time, IBM seemed like a reluctant data warehousing appliance vendor. It launched its first quasi-appliances—hardware, software, and storage bundles which it dubbed Balanced Configuration Units (BCU)—nearly two years ago, even though it explicitly avoided using the appliance label.

Then, about a year ago, IBM upped the ante, replacing its first-gen BCUs (which were based on Big Blue’s proprietary Power5 microprocessors) with a new commodity BCU—in this case, an IBM eServer 326m system powered by 64-bit Opteron chips from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Like IBM’s first-gen BCUs, the new BCU 2.1 appliance was dyed-in-the-wool True Blue: it leverages IBM database (DB2 9 Data Warehouse Edition 9.1) and storage (TotalStorage DS4800) assets.

This time around, IBM—which has a weakness for cumbersome product names—has simplified and expanded its DW appliance line. On the simplification tip, Big Blue sacrificed marketing wordiness ("Balanced Configuration Unit") for descriptive clarity, rechristening its quasi-appliance the "Balanced Warehouse." Like its predecessor, the rechristened Balanced Warehouse is a software, hardware, and storage bundle. Big Blue’s revamped Balanced Warehouse units are available in three different flavors: C-Class (for application solutions), D-Class (for growth solutions), and E-Class (for enterprise solutions).

This time around, too, IBM seems eager to more aggressively market its DW quasi-appliance. Case in point: Big Blue and Business Objects joined forces last week to promote Big Blue’s new C-Class offerings, the C1000 and C3000 systems. The former bundle combines Big Blue’s DB2 Warehouse Starter Edition, Business Objects’ Crystal Reports Server, and Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. (Crystal Reports Server is an SMB-friendly version of Crystal Enterprise, which Business Objects markets to large enterprise customers.)

Business Objects plans to pitch Crystal Decisions—its new mid-market offering—in tandem with Big Blue’s C3000 warehouse system. The value-add in both cases, IBM and Business Objects officials say, is turn-key production reporting, query, and analysis: the C1000, for example, is pre-integrated, pre-tested, and configured for single install to accelerate deployment, they claim.

A Data Warehouse By Any Other Name…

Nor are IBM’s new C-Class systems a Business Objects-only play. Big Blue plans to deliver a variety of different C-Class bundles, in tandem with other industry collaborators, to provide out-of-the-box BI and DW solutions, says Bernie Spang, director of data server strategy with IBM.

"The [C-Class] systems we announced are designed to address specific requirements in these [mid-market] organizations, so the [C-1000] system… addresses the needs of these companies with out-of-the-box reporting and an out-of-the-box data warehouse," Spang comments. He also links the rebirth of IBM’s appliance strategy with the Dynamic Data Warehousing vision Big Blue outlined last week. That vision emphasizes real-time business decision-making, in contrast to the largely batch-driven—and inherently latent—kind of decision-making that IBM claims is associated with traditional data warehousing.

According to Spang, decision-makers use traditional data warehouses in conjunction with query and reporting tools to reactively understand what has happened. They make use of related technologies, such as online analytical processing (OLAP) and data mining tools, to better understand why things happened. But—much like the compass or quadrant, which becomes the object of Ahab’s ire in Chapter 118 of Moby Dick—the predictive power of the traditional data warehouse always seems most compelling in hindsight, or so Spang and other IBM officials maintain. Ahab wanted a compass that could tell him not just where he was or where he’d been, but where he should go, too.

"Dynamic warehousing is the warehousing capabilities you need in your information platform to really address what we see as the third generation of leveraging information for business decision-making," Spang explains. "The first generation was about reporting. Relatively few executives and managers would get reports to help inform their decision-making. The second generation brought in OLAP and BI applications which widened that circle to a broader but still relatively finite set of analysts. In this third generation, you want to get that analysis, that insightful information to all your appropriate players, employees, customers, partners, at the point of a transaction to have the insight to make the right-time decision. That’s what we mean by dynamic warehousing."

In this regard, industry watchers say, IBM’s Dynamic Data Warehousing vision is still another variation on an increasingly prevalent theme: right-time data delivery.

"With multi-terabyte data warehouses somewhat commonplace nowadays, I’d say that data warehousing survived the crisis of scalability that it faced just before the turn of the century," says Philip Russom, senior manager at TDWI Research. "Today… data warehousing faces a new crisis, namely high-speed information delivery. Call it what you will: real-time, near-time, right-time, on-demand, operational BI, inline analytics, embedded reporting, real-time data warehousing, active data warehousing or dynamic data warehousing. It’s all about satisfying one bone-crushing business requirement: When time-sensitive information originates or changes in an operational system, how do you sync that with a data warehouse and then push out the information—complete with a performance history, as kept by the warehouse—to business end-users who need to know ASAP?"

Even though IBM’s vision isn’t entirely novel, its data integration curriculum vitae—which includes ETL, EII, content management, document management, and other assets—could give it a compelling edge. "The cure for high-speed information delivery is far more complicated, because it requires that a long list of integration and BI components—many newly enabled for services—be added to the already complex data warehouse technology stack, and sometimes operational technology stacks, too," Russom indicates.

Spang, for his part, notes that IBM’s dynamic data warehousing vision is enabled by a combination of technologies, including its new DB2 version 9 Warehouse, which provides canned connectivity and transformation capabilities (otherwise known as ETL), performance optimization features, and improved compression technology. DB2 Warehouse is now available in Starter, Intermediate and Advanced Editions, in addition to the classic Base and Enterprise Edition flavors.

IBM’s Dynamic Data Warehousing announcement is a timely one. Arch-rival Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) last year launched an appliance of its own—dubbed NeoView—that leverages the massively parallel, highly available assets of its Tandem NonStop subsidiary. Earlier this year, HP acquired Knightsbridge Solutions, a BI and DW consultancy. The Knightsbridge acquisition helped lend HP a patina of legitimacy in the contentious—and anecdotally difficult-to-crack—high-end data warehousing segment.

In addition to Netezza and DATAllegro, a host of quasi-appliance competitors—including high-end DW powerhouse Teradata (a division of NCR Corp.) and Sun Microsystems Inc.—are touting the strengths of commodity-based DW platforms.

Business Objects Gets Appliance Fever

Business Objects recently flexed its own appliance muscles, notching—in addition to last week’s agreement with Big Blue—a pair of deals with appliance specialist Netezza. Last month, Netezza and Business Objects collaborated to offer a turnkey data warehousing solution—based on Netezza’s NPS appliances and Business Objects XI Release 2—for SAP BW customers.

Then, last week, the two partners announced a new mid-market bundle that includes both hardware—in this case, Netezza’s small-profile DW appliance—and Crystal Decisions. With respect to the SAP bundle, Business Objects seems to believe that it has a legitimate leg up on many of its competitors, thanks to its Data Integrator ETL tool, which is based on technology it acquired from the former Acta, an ETL vendor that specialized in SAP connectivity.

"We’re working [to] encapsulate [reporting and analytics] by putting [them] in a platform that offers better performance and is more cost-effective than SAP BW," says Piet Loubser, senior vice-president and director of market intelligence with Business Objects. "It leverages the ETL connectivity we got with Acta, and the Acta Rapid Marts are now bundled on to the appliance, so you’ve got the database preconfigured, you’ve got the ETL preconfigured, you’ve got the models preconfigured, and you have this certified connectivity into SAP and BW."

Business Objects Rapid Marts—which are based on the Acta concept of the same name—boast canned connectivity into a source application and typically support a specific process (such as accounts receivable or accounts payable). Business Objects currently offers 33 Rapid Marts—10 of which are SAP-specific—says Amy Meyer, director of data quality product marketing. "We understand the data in the SAP environment, how to pull that information out quickly, what transforms need to be done on that data, and… with Netezza, we are specifically targeting SAP as the source for sales, accounts receivable, accounts payable."

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