Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Oracle's Mendelsohn Talks Big Data Trash

It's truly fascinating to observe how behemoth incumbents behave in disruptive markets. 

Like all disruptive markets, they don't take hold immediately.  They begin as Noise, and with help from industry analysts who cover them, often experience a "hype cycle" of overheated expectations.

It is the potential to wreak havoc on the incumbents of established, highly profitable and mature markets that creates the frothiness.  Since the 1970s, technology incumbents have behaved according to the stage of market adoption.  And acted in predictable ways to stave off competitive threats from new, disruptive innovators.  Oracle is certainly no exception, particularly in this era of Big Data. 

Case in point is Oracle's Andy Mendelsohn, Senior Vice President of Oracle Database Server Technologies, who last week conducted a special webcast with Kash Rangan, a research analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.  The topic was Big Data and why this new era is a good thing for Oracle and its stable of technologies. 

Stage 1: Combating the Noise
Picking up where Oracle left off from Kash Rangan's 2011 event when Mendelsohn completely disavowed the NoSQL/NewSQL movement beyond an interesting academic discussion, Mendelsohn began last week's talk by gushing about the vibrancy of the relational database market and citing Gartner's recently published relational database market report for 2011 that showed a very healthy 16.3% growth rate. 

Stage 2: Combating the Hope
Mendelsohn's opening comments suggest incumbent Oracle has moved to the next chapter of its playbook to align with the second stage to which Steve Duplessie refers as the Hope Stage.  This is the classic 'We know the industry and selective customers are buying into the Big Data Noise, and Hope springs eternal, but transactional, structured information is still the crown jewels of most organizations which everyone knows is best stored in a relational database' Oracle type of posturing. 

Within the call's first five minutes, Mendelsohn essentially teed up for his subsequent series of misleading statements and lies, holding firm to his strong relational database orthodoxy for the remainder of the webcastHere's a perfect example in reference to one of his comments about the variety and value of Big Data: 
"And so the real key isn't that relational databases can't store this data.  Relational databases can store all this data.  The real key is that most of this data is worthless to the business.  You don't want to store it.  You want to capture and store the really valuable information, and that's what you want to store in your high performance relational databases (aka Oracle)."

This is Oracle incumbent speak for telling the market it has no intention of supplanting its core Oracle relational database that runs on expensive processor cores with some niche NoSQL database... besides, we already have such a product, and it's called Berkeley DB.  Together with our flagship Oracle database, we meet all your structured and unstructured data requirements for the next five to ten years.

Stage 3: Combating the Legitimate (Market) 
Of 'course no Big Data discussion is complete without talking Hadoop.  And since last year's Merrill Lynch webcast, Oracle has announced a partnership with Hadoop distribution vendor, Cloudera.  It's bundling Cloudera's CDH with the Big Data Appliance, Oracle's new engineered system that's the ultimate ETL processing machine to move data between Oracle and Hadoop really fast (but, by no means, cheap).  Regarding these technologies, Mendelsohn had the following to say:
"So the Big Data Appliance is our engineered system for running Hadoop and the Oracle NoSQL database at very high performance and very good time-to-value.  So if you're an Oracle customer today and your business wants to get into the Hadoop space, you can just call us up, and we will give you an - sell you a rack, which is the Big Data Appliance, a rack which is essentially an 18-node Hadoop cluster-in-a-box.  It's got lots of cores, lots of memory, lots of storage...And the key thing in the Hadoop world is people don't want just 18-node clusters, some people want to ride in 100-node or 200-node clusters...this Big Data Appliance is a building block."

This is Oracle incumbent speak for saying we have a Big Data product, too.  Oracle has all the functionality that you, Mr. Customer, said you need, and now we have it.  All you have to do is call us up, and write us a check for a cool million bucks in hardware, software and annual maintenance fees per 18-node cluster that guarantees Oracle a healthy revenue stream of maintenance for years to come.

After plowing through Oracle's Acquire and Organize information lifecycle strategy, Mendelsohn tackled the Analytics piece.  In Oracleland, this is where Exadata and Exalytics are positioned to compete with purpose-built systems designed for complex, analytical workloads.  

This is a Teradata mainstay market that's invited fierce competition, not only from Oracle, but from IBM's Netezza, HP's Vertica, EMC's Greenplum, Microsoft's PDW, and SAP's HANA in-memory and it's acquired Sybase IQ columnar database technologies. 

Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) shared nothing architectures, in-memory for both transactional and analytical processing, and column rather than traditional row-based storage is all the rage today, and Oracle does a lot of bolt-ons to its core relational database to provide similar benefits of these newer, more performant technologies. 

So how does Mendelsohn address these topics in the Q&A session?  Very predictably of an incumbent, he positions each as just another feature of the relational database -- Conveniently, the very product that incumbent, Oracle, enjoys a 48.8% share of a $24 billion market. 

I particularly liked what Mendelsohn had to say about in-memory databases
"So in-memory databases are an interesting technology... Going back to my car analogy.  Cars have evolved a lot over the years, and one of the things people have sort of figured out is that you can get really good performance at low cost with these things called turbochargers.  You stick them on the engine, the engine runs a lot faster... they're expensive [just contradicts himself] so you don't put them in all the cars, but you put them in some of the cars.  And you think of in-memory database technology as the same sort of thing.  It's another feature of the relational database... But pure in-memory databases where you say, 'Okay, all that data in my database has to sit in Memory?'  That's really expensive.  It's like saying in the car industry, everybody's going to buy Ferraris... We all know everybody doesn't buy Ferraris."

This is Oracle incumbent speak for telling the market these newfangled turbo engines need to be used sparingly because they cost a lot of money (aka it's an expensive, niche market), and we can provide you the same benefits of speed with our flash-enabled Oracle Database Machine. 

In other words, you can blissfully ignore these new innovations because not everyone is going to use the stuff anyway, and we implement a similar technology that's better and cheaper.

So there you have it.  A classic incumbent response to a disruptive market force played at a high level.  It's clear Oracle has taken notice of this nascent market and has entered it with much fanfare and bravado.  

Not only is Oracle competing to win, but they're playing to ensure no stinkin' startup or an 'SAP on drugs' shifts major value and money out of the relational database racket they've been playing for 30 years -- and very profitably, I'd say.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Miles' Law and the Evolving Hadoop Ecosystem

So you're likely asking what is Miles' Law and what the heck does it have to do with Hadoop?"

Miles' Law says: "Where you stand depends on where you sit". The concept is probably as old as Plato, but the maxim originated from Rufus E. Miles, an assistant secretary who served under three U.S. Presidents, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson.

Although Miles used the phrase in reference to a bureau employee who had left to join another government agency in the 1940s, it certainly speaks to what we're seeing in 2012 within the Hadoop movement.

The various vendors are jockeying for position whether they're a legacy incumbent with expensive, proprietary kit or an emergent commercial open source company with inexpensive tools to build an early adopter sales pipeline.

This week's Strata Conference in Santa Clara was a sold-out show, and since Strata 2010, Hadoop has gained real enterprise traction. It's being used to solve high-value business problems in nearly every industry segment today. This rapid adoption is gaining so much steam that the industry stalwarts like IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and EMC are getting in on the action, establishing partnerships with Hadoop distribution vendors Cloudera, Hortonworks and MapR. And all are carefully casting Hadoop in a somewhat subservient role to their existing portfolio of products so as not to canabalize them.

Playing nice to drive interoperability while preaching the traditional holistic, enterprise top-down mantra is what these big incumbent vendors will stand by. After all, they're sitting on huge cash cow businesses representative of the old, monolithic, centralized paradigm where expensive processor core licenses, long-tail maintenance fees and SAN storage prevail.

Oracle and EMC probably have the most to lose as the Hadoop ecosystems evolves and matures. That's because the best use cases for Hadoop are all about off-loading computational intensive tasks away from expensive Oracle cores and storing huge amounts of raw data away from expensive SAN storage.

Big, new markets just like new roles in government drive change in strategy, allegiances, attitudes, and perspectives. It will be interesting to see how the Hadoop/Big Data movement evolves and what strategies the various players develop to capitalize on their respective positions of strength to successfully compete.

In any ecosystem, where you stand depends on where you sit.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Oracle Embraces Hadoop and Big Data Within a Mainframe Construct

After dismissing Hadoop and NoSQL technologies earlier this year as mere topics of interesting academic discussion, Oracle used its high-testosterone Open World conference to announce its Big Data Appliance, a new addition to its family of engineered systems.

Give Oracle credit for cleverly embracing open source distributions of Hadoop and R without forsaking its engineered systems approach.

Make no mistake, the Big Data Appliance is no different than its "Exa" brethren -- a platform reminiscent of the IBM mainframe, optimized for a single, vertically integrated software stack.

It's more than ironic that Andy Mendelsohn, the Oracle executive who downplayed enterprise viability of NoSQL technologies just nine months ago at a financial analyst conference, would do the honors of unveiling Oracle's Big Data Appliance at this year's Open World. Particularly since it comprises a NoSQL database, and various ETL tools for Hadoop -- technologies, according to Mendelsohn earlier this year, that were entirely obviated by Oracle's Exadata Database Machine.

But it's clear Mendelsohn and his cohorts used the last nine months very productively to determine
how best to embrace Big Data open source technologies while simultaneously furthering Oracle's engineered systems strategy.

Mendelsohn proved the ideal choice to deliver Oracle's keynote on its Big Data strategy. He knows the subject well, and gave a cogent presentation on the life cycle of big data, and how an enterprise customer can harness various Oracle technologies to extract actionable intelligence to make better business decisions.

For those in the audience old enough to remember the mainframe, Mendelsohn made a comparison between NoSQL database key/value stores and VSAM on the mainframe.

The NoSQL-VSAM comparison develops further when one reads the news facts from Oracle's Big Data Appliance press release.

Simply put, Oracle's end-to-end solution to an enterprise Big Data problem requires purchasing three Oracle engineered systems: the Oracle Big Data Appliance in conjunction with the Oracle Exadata Database Machine and the Oracle Exalytics Business Intelligence Machine.

All three Oracle engineered systems are needed to acquire, organize, analyze, and maximize the value of Big Data within an enterprise.
This is Oracle's re-creation of the IBM mainframe in its own image.

It's a brazen strategy that clearly maximizes value and profits for Oracle. But it's unclear how much of the enterprise market is prepared to embrace Oracle's Big Data solution they claim works best within a mainframe construct.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Will Oracle Counter EMC's Hadoop Move?

EMC Positions Big Data as a Platform for Business

One of EMC's big data announcements this week at EMC World was its upcoming release of its own Apache Hadoop distro. This is a big deal for enterprise customers, particularly those inching closer toward membership in the Petabyte Club (EMC has over 1,000). Most are quickly realizing their massive amounts of unstructured data simply can't be analyzed in traditional relational databases like Oracle.

EMC's strategy takes a page from Microsoft's infamous playbook on "Embrace and Extend". EMC intends to add innovations like replication, 5-9s availability, and management which are all capabilities lacking in the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) today. Furthermore, these are features that mainstream enterprises expect from analytics software frameworks, particularly if data is to be a platform for business -- from which to extract value and make money.

One of the most intriguing innovations previewed was what EMC referred to as Pluggable I/O. This software layer essentially gives customers the choice of using standard HDFS or other file systems like EMC's Isilon OneFS, Symmetrix File System (SFS), pNFS, etc. to store Hadoop data.

It's more apparent where EMC is going with this strategy: Acquire companies like Greenplum and Isilon that are at the center of this new era of big data, leverage their critical technology assets and DNA, and integrate it into your existing storage IP that's got a huge installed base. Then you sell that same customer base even more kit to harness the value of all their structured + unstructured data that resides on EMC storage arrays today. Sheer brilliance!

EMC's bold move would certainly seem to put Oracle in a defensive position. To date, Oracle has been MIA on Apache Hadoop, choosing instead, to have a maniacal focus on Exadata. In Oracleland, Exadata can do it all!

Four months ago, a Merrill Lynch analyst questioned Oracle's SVP of Oracle Server Technologies, Andy Mendelsohn, at its annual financial analyst conference about the growing popularity of NoSQL technologies such as Hadoop. Mendehlson was downright dismissive.

Mendelsohn suggested the analyst's question gave rise to an interesting academic discussion. He went further with his dismissive retorts by saying that NoSQL deployments were mere research projects. Is he for real?

The fact is that while the world's largest financial services and telecommunications companies still have plenty of reason to use Oracle databases, they also can't solve their biggest business problems without Apache Hadoop and other NoSQL technologies like Cassandra. And every day, more companies are exploring new ways to integrate Hadoop with their Oracle relational databases -- often in ways that significantly cut Oracle database licensing and support spend.

Oracle's silence is deafening. EMC gets it, Teradata with its acquisition of Aster Data, gets it, HP Vertica gets it, and IBM, through its numerous partnerships, gets it.

The reality is the 1960's IBM T.J. Watson era of providing a closed-end IT solution that Larry Ellison so fondly intends on resurrecting, isn't coming back.

Fast forward to 2011, and there are simply too many choices, too much open source innovation at global scale and accessibility, and dramatically declining infrastructure costs that exploit commodity Intel multi-core processors and flash memory technologies. This wave is inevitable, and not even Oracle's Ellison, the King of relational databases, can stop it.

Oracle would do well to mitigate the growing Hadoop threat by acquiring Cloudera. It fits with Oracle's preferred buying over building strategy. Not only has Cloudera been working with Quest Software to integrate Hadoop with Oracle via the Ora-Oop connector, but Cloudera's CEO is the former chief of Sleepycat, the Berkeley DB open source database company Oracle acquired in 2006.

It's only a matter of time before an equally powerful player in the enterprise space swoops in to buy Cloudera. But in all likelihood, Exadata will continue as Oracle's big hammer where all markets and enterprise customer requirements are nails.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is Apotheker The Rx HP Needs?

In some ways I feel bad for Leo Apotheker (although how bad can you feel for a guy who maintains residences in Paris and California and got a $57 million compensation package to take the top job at HP). Upon HP's announcement of Apotheker's appointment as its new CEO, HP stock dropped 4% after hours. Not exactly a vote of confidence.

And after Apotheker's first full quarter at the helm, HP forecast sequential and annual sales that missed analysts' projections -- HP's first disappointing forecast since Carly Fiorina was CEO.

If that wasn't enough, much has been written about Apotheker, the former SAP co-CEO who resigned amid free-falling sales in early 2010, and his combative style, quick temper, and aloofness.

Nearly five months in, both industry pundits and financial analysts continue to doubt his ability to lead a diverse $130 billion hardware and services company that derives a mere 2.2% of its revenue from software.

But putting the negatives and naysayers aside, the most important question is whether Leo Apotheker is the CEO tonic that HP needs right now.

Clearly, HP is in great need of a visionary leader who will empower its engineers to innovate, and drive the company into higher margin software and services businesses in areas such as
cloud computing, big data, and real-time analytics. All while maintaining the operational efficiencies that Mark Hurd put in place during his tenure as CEO.

Although I've never met Leo Apotheker, I've read numerous interview transcripts that indicate he's a man who listens and learns. He has spent several months touring HP offices to talk with the rank and file. And he is wise to HP's biggest challenges -- slowing top line revenue growth and accelerating competition on both the enterprise and consumer fronts where HP is coming from behind.

HP competes with IBM and Oracle who each have rich software portfolios and are in far superior positions to intersect and influence strategic decisions within the enterprise IT space.

While in the consumer space, HP is battling Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Each of these behemoths have added significantly to their cash positions since the recession, and can easily buy companies to fill gaps in their respective portfolios. All have massive platforms for which hundreds of thousands of developer applications have been written, giving them a huge leg up over HP in the consumer market.

Leo Apotheker is certainly a man who feels he has something to prove. There is a powerful driver in the opportunity to rewrite his own legacy while simultaneously breaking with Mark Hurd's legacy of cost cutting at the expense of innovation.

Hurd is the kind of guy who's far more adept at talking about how he'll drive down SG&A expenses over the next 12 months than at articulating a vision and a strategic roadmap that excites and inspires. And this is where Apotheker could shine if he makes the right bets and executes.

HP's March 14th event before analysts where Apotheker and his leadership team outlined their vision around "Cloud, connectivity, and software" is a good start. Although it was light on details and a little lame with respect to its "Everyone on" tagline, it conveyed that HP's new CEO is well aware of the seminal changes occuring in the IT industry, and the gaps HP must fill to be a leader in this new 'Consumerization of IT' era.

Apotheker has already made his first acquisition in Vertica since taking the helm at HP. This was a smart play on the big data analytics theme that will gain him further credibility if he continues to add more analytics software tools to HP's arsenal over the next 6-12 months to more effectively compete against IBM, Oracle, Teradata, and to a lesser extent, EMC.

With respect to cloud computing and cloud services, Apotheker would be wise to buy versus build. This way he gets to market quicker, and buys a platform for which there's already an established developer community. Rackspace is likely among the targets on his list.

Turning an underused asset like WebOS could be Apotheker's biggest personal challenge since he's not a skilled practitioner in the consumer space. HP's Chairman, Ray Lane, who's also a partner at Kleiner Perkins (KPCB), clearly helps Apotheker get first dibs on any KPCB venture-backed start-ups that can be the glue between cloud, mobile, and social networking.

All-in-all, Apotheker has his work cut out for him. But if he moves quickly to fill the gaps in HP's vast portfolio that moves it up the value chain with near flawless execution, he'll be the CEO prescription for what ails HP.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sun-Oracle Channel: We're Just Not That Into You

Similar to the 2009 movie about a Baltimore-based group of interconnected, twenty- and thirty-somethings navigating their relationships from the shallow end of the dating pool through the deep waters of married life, trying to read the signs of the opposite sex--and hoping to be the exceptions to the "no-exceptions" rule, a group of interconnected North America-based, legacy Sun channel partners are navigating their new relationships with Oracle, hoping to get exceptions to Oracle's "one-size-fits-all" (aka no exceptions) policies.

Oracle's response (assuming you ever get one)... NO, and BTW, We're Just Not That Into You.

It was very telling when I read an article today about HP's former channel chief, Adrian Jones, taking a new job at Oracle where he'll join his former boss and current Oracle Co-President, Mark Hurd. The telling part is that Adrian has nothing to do with the channel at Oracle. Rather, he's a senior vice president of Asia Pacific/Japan. I suspect he'll be spending a lot of time nurturing the relationship with Softbank since they were among Oracle's first public Exadata reference customers.

Exadata in general, and growing the $2 billion pipeline within Oracle's direct accounts in particular, is all the rage these days. And the channel isn't welcome in those accounts which are pretty much the only customers likely to pony up to Exadata's multi-million dollar price tag.

So there will be no channel renaissance like there was during Adrian's tenure at HP. That's not the Oracle way. The channel is merely part of the Oracle ecosystem to perform those messy, labor-intensive tasks like fixing Oracle hardware-software installations-gone-wrong. Oh, and
soothing customers after they've experienced Oracle's sub-standard support at premium prices.

Yes, all you legacy Sun channel partners, you need to face the facts. Oracle Is Just Not That Into You. But take comfort in the thought that if things don't work out according to Oracle's plan, they may decide to Get Into You.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Oracle: You Lie!

I've been remiss in blogging of late, largely due to navigating the rough seas created by Larry Ellison's Oracle. You see, as an owner of an IT solution provider, I've been grappling with sustaining a once thriving and profitable business that's dangerously too-tightly-coupled to Oracle now that it owns Sun Microsystems.

Shame on me for taking Larry & Co. at their word during Oracle's January 27, 2010 unveiling of their new systems strategy post Sun acquisition. This was the Redwood Shores event where they emphatically stated to all the major analysts they would grow Sun to profitability rather than cut it to profitability. And would reinvigorate the Sun brand to prevent further defection of Sun's customer base.

It seems illogical now that someone as pragmatic as I would forget one of Larry Ellison's famously published truisms -- "We can't be successful if we don't lie to customers".

Both customers and partners alike can speak volumes on Oracle's strong-arm tactics and willingness to lie to close a multimillion dollar deal. Yet, as much as the company is universally feared and loathed, the money keeps rolling into the Oracle coffers.

That's because those evil geniuses at Oracle realized more than a decade ago that once a customer is running its core business functions on Oracle software, the cost of exit is extremely high -- so high, that it's nearly impossible to exit from Oracle's stranglehold.

You may not like it, but Oracle proves that it pays to lie!