Friday, August 14, 2009

Bits & Pieces Summer Posting

I thought I would do a “freeform post” today to celebrate the lazy 2009 Summer and the fact that most of the planet (but not the BI world for some reason) seems to be on vacation at the moment.

As you know I’ve been following ParAccel with interest for a short while now wondering how they would deploy those $22M of Sales & Marketing greenbacks they just scored. I read this interesting article about them lately and it looks like “customer acquisition” might be part of their strategy. Good move. Unfortunately, I couldn’t determine who the “other database products” or the other “columnar-MPP database” vendor might refer to. I can only surmise it might be Vertica. If anyone knows who else OfficeMax looked at, please share the wealth.

For all my whining about missing TDWI in my own backyard (San Diego) lately, it seems I didn’t miss much after all according to Merv Adrian who posted about the conference shortly thereafter. From the looks of it, the highlight might have been a sunset ride on the Lyzasoft yacht in the San Diego bay. Talk about good PR!

Andy Heyler wrote a good piece about the demise of Dataupia called No Data Utopia. In it he refers to the “awkwardly named” Dataupia. Yes Dataupia is a weird name. But so are several others such as Kickfire, Tokutek, or Calpont, for example. And although XSPRADA is admittedly rather funky, at least it’s an acronym (Extended Set Processing for Rapid Algebraic Data Access). To me the money quote in there is “you need to have a clearly differentiated position in such a crowded market”. It’s pretty much what I’ve been saying for a while (and common sense if you ask me). At the moment, I don’t see any of the players in this market besides XSPRADA with a “clearly differentiated position” on anything. At the end of the day, it’s still all about the prisons that are columns and rows.

Netezza announced the long-awaited (not) TwinFin product line prompting a flurry of nasty posts from competitors like Kognitio, and an interesting Monash post about data warehouse pricing. Much like traditional software license pricing, ADBMS prices seem to be reaching for the bottom (stay tuned for $19.95 per terabyte while supplies last!). And as someone recently said, the bottom is open source. Should be interesting to see what happens. Personally, I think a lot of this stuff is going to become commoditized. The play looks a lot like printers or razors, where the actual hardware is sold dirt cheap, but the paper or blades cost a fortune to replenish. Caveat emptor.

A relatively new ADBMS vendor called XtremeData has emerged. It looks like they’re based in the US (Schaumburg, IL to be precise) but the actual brains of the operation are in India somewhere. They’ve certainly been vocal on several BI blogs (namely, DBMS2). To me the funniest thing is their “ChalkTalks with Faisal” screencasts. Faisal is apparently their India-based CTO. The entire presentation is like a Netmeeting whiteboard session where Faisal keeps talking while drawing stuff on a whiteboard in a Flintstonish manner. All that’s missing are the stick figures. It wouldn’t be so bad if they realized the audio is horrible, due to the incessant noise from the marker writing on the board. It sounds exactly like squealing puppies in the background. It’s totally distracting albeit very amusing.

SQL Server 2008 R2 is out but without the Gemini (or Madison née Datallegro) pieces I guess. That’s Office 2010, parts of which are going into the cloud if I understand correctly. This whole Madison/Gemini “revolution” in BI is starting to get a little, shall we say, boring for lack of materialization. Not sure what’s going on with Microsoft lately but I’m getting more and more concerned. Even .NET seems to be taking a backseat to Java/J2EE. It wasn’t like that a year ago. I am sensing a scary downward spiral. One thing’s for sure, I have yet to see anything remotely connected to .NET or C# in the BI programming world, save for those .NET C# extensions Aster provided in their engine recently for doing MapReduce (and of course the PushBI initiative but even there…). To me it seems the entire ADBMS/BI code stack is Java on Linux (SuSE, Red Hat and CetnOS). I’m talking about the supporting/ecosystem tools of course, not the underlying engines (those are mostly C/C++ I believe).

I could be wrong but, it’s not looking good for Microsoft. My prediction: this behemoth will eventually split off into a myriad of smaller entities, some of which will survive, some of which won’t. The sum of the parts may be worth more than the whole.

Ingres has actually managed to generate some buzz in the US lately by announcing it is teaming up with a company called VectorWise (well, it’s a research outfit actually) to develop a “project”. No customers yet but a lot of very fancy PhD types in Amsterdam (they did MoneyDB/X100) and a first option to buy VectorWise is rumored should the venture be successful. Time will tell. It always amazes me why Ingres isn’t more of a household name in the US. In Europe, they’re very popular (at least that’s what my French Ingres experts tell me ).

Finally, a recent article is claiming that BI is used by only 8% of employees in the enterprise and that’s, of course, only counting the shops that have implemented it to begin with. Actually I find that number high and would have guessed more like 5%. This is not surprising in light of the recent economic woes and scandals we’ve witnessed recently. In most of these cases, it wasn’t a lack of technology or resources at play but rather a conscious choice to ignore reality. The tools are there. The desire is not.

In my opinion, this disconnect is very apparent in numerous retail outfits. Places like Home Depot, Whole Foods, AT&T or Circuit City (RIP) for example, who clearly have resources and tools to perform and exploit top-notch business intelligence but still manage to provide mediocre service or product at best consistently.

At Home Depot, they can’t (or won't) keep track of inventory correctly. I was once told it was because there was too much theft (both internal and external) to update the databases frequently enough! Consequently, they can’t tell you if they have some items in the store or not. Not all items, just some of them. And when they can, they’re unable to locate them physically inside the store (as in what aisle and section). That’s shocking to me given what we constantly hear about RFID and data warehousing investments at these large box places. But Lowes does a much better job of this so clearly, it’s not a technology issue.

At Whole Foods (at least the one in Irvine where I live) the quality and quantity of their product is inconsistent at best. Some days the self-serve fish is fresh, and sometimes it is not (and has been sitting out for too long looking like a nice fat food poisoning lawsuit waiting to happen). Like the proverbial “box of chocolates”, you never know what you’re going to get. Similarly, their checkouts are never balanced. You’ll see huge lines at several of them while employees sit idle at empty others. Every time I go there some happy-go-lucky line manager with a bright idea of the week makes it harder for me to shop and enjoy it there which is why I never set foot in the place any more (instead, I go to an even more expensive supermarket). Apparently no one is keeping track of this. Least of all the department managers who seem to frequently act on impulse in trial-and-error fashion. Yet surely Whole Foods has an uber-BI stack running somewhere in Austin giving them a “big picture” on a store by store basis right? You’d think someone would be paying attention (or maybe even using it)? But clearly they are not, or someone would be fixing these problems (or at least genuinely addressing customer complaints, which they won’t because it's "inconvenient" for them, as they like to put it).

I don’t think it’s so much about the difficulty of implementing and leveraging BI as the article suggests. I think it’s about genuine laziness on the part of upper management. Because, at the end of the day, if you’re the CEO of a place like this, you need to get your highly compensated butt out on the floor to truly see, taste and smell what’s going on. You need to talk to your employees, your customers, and get in their shoes (incognito if possible). I’m always shocked to hear C-level people lamenting the fact that their CRM system isn’t giving them enough visibility into their customers. Or better yet, they need to “understand the customer” better. Who’s kidding who? Fact is they simply don’t give a hoot most of the time. And if they’re too lazy or too self-important to do that, they’re not likely to pay much attention to BI tools and warehouses either no matter how fancy or ubiquitous the software might be. That's really just the nature of what "service" has become in the US lately. In order to improve BI usage, we will have to improve the quality of Management first and put real folks back in charge.


  1. Jerome,

    Kognitio's open letter was intended to be cheeky and light hearted not nasty.


  2. Sorry John, sarcastic would probably have been a better term, you're right. I was just pointing out that the announcement seemed to have triggered louder than usual "pushback" from the industry - probably because it messed with pricing (a nebulous concept in this business) - There were other "tongue-in-cheek" comments made about the announcement and if I can find them again I will post them here. It's tough to keep track when you're processing 250+ feeds on BI daily :) Thanks for following the blog!

  3. Ah, sorry so there it is -- This one wasn't particularly gentle either :)

  4. Daniel Abadi makes a similar point about the anti-NZ writings out there following their release announcement.