Andy on Enterprise Software

No Data Utopia

August 11, 2009

The data warehouse appliance market has become very crowded in the last couple of years, in the wake of the success of Netezza, which has drawn in plenty of venture money to new entrants. The awkwardly named Dataupia had been struggling for some time, with large-scale redundancies early in 2009, but now appears to have pretty much given up the ghost, with its assets being put up for sale by the investors.

If nothing else, this demonstrates that you need to have a clearly differentiated position in such a crowded market, and clearly in this case the sales and marketing execution could not match the promise of the technology. However it would be a mistake to thing that all is doom and gloom for appliance vendors, as the continuing recent commercial success of Vertica demonstrates.

To me, something that vendors should focus on is how to simplify migration off an existing relational platform. If you have an under-performing or costly data warehouse, then an appliance (which implies “plug and play”) sound appealing. However although appliance vendors support standard SQL, it is another thing to try and migrate a real-life database application, which may have masses of proprietary application logic locked up in stored procedures, triggers and the like. This would seem to me the thing that is likely to hold back buyers, but many vendors seem to focus entirely on their price/performance characteristics in their messaging. It actually does not matter if a new appliance has 10 times better price performance (let’s say, saving you half a million dollars a year) if it takes several times that to actually migrate the application. Of course there are always green-field applications, but if someone could devise a way of dramatically easing migration effort from an existing relational platform then it seems to me that they would have cracked the code on how to sell to end-users in large numbers. Ironically, this was just the kind of claim that Dataupia made, which suggests that there was a gap between its claims and its ability to convince the market that it was really that easy, despite accumulating a number of named customer testimonials on its web-site.

Even having the founder of Netezza (Foster Hinshaw) did not translate into commercial viability, despite the company attracting plenty of venture capital money. The company has no shortage of marketing collateral; indeed a number of industry experts who have authored glowing white-papers on the Dataupia website may be feeling a little sheepish right now. Sales execution appears to have been a tougher nut to crack. I never saw the technology in action, but history tells us that plenty of good technology can fail in the market (proud owners of Betamax video recorders can testify to that).

If anyone knows more about the inside story here then feel free to contact me privately or post a comment.