Teradata Goes Shopping

The recent flurry of acquisition activity in the data warehouse appliance space continued today as Teradata purchased Aster Data. HP’s purchase of Vertica, IBM’s of Netezza, EMC of Greenplum and (less recently) Microsoft of Data Allegro underscore the fact that demand for high performance analytic databases is perceived to be strong by the industry giants. At first glance this may seem an odd buy for Teradata, itself the original appliance vendor, but Aster in fact occupied a very particular niche in the market.

Aster’s strengths (and its intellectual propertty, patent pending) were around its support for intergated MapReduce analytics. MapReduce is the distributed computing framework pioneeed by Google, which inspired the open-source framework Hadoop. This framework is suited to highly compute-intensive analytics, particularly of high volumes of unstructured data. This includes use cases like fraud analysis, but has found a particular niche in social networking websites, who have to deal with vast and rapdily increasing volumes of data. Certain analytic queries such as social network graph analysis, signal analysis, network analysis and some time series analysis are awkward for conventional SQL, involving self-joins and potentially multiple passes through a database, which is a big deal if the database is hundreds of terabytes in size. The MapReduce appoach can offer significant perfomance advantages for such use cases, though it typically requires specialist programming knowledge.

Aster’s customers included companies like LinkedIn and FullTilt Poker,and its SQL-MR technology had a good reputation in such situations. Aster was a relatively small company, so this purchase is loose change for Teradata but buys it a jump-start into this fashionable area of analytic processing. Aster of course gains access to the channels and deep pockets of Teradata. Conservative buyers may have been unwilling to jump into these waters with a start-up but will be reassured by the legitimisation of the technology by a big software brand. Hence it seems like a win-win for both companies.

This leaves very few stand-alone independent data warehouse vendors: ParAccel, Kognitio and more obscure players like Exasol and Calpont can continue to plough an independent path, but I suspect that this will not be the last acquisition we will see in this market.