Big Blue Drops the Appliance Anchor with Balanced Warehouse

Between the Balanced Warehouse and Dynamic Warehousing, IBM is executing a full-court press in business intelligence.

By Rajeev Rawat

Much like a large battleship and its crew recalibrate targets, International Business Machines set sail to reach prominence in business intelligence (BI) five years ago. With an established data warehousing solution in DB2, Big Blue looked to parlay its dominance in transactional processing for large enterprises, into a similar market position for the analytical world. So IBM assembled an internal team to recruit the necessary personnel, tools and partners for success in BI.

The first major deliverables rolled out by this team were the Balanced Configuration Units (BCUs), initially introduced in 2005. These provided customers with pre-packaged, pre-tested and performance-optimized hardware/software systems. IBM also touted ease of migration should a particular customer’s needs outgrow their initial BCU.

Today, IBM has taken their foray into the world of appliances one step further. What’s unique now is that these solutions have been productized and are being delivered with a compatible stack of analytical applications as part of Balanced Warehouse solutions. Out-of-the-box functionality includes: matched storage, servers, networking, input/output ports of hardware; as well as integrated DB2, augmented by Business Objects’ Crystal Reports. Furthermore, these ready-made systems feature pre-built, industry-specific, generic data models designed to ease migration and/or data loads, thus expediting the path to production.

Data models are available for the top revenue markets, including banking, financial markets, insurance, retail, and telecommunications. There’s also a new health plan data model that facilitates the management of claims, medical activities, providers and networks, financials, as well as sales, marketing and memberships. Customers in the education market, however, still face the laborious, time-consuming and expensive task of model-building and migration.

In addition, IBM has shored up DB2 functionality with its new Dynamic Warehousing strategy, plus an arsenal of BI tools that includes: data staging, profiling, and quality for loading; contextual searches by integrating the WebSphere and federated records search engines; plus IBM-branded and partner products for analysis and reporting. Across the board, Big Blue has streamlined and shored up its portfolio.

IBM is looking like IBM – prodigious and resourceful. For the critical eye, therein lies its greatest challenge: coordinating the functionality from diverse product labs into converged solutions. Will Big Blue’s customer-facing teams sufficiently comprehend and articulate this broad-based value proposition? Will the labs supporting customer teams understand all the functionality in these systems? When rubber meets road, will IBM deliver results? As always, the answers will evolve out of careful planning and skillful execution on both sides, customer and vendor.

How will the market see all this?

For complex queries and mixed workload, IBM will likely fight it out in the proof of concepts (POCs) with its prime competitor, Teradata, still a division of NCR. Both seem to be racing for (SOA-compatible) seamless integration with infrastructure and applications. IBM’s Dynamic Warehousing and Teradata’s Active Data Warehouse will be compared in many spreadsheets and checklists, but references and POCs will still weigh in substantially to settle the score.

For the less complex, fast analytics and reporting environments, IBM will face a growing army of data warehouse appliances. Oracle will likely announce enhancements to ease customer adoption as well. The efficacy of Microsoft and Teradata’s alliance will be tested. Again, who sets up the POC best will likely win the race for new installs.

For true blue IBM shops, however, these new options enable customers to stay on familiar ground, which forces DW appliance start-ups and incumbents (like Teradata and Oracle) to sharpen their focus on differentiation.


Rajeev Rawat is a data warehouse appliance analyst; he is the founder and CEO of BI Results LLC.

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