HP, IBM Poised to Lock Horns Over Data Warehousing

Companies are on a collision course in the enterprise data warehouse space

The enterprise data warehousing stakes are heating up. Recently, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and IBM Corp. announced major new data warehousing (DW) products and services that put them on a collision course. The companies will likely also clash with established power Teradata (a division of NCR Corp.) in the data warehousing high-end.

In many ways, HP’s NeoView program is the most ambitious of the competing DW visions—in part because, unlike the data warehousing practices of competitors IBM and Oracle, NeoView is a relatively recent incarnation. Both IBM and Oracle have played in the high-end DW segment for more than a decade thanks to their flagship RDBMSes, and nearly two years ago, IBM unveiled the first of its Balanced Configuration Unit (BCU) DW appliances.

Like Big Blue’s BCU, NeoView is a combination of hardware, software, and services. That might smack of an appliance—i.e., a turnkey hardware and software DW bundle—but HP seems anxious to distance NeoView from its appliance kith.

"[Appliances] really don’t expand to be an enterprise platform. People put it in for the quick fix, but they really can’t expand to leverage it," says NeoView marketing manager Vickie Farrell. "What we’re saying is, the NeoView is in the same price range, so use it. It does the same kind of table scanning, and because of all of the processors, it attacks the problem in the same way. But you’re not limited to just fixing the performance of those certain queries. You have something that’s flexible and that can grow as your demand grows."

Like high-end DW vendor Teradata, HP has a shared-nothing, MPP architecture of its own—NonStop—that it inherited from the former Compaq Computer Corp. Compaq acquired NonStop from the former Tandem Computers, a respected provider of scalable and fault-tolerant computing resources.

One upshot of this, according to Farrell, is that MPP—with its combination of fault-tolerance and scalability—is tailor-made for the dicey practice of data warehouse capacity planning.

"It’s really hard to do capacity planning for data warehousing. It’s not as straightforward as OLTP. That’s one of the places where IT organizations get in trouble—trying to anticipate the needs," she observes. "One of the nice things about shared-nothing is that it’s pretty predictable; if you double the load and you double the system, you will keep the performance at the same level. MPP is obviously very, very important when you’re trying to handle many queries simultaneously."

In other respects, Farrell argues, NeoView and NonStop go Teradata, IBM, and Oracle one better. "We are taking other things from NonStop, like the fact that the [NonStop SQL] database and the operating system are tightly integrated (like AS/400-type integration). You don’t even see an operating system [in NonStop]; you can’t even log on at a root level. There’s no system administration involved at all," she indicates.

HP is making a big to-do about NonStop’s fault-tolerant capabilities, too. "We’re taking that built-in fault tolerance from NonStop, because we think it’s going to be a crucial differentiator. We’re starting to hear more and more from customers how important fault tolerance is. It’s an evolution, of course. It’s not like one day you didn’t need it and now you do. But in some of the places where we’ve gone in and done comparison benchmarking against Teradata, the customers are pretty pleased with the Fault tolerant capabilities."

HP has another trump card, too. Earlier this year, the company acquired business intelligence and data warehousing consultancy Knightsbridge Solutions. Knightsbridge gave HP instant credibility in the DW market.

IBM’s Dynamic Spin on Enterprise Data Warehousing

Big Blue is no stranger to the high-end data warehousing segment, of course. Teradata, for example, has cited IBM and Oracle as the two vendors against which it most frequently butts heads in that space. Earlier this year, IBM outlined "Dynamic Data Warehousing," its own take on enterprise data warehousing.

In keeping with its IBM-Everywhere philosophy, Big Blue’s Dynamic DW vision simultaneously taps its WebSphere information integration, eServer hardware, and services assets. Dynamic Data Warehousing emphasizes real-time business decision-making, which IBM contrasts with the largely batch-driven status quo. Batch-driven data warehousing introduces unacceptable latency into the decision-making process, IBM officials claim.

"We believe that the world of traditional warehousing is dead, really; the world of just looking in the rearview mirror," said Karen Parrish, vice-president of BI solutions with IBM, in an April interview. "The days have gone by where we looked at yesterday’s sales and compared them to same sales of last year and the year prior. Don’t get me wrong, we still have to do that, but the world is an ever-changing set of transactions that cause us not only to have to look at what happened yesterday, but to have to determine based on what we know about what happened yesterday and the year prior, what exactly is going on today."

At the time, IBM unveiled a new wrinkle on its BCU systems of old: the Balanced Warehouse, which—like competitive solutions from HP, Teradata, and others—is a software, hardware, and storage bundle. Big Blue says its new Balanced Warehouse units are available in three different classes: C-Class (for application solutions), D-Class (for growth solutions), and E-Class (for enterprise solutions).

Why are HP and IBM suddenly so interested in a segment where Teradata has long been dominant?

Aside from the obvious—neither vendor is willing to cede the DW space to an arch-competitor—enterprise data warehousing requirements are increasingly complex. Data volumes are rapidly expanding, information access needs are fast outstripping the capabilities of traditional batch extract, transform, and load processes, and the emergence of performance management—which uses real-time or near-real-time data to drive decision-making—have upped the technology ante. In short: there’s money to be made in DW.

"For people at the high end, new technologies to cope are always going to be attractive because the problems are so expensive to solve and there's value in solving them," says veteran DW architect Mark Madsen, a principal with BI and data warehousing consultancy Third Nature.

"I don't think the traditional database and hardware vendors have done a good job [of] reducing the complexity of large database installations. That's why we have all these new contenders in the market. There are a lot, too, from the traditional appliance guys to new entrants like Paraccel and old new entrants like Vertica."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.