Gartner Details a Thriving EDW Segment

Teradata, Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft dominate the data warehousing high-end, but a host of upstart and veteran players are keeping things interesting

The "Leaders" sector of Gartner Inc.’s most recent data warehousing Magic Quadrant survey looks a lot like the leaders segment in Gartner’s last Magic Quadrant survey -- which eerily resembled the leaders segment in the survey that preceded it.

In survey after survey, Gartner charts the same DW market leaders, from best-of-breed powerhouse Teradata (recently divorced from parent company NCR Corp.) to relational database giants Oracle Corp., IBM Corp., and Microsoft Corp. The same companies (with the exception of Microsoft, a relative late-comer to data warehousing) have perched atop the data warehousing market heap for half a decade and more now.

Although changes in Gartner’s "Leaders" quadrant have been few and far between, its other DW market quadrants, things are far more dynamic.

One of the most noteworthy improvements was in Sybase’s positioning. In Gartner’s most recently survey, Sybase IQ sits nearly athwart the dividing line that separates the data warehousing market leaders from the data warehousing market also-rans (or visionaries). That’s a significant jump from Sybase’s position last year, where IQ was ranked as a "Niche" player, south of "Challenger" and far to the left of Gartner’s Visionaries quadrant.

What’s changed? One important driver, Gartner says, is IQ’s columnar architecture, which is optimized for high-performance analytics. "[T]he column-oriented DBMS engines such as ParAccel, Sand/DNA Analytics, Sybase IQ … and Vertica have shown superior performance in analytic applications the more traditional row-based DBMSs," write Gartner analysts Donald Feinberg and Mark Beyer in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Data Warehouse Database Management Systems 2007 report.

In other words, Feinberg and Beyer argue, the rising tide (or popularity) of analytic-specific data marts has helped lift the boats of all columnar database vendors, offsetting their traditional shortcomings as platforms for enterprise data warehouse (EDW) deployments.

"Due to the columnar database structure, Sybase IQ achieves excellent data compression, ranging from 2x compression to, in some cases, 5x compression, depending on the structure of the data," they write. "[Sybase] has been consistently winning POCs with analytic applications, sometimes crushing the competition with greater performance by a factor of 100. This makes Sybase IQ an extremely desirable DBMS platform for an analytic data mart to optimize and enhance an organization’s overall data warehouse architecture."

There’s a further wrinkle here, too, Gartner points out. Sybase has also beefed up its data integration expertise, thanks to its 2006 acquisition of German ETL specialist Solonde AG. Since then, it’s worked to incorporate its ETL technology into the IQ platform.

Another data warehousing visionary is appliance player Greenplum, which -- thanks in part to its high-profile partnership with Unix giant Sun Microsystems Inc. -- also threatens to cross Gartner’s Leaders/Visionaries dividing line.

Ironically, 2007 marks Greenplum’s first appearance in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant survey. Newcomer or no, Gartner says, Greenplum has made a heck of a splash.

"Greenplum … has been quietly adding production clients over the past two years, and now has more than 20," Feinberg and Beyer indicate. Nor is Greenplum any slouch on the scalability tip: "As a standalone DBMS engineered for data warehousing, it has demonstrated scalability in production to hundreds of terabytes and internally to over a petabyte."

Feinberg and Beyer also applaud Greenplum’s use of the open-source PostgresSQL database. Its tweaked version of PostgresSQL gives it MPP underpinnings and frees up Greenplum to concentrate on improving the purely DW aspects of its offering, instead of concentrating on growing the DBMS itself. "[It] helps [Greenplum] to reduce costs while it concentrates on the management software surrounding the data warehouse and the optimization features necessary for a complex, mixed workload environment."

Another intriguing DW player is Kognitio, which -- thanks to its Whitecross pedigree -- actually has a strong background in data warehousing.

Although Gartner still rates it a niche player (thanks in part to its limited presence in the United States), Kognitio, too, can trot out an enviable list of reference clients, the Gartner duo indicates. It also touts a more-or-less turnkey data warehousing experience, thanks to its managed DW offering, which -- unlike a lot of software-as-a-service products -- is far from immature.

"[Customer] references report that performance [on Kognitio] is excellent], with large multiterabyte databases in an analytics and reporting environment for many users" ranging in the thousands, according to Feinberg and Beyer. "[M]ost of its clients [buy] its data warehousing services from Kognitio, while Kognitio hosts the database," the duo continues, adding that Kognitio’s managed DW service appeals to business units that are dissatisfied with IT’s ability do deliver BI services.

Kognitio isn’t just a hosted play. "[This year] Kognitio gained several large clients installing the system on-site, as opposed to taking it as a managed service," Feinberg and Beyer point out. "These installations are large, analytic data warehouses. This demonstrates Kognitio’s ability to supply a data warehouse DBMS capable of competing with many of the market incumbents."

Finally, Gartner charts another intriguing niche player -- Sand Technology, which is hardly a DW newcomer. Thanks to the growing popularity of columnar databases, however, Sand is enjoying a surprising surge in popularity.

Last year, Sand notched a partnership with ERP giant SAP AG, where it’s used as a near-line data store in conjunction with SAP Business Information Warehouse (SAP BW). The SAP connection should help gin up additional revenues for Sand, although Gartner predicts that it will remain primarily a niche player.

"Due to Sand’s small size [e.g., it has just over 60 customers] … it will continue to struggle against the larger vendors and venture-funded startups that can invest more in R&D, marketing and sales," the Gartner duo indicates.

About the Author

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