In Treacherous DW Segment, HP Charts a Partner-Friendly Course

Neutrality in partnerships takes center stage in HP’s data warehousing push

HP appears to be switching tactics in its data warehousing push.

Nearly two years ago, the company touted its first explicit foray into DW, Neoview, a data warehouse appliance-like offering that drew on its estimable NonStop technology assets. It relaunched Neoview a few months later (early 2007), and since then -- with its December 2006 acquisition of Knightsbridge Technologies successfully digested -- has had the look of a DW comer.

Recent news, however, seems to point to a new philosophy for the company: HP as partner. It prominently partnered with Oracle four months ago, for example, when it unveiled a bladed DW configuration for Oracle’s Optimized Warehouse (OOW) program. Then, last week, HP once again partnered with Oracle -- this time to promote the Oracle Database Machine, a highly scalable, highly available, and highly parallelizable entry that (on the surface) looks like a symmetrical competitor to Neoview.

HP CEO Mark Hurd participated (albeit remotely) in an OracleWorld keynote address during which Oracle chief Larry Ellison promoted the Oracle HP Database Machine as the most scalable, available, and fastest data warehousing environment known to humankind.

At week’s end, of course, HP and Neoview were back in the news, thanks to Composite Software, which announced that its Composite Information Server (part of its EII platform) had been certified for use with NeoView. As industry veteran Mike Schiff, a principal with consultancy MAS Strategies, notes, the HP/Composite deal was a helpful reminder after the fanfare of Oracle’s Database Machine announcement that Neoview was still out there.

HP’s position now seems to be as a partner-agnostic player, notwithstanding its Neoview investment.

Over the last year, especially, officials have tried to emphasize HP’s commitment to working with partners of every stripe. This summer, for example, John Santaferraro – head of HP’s BI marketing practice -- cited his company’s partnership with Oracle, which he said didn’t necessarily conflict with HP’s Neoview marketing efforts.

"It's not that size is everything, but that is one differentiator. The Oracle Optimized Warehouse was targeted at 1, 2, 3, and 4 TB modules; the Neoview implementations tend to be larger than that range, so there really is no cannibalization, no overlap," he said.

"The other significant differentiation [is that] the Neoview implementations we do tend to focus more on enterprise data warehousing, tend to be a little bit larger of a company, and [tend to involve more] mixed workloads. We don't really see much overlap at all between the market that OOW is going after and Neoview.”

Reached this week, Rich Ghiossi, director of BI for HP software, struck a similar note. “There isn’t just this product [the Oracle Database Machine] -- there’s also what we’re doing with Neoview, what we’re doing with other partners like Microsoft and SAP. All of this just gives us a portfolio to show to our customers and say, regardless of what your requirements are, we’ve got a solution for you,” Ghiossi says.

Neoview, Ghiossi argues, is a good fit for customers “looking for a high-volume [platform], [support for] big data sets, [with] response times that are pretty much instantaneous … as well as [an ability to] run hardcore analytics in the background, all on a system that has the kind of uptime of your most traditional operational systems.”

Isn’t there a sense, however, in which the same description could be applied to Oracle’s Database Machine? Oracle chief Larry Ellison, for one, probably thinks so. Ghiossi insists that Oracle is targeting a different audience.

“If you look to a lot of what they announced in terms of their capabilities, their proof points that they showed in relation to [their] customers, many of those are very much directed toward what I’ll call data mart applications, if you look under the covers. Systems that could benefit from a very significant increase in scanning capabilities -- that’s the place where that Oracle Database Machine really excels,” he argues.

“I think we’re different, with all of our partnerships and the capabilities to offer [our partners’] products and our own products in the data warehouse. If a customer is looking to kind of move toward operational business intelligence, I think that’s a place that … is very unique to Neoview.”

There’s an upside to HP’s prominent partnership with Oracle, regardless of how much it might’ve muddied the waters for Neoview, industry watchers say. Teradata veteran Jill Dyché, a principal with Baseline Consulting, notes that HP’s involvement with the Oracle Database Machine demonstrates its “very serious” commitment to high-end data warehousing.

Even so, Dyché acknowledges, HP’s partnership with Oracle “also raises questions about [its] Neoview strategy and how -- or whether -- it will be distinguished from the Exadata [i.e., Database Machine] solution.”

Like Dyché, MAS Strategies’ Schiff thinks that HP’s newfound data warehousing prominence isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “I don’t think Neoview has taken off as quickly as they assumed it would. I still think Neoview is strategic for them, and I don’t think this [partnership with Oracle] -- or what they’re doing with Microsoft or anyone else -- hurts them. It doesn’t hurt to have many irons in the fire. A big company can afford to do that,” he comments.

This week, Microsoft showcased HP -- along with hardware partners Dell Computer Corp., Unisys Corp., and Bull -- as participants in Project Madison, its ongoing effort to subsume the assets of the former DATAllegro Corp. and develop a high-end SQL Server DW practice. Far from muddying the waters, or lowering Neoview’s signal-to-noise ratio, Schiff thinks HP’s DW ubiquity will help it sell both hardware and services. In that respect, he concludes, it obviously helps establish HP as a premier DW player, too.

“They’re basically trying to be a neutral hardware partner. They partner with lots and lots of people. They don’t really want to alienate any of them. Why would they? From their perspective, if it helps them sell more hardware [and services], and if they can groom Neoview to be sort of their own high-end platform, I don’t see how [a strategy like] this hurts them. It isn’t a case of [HP’s] hedging their bets. It’s more that they’re not directing their marketing to a single market or channel.”