Forrester Details Strengths, Weaknesses of EDW Power Players

Forrester report helps enterprises distinguish between products in a crowded enterprise data warehouse marketplace

With a fractious enterprise data warehousing (EDW) segment filled with dozens of vendors offering dozens of products and services, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish among them, let alone determine which has the superior offering.

A new report from Forrester Research attempts to do just that -- to a degree.

Forrester's recent "Forrester Wave: Enterprise Data Warehousing Platforms, Q1 2009" assesses EDW offerings from IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp. Netezza Corp., Oracle Corp., SAP AG, Sybase Inc., and Teradata Corp. It finds that a quartet of players -- IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Teradata -- lead the overall pack, with SAP and Sybase posting growth as well. (Perhaps not coincidentally, the DW packages of all four vendors are also based on creditable RDBMS underpinnings.) The Forrester report reveals key vendor strengths for performance, scalability, value, and growth.

Forrester finds that Teradata is still tops in the scalability department, citing that vendor's ability to handle data into the petabyte range. At its 2008 user conference, for example, Teradata showcased a "Petabyte Club" of customers whose deployments have broken the 1 PB barrier. The Petabyte Club honor roll includes no less than five members, eBay and Wal-Mart among them.

"Teradata provides the most scalable, mature, and flexible EDW solution on the market, and, through its recently released 2550 and 1550 platforms, offers an increasingly cost-effective solution portfolio for diverse customer requirements," writes Forrester analyst Jim Kobielus, in the report.

In spite of fractious competition -- including newcomers in the DW appliance segment, all of which have compared themselves to Teradata at some point -- Teradata retains a number of what Kobielus describes as "key" competitive differentiators. "Teradata offers one of the widest sets of EDW packaging, licensing, pricing, and professional service options on the market, as well as certified integration with a broad range of partner application and middleware components," he writes.

Teradata should remain atop the EDW heap, Kobielus says, despite withering competition from IBM, Oracle, and other DW players.

"Teradata's longtime leadership in the EDW market, coupled with a substantial installed base among large enterprises and an appliance-based product strategy that is growing ever more scalable, modular, and cost-competitive, gives it a strong competitive advantage," he writes.

Forrester also singles out Oracle's strong EDW push, which the database giant showcased last September when it announced its Oracle Database Machine warehouse clusters. Oracle, like Teradata, has a host of potential differentiators, Kobielus says, starting with the Oracle database itself. Oracle, too, has a strong claim to scalability. "Oracle-based EDWs can scale out to a cluster of nodes that can persist hundreds of terabytes … can support diverse EDW and BI topologies and can process mixed workloads involving reporting, ad hoc query, OLAP, in-database analytics, batch ETL, and real-time decision support transactions," he writes, noting that Oracle, too, has a Petabyte Club of its own -- in this case, an unnamed customer using an Oracle EDW in an active-active cluster configuration of just over 1 PB.

One strong differentiator for Oracle is its kitchen-sink-like application stack, which -- thanks to the acquisitions of PeopleSoft (which itself had acquired J.D. Edwards) and Siebel Systems -- encompasses an enormous user base. Throw in Siebel's vaunted analytic expertise, Hyperion Solutions' BI, OLAP, and performance management (PM) know-how, in-memory database technology, and a number of other assets that Oracle has picked up over the last few years, and you have a patchwork thoroughbred of sorts, Kobielus says.

"Oracle provides sophisticated in-database analytics support in its EDW platform and provides rich caching, compression, partitioning, indexing, cost-based query optimization, and workload management functionality." On the other hand, Oracle must still work to knit its patchwork stack into a cohesive whole. "Oracle's EDW solutions … do not deploy as a single-tier grid of compute/storage nodes, nor have they been proven in production deployments to scale out to a grid of hundreds of compute nodes or scale out much beyond 1 petabyte," he notes.

Oracle arrived rather late in the appliance game, announcing its Optimized Warehouse configurations just 16 months ago.

IBM, for its part, announced its first quasi-DW appliance systems -- the Balanced Configuration Units -- nearly five years ago. For this reason, Kobielus says, Big Blue's InfoSphere Balanced Warehouse line comprises the EDW segment's most "comprehensive" array of appliance-like systems. "IBM provides InfoSphere Balanced Warehouses as a wide range of appliance-based EDW solutions for various customer size and functionality requirements," he writes.

"These EDW appliances can scale out in a cluster supporting hundreds of terabytes, in diverse EDW and BI topologies, and in full integration with IBM's InfoSphere, Cognos, WebSphere, FileNet, Rational, Optim, and other software portfolios," Kobielus continues. "IBM [also] provides robust workload management, high availability, and database security features; and best-in-class information life-cycle management and data governance tools."

IBM, unlike Teradata, and (to a limited degree) Oracle, isn't yet touting petabyte-range scalability. "Though IBM offers strong EDW scalability for most current customer requirements, it does not offer petabyte-scalable solutions in its InfoSphere Balanced Warehouse portfolio -- which is necessary to address emerging very-high-end requirements among enterprises and service providers alike," Kobielus indicates.

"And although it offers low-cost appliances for the midmarket, IBM will be challenged to match increasingly aggressive pricing from other EDW leaders -- such as Teradata and Oracle, with their most recent EDW appliance releases -- and from open source and SaaS EDW alternatives."

On the other hand, he concedes, IBM does have its vaunted services arm to both fall back on and to wield as a lever for EDW growth. "IBM's world-class professional services organization is a significant competitive advantage … [and] IBM will leverage its global services clout to position … [its] expanding EDW solution portfolio into new, high-margin engagements."

Microsoft is a relative newcomer to the EDW sweepstakes. There are lots of SQL Server-based data warehouses, to be sure, but until recently, Microsoft was viewed as a single-digit-terabyte proposition at best. That changed with the acquisition of DW appliance specialist DATAllegro Corp. (last summer) and the introduction of SQL Server 2008 (late last year), Kobielus says. Factor in Microsoft's bread-and-butter SQL Server BI stack, its ambitious Project Gemini and Project Madison strategies, and its creditable middleware and SOA components, and you have a road map for EDW prominence.

Microsoft's drawbacks, on the other hand, are just as obvious. "Microsoft's EDW solution portfolio runs only on Windows platforms and lacks petabyte-scale massively parallel processing, and comprehensive information life-cycle management, data governance, data quality, data federation, and hierarchy management tools," Kobielus notes. The DATAllegro technology should let Microsoft address its MPP shortcomings -- although the timeframe for an MPP version of SQL Server (Project Madison) is still very much up in the air -- but Microsoft does not plan to sustain DATAllegro's appliance hardware model.

"Microsoft does not provide its own EDW appliances, though hardware partners Dell and HP offer SQL Server-based appliances incorporating a Microsoft reference architecture," Kobielus points out.

Microsoft should be able to leverage both its bona-fides and customer inertia to widen its slice of the DW market pie, Kobielus concludes. "Microsoft's substantial presence in the DBMS, OLAP, portal, spreadsheet, collaboration, and browser markets provide a strong competitive advantage," he says. "Microsoft will leverage these positions to deliver its growing EDW solution stack, including future cloud-based EDW services, into fresh opportunities across diverse market segments."

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