Merv Adrian

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IBM Updates Netezza Line

by Merv Adrian  |  June 23, 2011  |  2 Comments

In the months since IBM closed its Netezza acquisition, the data warehouse appliance pioneer has been busy, if the announcements at this week’s Enzee are any indication. An enthusiastic crowd – 1000 strong – heard CEO Jim Baum deliver the news: new hardware, software and partnerships.The biggest news was The Appliance Formerly Known As Cruiser, now known as the Netezza High Capacity Appliance (HCA). A wag made up some t-shirts bearing the acronym TAFKAC and did quite well. IBM is aiming to push the size perception for Netezza higher. How high? Half a PB in a rack. You can scale it to 10PB.

Baum, keynoting to kick things off, was clearly jazzed to be bringing a new product to market so soon after the acquisition, with Arvind Krishna, GM of Information Management for IBM, there to provide his blessing – not without a sly question about why it wasn’t blue. Baum returned the jibe, noting that in the acquisition, Netezza had grown to over 400,000 employees.

Humor aside, IBM support was everywhere to be seen – I saw IBMers I knew everywhere, and on Day 2 Steve Mills, Senior Vice President and Group Executive – Software & Systems, kicked the day off – and took a humorous shot of his own at the swirly color panel on the front of the Netezza boxes. His style and attitude manifested the cultural embrace Mills described the next day in a Q&A at the end of his session.

Netezza employees, customers and prospects have reason to be sanguine about the possibilities – suddenly Netezza is selling in dozens of countries where it had no presence before, with a value proposition far simpler and quicker than many other IBM offerings and at a price point that ought to land it on many a short list, where it wins its share. The HCA claims 5.5 TB/hour load rates and Razi Raziuddin, Netezza Senior Director of Product Marketing, told attendees of his session that the standby node in every rack will be pressed into service later this year to substantially boost that – doubling is not likely, but they may get close. Time will tell. Replication is on the roadmap too – and the impression that IBM resources are helping get more things done was reinforced by the announcement that SPSS now runs models natively inside Netezza. In another imaginative bit of nomenclature, Netezza iClass analytics, the sizable portfolio of native “inside” executables, have been renamed IBM Netezza Analytics.

A two-way Hadoop connector, developed with Cloudera, was also announced by Krishnan Parasuraman, CTO/Chief Architect, Digital Media for Netezza. Audience awareness of Hadoop in the Netezza-Hadoop session, which was mostly just an intro to Hadoop itself, was mixed – some were quite knowledgeable, but the first question asked at the end of the talk was “What is MapReduce?” This reaffirms Gartner’s positioning of several of these technologies on the Hype Cycle – and a belief of mine that neither vendors nor big research firms like ours are always talking to the people doing these newer things in many of our interactions. The early adopters are often drawn from other parts of the organization – that don’t talk to research firms, or their own procurement teams. Sometimes, they are bypassing their internal IT governance processes to such a degree that their activities are completely under the radar. As the use of cloud-based resources like Amazon Elastic MapReduce proliferate, this issue is exacerbated – like the spreadsheets that go home on thumb drives, but even more worrisome.

I was happy to be able to attend and speak at this event, which may be the last one of its kind as Netezza is absorbed into other IBM events going forward. In a private meeting with Steve Mills, I was struck by his enthusiasm for what he called Netezza’s “premier example of the use of FPGAs.” He says he’s used it as a catalyst to challenge other IBM teams, and his vision of workload optimized systems as the head of both software and hardware gives him extraordinary scope to drive that vision – one Ambuj Goyal, General Manager, Systems and Technology Group’s Development and Manufacturing, told me recently encompasses a flexible, multi-hardware fabric under a single management and governance framework. Mills also reiterated his increasingly sharp critique of Oracle, especially its stewardship since acquiring Sun.

IBM’s other data warehouse platforms, the Smart Analytics Systems (ISAS) were, unsurprisingly, not much in evidence. The positioning seems to be emerging – Netezza as a more pure appliance story, with simplicity and time to value as key themes, ISAS as the more configurable, general purpose offering for mixed workloads. Time will tell how well this story will do – Netezza’s messaging about numbers has been clearer pre-acquisition than IBM’s about ISAS, so it will take a while for us to assess progress in the market.

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