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Databases ALIVE! | Intelligent Enterprise Blog
Competing on Decisions, by Neil Raden
Neil Raden is a consultant and analyst and a partner and co-founder of Smart (enough) Systems LLC, a research and advisory firm specializing in analytics, business Intelligence and decision management. He is also the co-author of the book "Smart (Enough) Systems." Write him at
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Databases ALIVE!

Posted by Neil Raden
Friday, April 18, 2008
9:55 AM

It wasn't so long ago that if you were considering a data warehouse, your choices for a relational database platform were limited to Oracle, IBM, Teradata or Microsoft. In fact, I often wondered where all the choices went. Fifteen years ago, that list would have included lots of other choices. There were standalone database vendors like Sybase (their transactional database that is now Sybase ASE; Sybase IQ was not out in circulation yet), Informix and Red Brick. Most of the hardware vendors had their own offerings, too. We built some pretty good data warehouses for the times with Tandem, but there were also offerings from Digital, HP, Pyramid and probably a few others I've forgotten.

Database choices are now back, and then some.

Sybase IQ is steadily building share and getting great reviews, HP has resuscitated Tandem in the huge BI/Neoview push. Informix technology is embedded in DB2 now (and also still sold separately) and Red Brick, believe it or not, is still supported by IBM.

But there is also a resurgence and proliferation of new choices in both pure database technology and data warehouse appliances.

ParAccel is a columnar database, meaning, ingested data records are physically shredded into columns and indexed, but are still addressed as if they are a row-oriented relational database using SQL. The same is true of Vertica. An even more radical departure from the typical row-oriented database is I-lluminate, which actually shreds the data further, down to the values themselves. And another startup, Truviso, reverses the whole process by satisfying "continuous" queries in stream and only saving the data later (and probably not all of it once it's used). SAP offers the BI Accelerator for Netweaver, which is not really a database, but an add-on device that creates indexes and aggregates for SAP's data warehouse [and other sources]. Databases, accelerators, appliances � the taxonomy is a little leaky, I admit, but that's a good thing.

Then there are the data warehouse appliances, which bundle server, storage and database in a box. We can say Netezza pioneered this approach (and it has profited handsomely), but purists will challenge this and point to many offerings in the past that were similar. The difference is that most of these were composed on proprietary hardware and software, but in reality, the current crop of appliances is pretty proprietary too, but that's a different discussion. Netezza, DATAllegro, Greenplum, Dataupia all use an enhanced version of open source database technology, usually Postgres or Ingres, but each has its own characteristics, so I would include them on a list of separate database choices.

I know I've overlooked some, and I surely will hear about it in email and in comments here, but one thing is undeniable � just when people bemoan the consolidation of a market and wring their hands that innovation is over, the market responds with a whole new crop of choices. This scenario plays out over and over. The same is true for the Gang of Four BI vendors now. Our technology landscape is geologically active. It's like a giant pot of onion soup with croutons floating on top, but over time, every one of them sinks and new ones float up.


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