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10/4/2011
12:58 PM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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Oracle's Big Data Chutzpah

Oracle is making big noise about big data this week at Oracle Open World, but it's still playing catch up with a variety of rivals.

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On this grand Tuesday when the dust has settled on Infinite Loop, when dusk has ushered in a blog-ish surfeit of Apple commentary, we can finally return to the realm of Big Data--being guzzled by 40,000 or so corporate IT buyers further up the peninsula in San Francisco at Oracle Open World.

Squealing teenagers and soggy businessmen await the next great i-telephone from which to i-Tweet, i-Like and i-Plus every whim and grief--and to purchase a song, a book, a coat, or a movie ticket. Maybe next, they'll bank, or create new ideas. We are creating a trove of data that's expanding and changing so fast that entirely new computing platforms are being developed just to handle it. And that's where the real money is.

The Big Data payoff is ambitious, but not at all far fetched. Financial institutions are processing and acting upon data in real time to make sub-millisecond trading decisions; scientists are predicting climate changes and natural resource constraints by modeling the future; retail and consumer goods companies are manipulating buying decisions by making offers based on precision correlations between structured demographic data and unstructured behavioral trends. Insurance & Technology reports that predictive analytics are being used to prevent health insurance claims fraud.

Welcome to the era of Big Data. As Eric Williams, CIO of Catalina Marketing, with one of the biggest data warehouses on the planet told an audience of big technology buyers recently: If you don't already have a data warehouse, in the next 10 years you will.

[ For more detail on Oracle's change of tune on NoSQL, see Oracle's Big Plans For Big Data Analysis. ]

The thunder this week is hardly some faster iPhone, but the after-party at Oracle Open World. Company President Mark Hurd has said that this year's event will have launched more products than any previous Open World. In addition to the Baby Exadata and the Sparc SuperCluster, with the new T4 chip, Oracle has unleashed its Exalytics appliance -- another X86-based device, but this one intended to compete with the likes of SAP, Qliktek, Tibco, and others on the in-memory data front.

InformationWeek's Doug Henschen said that Mr. Ellison blew it a bit in his opening keynote, spending too much time pummeling his opponents, and making the appliance sound like a glorified search engine. Exalytics is powered by the in-memory database engine of TimesTen, which Oracle acquired years ago; it supports "speed-of-thought" multidimensional analysis, and visual discovery.

Later, business intelligence expert Cindi Howson got a closer look and provided a few more details on some of the Exalytics capabilities, including some of the appliance's built-in smarts. Howson proclaimed: "Based on an early demo of the controlled beta, I don’t think Oracle has a slam dunk here to beat more nimble competitors. Slow them, perhaps. Beat them, I’m not convinced."

Late Monday another Oracle exec, Thomas Kurian, Oracle executive VP for development, announced that Exalytics would also handle Hadoop data, offering a mechanism for feeding unstructured data to Exalytics.

Although Oracle is making all of the Big Data Big Noise this week at Oracle Open World, and claims to be growing its "engineered system" business (Oracle President Mark Hurd said Exadata is the hottest product this side of iPads), it is still playing catch up with a variety of competitors. Not the least of its rivals is EMC, which only a couple of weeks ago unveiled its Greenplum Modular Data Computing Appliance. EMC then took the stage at Oracle Open World to talk about VNX Unified Storage--a storage system that will compete with Oracle appliances.

Give Oracle credit for either being bold enough to put a competitor on stage (albeit a competitor with whom it shares tens of thousands of customers), or not taking EMC's big data appliances seriously. After all, this is Oracle, a company pre-fixing its products with "Exa"--as in one quintillion bytes--when we have yet to see an Oracle reference customer in the petabyte range.

But there's plenty of time for all of that.

Until then at the very least Exadata, Exalogic, and Exalytics represent the holy trinity of big data chutzpah.

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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