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5/3/2012
08:53 AM
Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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Oracle Makes Case For Exalytics, Data Discovery

Oracle demonstrates how it optimizes queries, searches mixed data types, and "engineers" hardware to run its high-demand software.

Exalytics, Oracle Endeca, and analytic apps were centers of attention late last month when Oracle showcased recent and upcoming products at its annual analyst conference in San Francisco.

Announced in October at Oracle Open World and released in February, Exalytics is a combination appliance and in-memory solution. The in-memory engine relies on technology from TimesTen, an in-memory, columnar database that Oracle acquired in 2005 that has been used, until now, entirely in transaction processing.

The Exalytics appliance can store both Essbase cubes and models from Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) in memory, boosting performance for both planning applications and existing BI apps. Oracle claims an 18X performance boost to existing BI and planning apps. An in-memory summary advisor recommends which data should be stored in-memory, based on usage statistics. I'm waiting to test drive the new release and appliance, but the in-memory summary advisor seems to be a differentiator, particularly if it is self optimizing. The integration with Exadata, via a fast InfiniBand connection, for direct access to the larger data warehouse, is another differentiator, but I'd like to see how seamlessly the data moves from Exadata to Exalytics.

[ How does Exalytics stack up? Read Hana and Exalytics: SAP's Hype Versus Oracle's FUD. ]

Exalytics was initially touted as both an in-memory and visual-discovery solution. To be sure, there are some new visual discovery capabilities in the latest release of OBIEE when deployed with Exalytics. In addition, Oracle now has Endeca Information Discovery in its portfolio. Oracle acquired Endeca in October, primarily for its MDEX engine. Best known for its e-commerce and e-retail search capabilities, Endeca brings the simplicity of search to BI.

The Endeca software, which is not widely adopted, competes to some extent with capabilities available from QlikTech's QlikView, SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, and Information Builders Magnify. The MDEX engine is most different in its combination in-memory and columnar storage to support analysis of both structured content as well as textual, semi-structured content stored in comments, documents, and social media.

Oracle's BI analytic applications have been a Trojan horse for selling OBIEE to Oracle E-business Suite, JD Edwards, and PeopleSoft customers. The analytic applications are expansive, bringing ETL, data models, dashboards and reports, and best practices to a number of functional areas (such as financial and human resources) and industries (such as retail and government). They're built on OBIEE, so customers who buy the apps must also purchase OBIEE, and thus may potentially leverage that BI platform for other BI initiatives. Oracle has continued to improve its depth of coverage in the analytic applications, most recently adding Asset Management and Manufacturing Process, as well as support for SAP data sources.

The highpoint of the event was the customer panel, which, unfortunately, was under non-disclosure, meaning I can't name names of customers. This panel was one of the best I have heard in my ten years as an analyst, in part because the customers delivered genuine criticism--which you don't hear in vendor-organized panels--but also because they did it with humor. The constructive criticism made the kudos for Oracle all the more believable. One OBIEE customer who had deployed Endeca said, "Oracle bought an amazing technology. I'm not sure they yet realize how good it is."

A key theme of the event, and a rallying cry for Oracle's strategy, is to simplify the IT experience to power extreme innovation. I get the rallying cry: IT can't keep pace with business demand with difficult-to-integrate and -deploy technology, but rarely has the goal of "helping IT" been inspirational to the business.

I suspect part of this shift in emphasis is related to Oracle's 2010 acquisition of Sun; that hardware now accounts for almost 20% of Oracle's $35 billion in annual revenues. Not surprising then, a fair bit of the keynotes were devoted to talking about the bits and bytes of Oracle's engineered systems.

There was a time in my career when I was happy to assemble servers, but as a BI expert today, I felt somewhat like the car buyer who simply wants to drive that sleek car, not dissect the engine. While hardware has not been a high-growth industry of late, the difference is that Oracle's focus is on systems that power business analytics, for which most market watchers cite double-digit growth.

To that point, Oracle showcased numerous customer success stories for Exadata. As one customer put it, "we read all the glossy brochures, and [Exadata] has lived up to the hype."

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