While some appliance competitors build on commodity hardware, Netezza credits its hardware/software integration with enabling ongoing performance improvement. "Our appliance tightly integrates a relational database with server and storage," explains Ellen Rubin, vice president of marketing. "Because we control the entire technology stack, we can use the software to take advantage of hardware acceleration."
With a processor and a "field programmable gate array" on each drive, the hardware can receive instructions from Netezza's optimization software as queries are launched so it can prioritize which data to move into the system for processing.
"Netezza does gain an advantage by controlling both the software and the hardware because it can optimize the combination," says Dan Vesset, an analyst with IDC.
One downside of proprietary hardware is cost, but it may also be a stumbling block for IT if it's not in keeping with corporate standards. "If the internal skills are centered on Sun servers or EMC storage, [IT] might not want to bring in another vendor," says Vesset.
Appliances have gained a reputation for being best suited to focused data-mart applications involving complex queries across fairly uniform data, but Netezza says its latest upgrade does a better job of prioritizing simple ad-hoc queries alongside more complex challenges.
"The strong suit for appliances is still in handling more complex queries, but I've seen some clients moving toward more enterprise-warehouse deployments," says Vesset.
Netezza cites Ross Stores as an example. The retailer's 10-terabyte Netezza-based warehouse was originally set up to handle merchandize and market basket analysis, but it's now handling mixed requirements including thousands of Monday-morning queries among more than 500 users.