May 28, 2009
Open-source software gives smaller companies access to enterprise IT tools -- without paying enterprise IT prices. And no IT vendor illustrates this trend better than Kickfire.Over the past few years, companies like Compiere, SugarCRM, and Digium have cracked the enterprise IT market wide open. In the process, they have changed the very meaning of the term "enterprise application." Today, software packages that once sported outlandish price tags and multi-year, single-vendor commitments are now both affordable and practical for much smaller firms.
A company called Kickfire is applying the same principle to data warehousing. By combining open-source database technology with innovative hardware, it has created a promising new data warehousing solution at a fraction of the cost of competing products. Plenty of companies have built business models around the open-source MySQL database. Most of these are the traditional service-and-support businesses that make MySQL a cost-effective option for so many enterprise IT users. Kickfire, however, brought a new toy to the MySQL party: a patented "SQL chip." The chip works with high-level SQL operators, and it can process multiple queries simultaneously. Perhaps most important, the chip pulls data directly from MySQL, rather than relying on a CPU's hardware registers or caches -- a process that eliminates a significant database-performance bottleneck. By combining its SQL chip with the MySQL Enterprise DBMS and low-priced Linux servers, Kickfire says that it enables a single server to handle data-warehousing and analytical tasks that normally require "tens of CPUs" running on multiple enterprise servers. Linux blogger Ken Hess recently interviewed Kickfire CEO Bruce Armstrong. He asserted that for less than $40,000, Kickfire can deliver a power-efficient, rack-mountable Linux appliance that delivers the same data-warehousing horsepower as a traditional multi-server solution costing $400,000 or more. Is Kickfire selling something more than cool buzzwords and snake oil? I think the company answered that question last year, when it secured $20 million in additional funding from a group of top-tier backers, including Accel and Mayfield. Also keep in mind that Kickfire's SQL chip is a very real innovation. While it currently fills a unique market niche, it plays a similar role to single-purpose GPU and networking chips -- two products that have revolutionized computing and spawned new multi-billion dollar industries. Finally, Kickfire is selling a solution that builds nicely on its customers' existing MySQL investments. That gives the company another huge advantage: Depending upon whom you ask, MySQL is now either the third or second most commonly-deployed database, and it usually wins hands-down in terms of new deployments. It's too soon to tell when -- or whether -- smaller companies will learn to take advantage of a data warehousing solution like Kickfire. Either way, the fact that they are able to afford such a solution at all is an impressive, and lasting, achievement.
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