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Actian Builds Mini Big Data Empire

Company behind Vectorwise and Ingres databases acquires Pervasive and Versant to add customers and expand software footprint into data integration.

If you want to build a software business, try Oracle's playbook: Start with a strong base, then acquire or organically grow in adjacent markets. Actian, the company behind the Vectorwise and Ingres databases, is attempting just that, with the latest example being this week's acquisition of data-integration vendor Pervasive Software.

Actian's strong base is Ingres, the open source, transactional database for which it provides enterprise support. In fact, until it changed its name in 2011, Actian was Ingres Corp. The database it supports has been around since the 1980s, and Actian says it has more than 10,000 customers.

The vendor's first big move outside of its base, in 2010, was acquiring the VectorWise analytical database, which is aimed at the new and fast-growing big data market. Apparently approaching would-be customers in this realm with the venerable "Ingres" on its business cards wasn't working because the company rebranded as Actian in 2011. All of these moves are being guided, behind the scenes, by Garnet & Helfrich Capital, the private equity firm that completed its buyout of Ingres from CA in 2010.

[ What's holding back large-scale data analysis? Read Vague Goals Seed Big Data Failures. ]

Pervasive, the company Actian acquired Monday for $161.9 million, is another example of a company with old-line businesses and new-market aspirations. The legacy bits include PSQL, an embedded database used by thousands of ISVs, and a traditional data-integration software portfolio that includes extract, transform and load (ETL), data quality, data cleansing, data profiling, and connectors to some 200 data sources for data warehousing, application integration and so on.

Pervasive had a nice base with all of the above, but more interesting was how it was pushing its integration technologies into the growing cloud and big data markets. Actian plans to keep selling and supporting everything (just as it supports Ingres), but it's most interested in the new opportunities.

"Our customers are asking us, 'how do we get our data into Hadoop or into Vectorwise,'" Actian CEO Steve Shine tells InformationWeek. "Pervasive's data-integration technology can be used through its Data Cloud, and it also has been rebuilt on the DataRush platform so that it has massive scalability."

In another adjacent market deal, Actian acquired object-store database vendor Versant for $37 million in December. The Versant Object Database has more than 400 customers, and the largest among them -- outfits like telecommunications giants Ericcson and Verizon and travel giant Sabre -- use it for geospatial analysis, according to Shine.

"Versant's technology is very good at graphical analysis over very large data sets, so think of looking for geographical hot spots around social media activity," Shine says, envisioning potential big data applications.

As for Vectorwise, Shine says it's being used by about 75 customers, and he dropped customer names including GE, Xerox and Thomson Reuters. The competition is mostly the likes of EMC Greenplum, HP Vertica and IBM PureData System for Analytics (formerly Netezza). Architecturally speaking, the columnar database does not rely on massively parallel processing (like the products mentioned above) so it has more in common with Sybase IQ and InfoBright, according to database guru Curt Monash .

Combining databases and data-integration software is the technology equivalent of serving up bacon and eggs (or peanut butter and jelly, if you're vegan). IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP: all the big kids do it. Actian's doing it on a small scale for a market with big growth potential. With these recent acquisitions its total revenue is surely north of $140 million, but it's a private company, so it doesn't officially report those figures.

Actian itself likely is collecting technologies and customers in hopes of going public or getting acquired, but I'm guessing it might take a while to build up Vectorwise and get real synergies out of the Pervasive and Versant acquisitions. Heck, the websites aren't even integrated yet.

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