EMC Taps Alpine As SAS Alternative For Analytics - InformationWeek
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Doug Henschen
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EMC Taps Alpine As SAS Alternative For Analytics

EMC's Greenplum unit still has an important partnership with SAS, but a new deal with Alpine Data Labs brings big data practitioners a second option for advanced analytics.

EMC announced Thursday that it will resell Alpine Data Labs software as an advanced analytics option for its EMC Greenplum platform. But wait, doesn't EMC already have a similar partnership with analytics giant SAS? Indeed it does, but in the promising new market of big data analysis, choice is a good thing.

Never mind that SAS is the long-time leader in business analytics software, with 35.2% of the market and more than twice the share of its next-closest competitor (IBM), according to IDC stats. And forget that EMC is one of only two partners on SAS High-Performance Analytics, an in-database processing option for accelerating model development, testing, and analysis (the other partner being Teradata). EMC's close ties with Alpine are about offering an alternative.

The fact that a two-year-old upstart like Alpine could bag this partnership with a giant vendor like EMC says a lot about how much the analytics market is growing and changing. Companies that are new to analytics are much more open to trying new tactics to quickly make sense of huge amounts of data.

"It's not about one versus the other, and we'll continue to push forward with SAS... but we do have customers who are looking for something more purpose-built for in-database processing and customers who don't have a history with SAS," said Michael Maxey, Greenplum's Senior Director of Product Marketing in an interview with InformationWeek.

[ Want more on upstart analytics vendors? Read Low-Cost Options For Predictive Analytics Challenge SAS, IBM. ]

Where SAS, IBM SPSS, Tibco Spotfire and other analytics incumbents got their starts years ago with desktop software designed for analytics wonks, Alpine was founded in 2010 with in-database processing as the foundation of its approach. Its target customer base is project teams working on massively parallel processing (MPP) platforms such as EMC Greenplum, IBM Netezza, Oracle Exadata, or Hadoop clusters (and Alpine has partnerships on all these fronts).

The advantage of the in-database approach is that you don't have to move the data around; instead of moving data sets to a separate (usually underpowered) analytic server, the software takes advantage of the MPP computing power of the database platform or Hadoop cluster. (In the case of Hadoop, analytics are embedded into MapReduce processes.)

Alpine's software was built with the assumption that lots of people within a company--not just the statistics PhDs--want to weigh in on the analysis and share the results. Alpine 's collaborative, Web-based workflow is designed for "cross-functional predictive analytics." That's Alpine's buzz phrase, and it basically means the software is accessible--via drag-and-drop functionality, repeatable workflows, templates and a simple "Illuminator" data-exploration tool--to everybody on an analytics project, including IT people, data-management specialists, DBAs, analytics gurus (a.k.a., data scientists), business analysts, and business users.

"Web-based access doesn't sound exciting these days, but in the world of analytics it's a leap forward," Alpine's Steven Hillion, chief product officer, told InformationWeek. SAS and others now offer Web-based access, but Hillion says Alpine goes beyond reporting and dashboarding to handle the entire process of building, testing, deploying, and running predictive and statistical models through a Web interface.

EMC and Alpine were already partners, but through the deeper relationship announced on Thursday, the Greenplum unit will resell Alpine Data Miner (analytics) and Alpine Illuminator (data exploration) directly. The software is integrated with the Greenplum Database and Greenplum Chorus collaborative development environment, so it's ready to run on the EMC's Greenplum Data Computing Appliance (DCA). It also works with Greenplum HD, the Apache Hadoop distribution that runs on the DCA.

These sorts of partnerships are getting more common in the big data world, and it's all about having one throat to choke. EMC will sell you the Alpine software, install it, show you how to run it, and provide the first line of customer support. If a problem gets sticky, the support case gets passed on to Alpine. It's the same arrangement Oracle has with Cloudera to bring Hadoop to the Oracle Big Data Appliance.

For long-time SAS shops, SAS High-Performance Analytics already provides one in-database alternative, and the new Hadoop- or grid-powered SAS LASR Analytic Server offers another option.

For buyers who are new to analytics (and not yet invested in software), Alpine's accessible, Web-based approach is a key appeal. But you can bet that lower cost relative to SAS also will be a very important selling point. (After all, SAS, too, has built more intuitive, Web-based interfaces with drag-and-drop functionality. And in the case of EMC, Greenplum Chorus is available to give the entire team a Web-based, collaborative window into analytic projects.)

SAS's response will be that you get what you pay for; you can't get to the same level of analytics depth and breadth in two years that it took SAS more than 25 years to develop.

Viva la choice. Vendors like Alpine and Revolution Analytics are bringing new options and healthy competition to the market just as the likes of Greenplum and Netezza helped stir up a then-stagnant database market nearly a decade ago. Competition keeps things interesting.

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