I’ve been doing a lot of research lately into computing appliances – not just data warehouse appliances, but security, anti-spam and other appliance types as well. Today I added Cast Iron Systems to the list.
Essentially, they offer data integration without the common add-ons. I.e., there’s little or nothing in the way of data cleansing, composite apps, business process management, and/or business activity monitoring. Data just gets imported, extracted, and/or synchronized, whether between pairs of transactional systems, or between a transactional system and a reporting database. A particularly hot area of application for them seems to be SaaS/on-demand app integration (Salesforce.com, Netsuite, etc.) In particular, they boast both Lawson and Salesforce.com as internal users, and at least at Lawson they are used for a Salesforce/Lawson integration.
The big advantage to this strategy is that their integrator is simple enough for appliance deployment. Indeed, unlike most other appliance vendors I talk with, they say almost nothing about the features or speed of their technology – it’s all simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. I’m not being critical here; data integration can be pretty boring whether or not it’s simple, so keeping it simple is all to the good.
As for the hardware/platform side, it’s similar to what I’m hearing from other appliance vendors (Netezza and their emphasis on an FPGA are a real outlier). Namely:
- They assemble their own machines from fairly standard parts.
- The main part choices that are different from those in standard computers are in the networking area.
- Also, the mix of standard parts is tweaked to be optimal for them (e.g., they use lots of RAM).
- They have a lot of built-in redundancy.
- They wrote their own OS (“vaguely LINUX-based”).
Being even less dependent on hardware tweaks than some other appliance vendors, they might seem to be a natural candidate for the VMware “virtual appliance” strategy. But while Cast Iron has built a VMware-based prototype, they find that most of their customers don’t have a VMware infrastructure in place. Thus, going VMware-based would obviate many of the deployment advantages of the appliance format.