Recently, I’ve done extensive research into the hardware strategies of computing appliance vendors, across multiple functional areas. Data warehousing, firewall/unified threat management, antispam, data integration – you name it, I talked to them. Of course, each vendor has a unique twist. But some architectural groupings definitely emerged.
The most common approaches seem to be:
Type 1: Custom assembly from off-the-shelf parts. In this model, the only unusual (but still off-the-shelf) parts are usually in the area of network acceleration (or occasionally encryption). Also, the box may be balanced differently than standard systems, in terms of compute power and/or reliability.
Type 2 (Virtual): We don’t need no stinkin’ custom hardware. In this model, the only “appliancy” features are in the areas of easy deployment, custom operating systems, and/or preconfigured hardware.
And of course there are also appliances of Type 0: Custom hardware including proprietary ASICs or FPGAs.
Different markets had different emphases; e.g., firewall appliances are typically Type 1, while antispam devices cluster in Type 2. But the data warehouse appliance market is highly diverse, which maybe shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, the revenue market leader is non-appliance software vendor Oracle, while noisy upstart Netezza is famous for its FPGA. Anyhow, as I see it the data warehouse appliance vendors break down something like this:
- Netezza is Type 0 all the way. The product, if not the company, is built around its FPGA.
- Teradata is Type 1. They have a whole proprietary networking subsystem. And yes, I think Teradata boxes are appliances.
- DATAllegro is historically Type 1, but apparently moving to Type 2.
- Greenplum is Type 2 all the way. Indeed, they’d willingly sell you a software-only license, but I’m not aware that anybody wants to buy one.
- If Kognitio ever becomes an appliance vendor, it will be Type 2. Right now it’s trying to straddle the line, marketing to the appliance positioning when expedient, while really being software-only (or SaaS). But the company confesses that its sales typically involve consulting to specify and configure the software, and bundling into some sort of virtual appliance could be a logical next step.
- IBM’s BCU (Base Configuration) approach is a lot like a Type 2 appliance strategy. Actually, they mumble occasionally about a SQL accelerator chip. But so far the conversation hasn’t gone beyond that.
Edit: For more on the data warehouse appliance market overall, please see this December, 2007 post on data warehouse appliance fact and fiction.