Data warehouse appliances are booming. But Hadoop appliances are a non-starter.
Data warehouse and other data management appliances are on the upswing. Oracle is pushing Exadata. Teradata* is going strong, and also recently bought Aster Data. IBM bought Netezza. Greenplum and Vertica were bought by EMC and HP respectively. All those moves are favorable for appliances.
*As far as I’m concerned, all Teradata hardware-included systems are appliances.
In essence, there are two kinds of reasons to prefer appliances over software-only offerings:
- Internal politics.
“Technology” can include performance, price/performance, ease of installation, ease of administration, and so on. I write about those issues a lot. Even more to the point, certain software only runs — or only runs well — in appliance configurations; e.g. Netezza’s, or Teradata’s if you have more than a couple terabytes of data, or Oracle’s if you’re in the double-digit terabyte range.
But it turns out technology isn’t the only reason to like appliances. Sometimes, internal politics hold sway. Suppose central IT is in control of normal computing installations, but departments can buy and control their own appliances? Then those departments might avoid bureaucracy, internal chargeback costs, and all the other things they hate about IT … but only if they go the appliance route. It turns out that this can be a very real consideration.
Of course, similar considerations arise with SaaS (Software as a Service).
But I’ll tell you one area where appliances seem to make little sense — running web-oriented, often scale-out, often open-source data management software. To the extent this software is commonly designed to play nicely with low-end commodity hardware, tailored appliances are a bit of a mismatch. If it is designed to be elastic, appliances are an awkward fit. If users value the flexibility of open source, appliances might get in the way; if users value the low prices of open source, appliances may be even less appropriate. If they’re running their software offsite, appliances may be the opposite of convenient. And if a system is big enough for the data-center-as-computer approach (e.g. Facebook or Google), appliances don’t make sense at all.
Kickfire failed, Schooner pulled back from appliance sales, Clustrix doesn’t seem to be accomplishing as much as its funding and early technical reputation might suggest, and I’m not optimistic for Hadoop appliances either. Appliances aren’t elastic, they aren’t free-as-in-speech, and they certainly aren’t free-as-in-beer. I like Hadoop, and I like appliances; but I don’t see them being good together.