Software as a Service (SaaS)
Analysis of software-as-a-service offerings with a database or analytic focus, or data connectivity tools focused on SaaS. Related subjects include:
1. I think the next decade or so will see much more change in enterprise applications than the last one. Why? Because the unresolved issues are piling up, and something has to give. I intend this post to be a starting point for a lot of interesting discussions ahead.
2. The more technical issues I’m thinking of include:
- How will app vendors handle analytics?
- How will app vendors handle machine-generated data?
- How will app vendors handle dynamic schemas?
- How far will app vendors get with social features?
- What kind of underlying technology stacks will app vendors drag along?
We also always have the usual set of enterprise app business issues, including:
- Will the current leaders — SAP, Oracle and whoever else you want to include — continue to dominate the large-enterprise application market?
- Will the leaders in the large-enterprise market succeed in selling to smaller markets?
- Which new categories of application will be important?
- Which kinds of vendors and distribution channels will succeed in serving small enterprises?
And perhaps the biggest issue of all, intertwined with most of the others, is:
- How will the move to SaaS (Software as a Service) play out?
1. The rise of SAP (and later Siebel Systems) was greatly helped by Anderson Consulting, even before it was split off from the accounting firm and renamed as Accenture. My main contact in that group was Rob Kelley, but it’s possible that Brian Sommer was even more central to the industry-watching part of the operation. Brian is still around, and he just leveled a blast at the ERP* industry, which I encourage you to read. I agree with most of it.
*Enterprise Resource Planning
Brian’s argument, as I interpret it, boils down mainly to two points:
- Big ERP companies selling big ERP systems are pathetically slow at adding new functionality. He’s right. My favorite example is the multi-decade slog to integrate useful analytics into operational apps.
- The world of “Big Data” is fundamentally antithetical to the design of current-generation ERP systems. I think he’s right in that as well.
I’d add that SaaS (Software As A Service)/on-premises tensions aren’t helping incumbent vendors either.
But no article addresses all the subjects it ideally should, and I’d like to call out two omissions. First, what Brian said is in many cases applicable just to large and/or internet-first companies. Plenty of smaller, more traditional businesses could get by just fine with no more functionality than is in “Big ERP” today, if we stipulate that it should be:
- Delivered via SaaS.
- Much easier to adopt and use.
It is extremely difficult to succeed with SaaS (Software as a Service) and packaged software in the same company. There were a few vendors who seemed to pull it off in the 1970s and 1980s, generally industry-specific application suite vendors. But it’s hard to think of more recent examples — unless you have more confidence than I do in what behemoth software vendors say about their SaaS/”cloud” businesses.
Despite the cautionary evidence, I’m going to argue that SaaS and software can and often should be combined. The “should” part is pretty obvious, with reasons that start:
- Some customers are clearly better off with SaaS. (E.g., for simplicity.)
- Some customers are clearly better off with on-premises software. (E.g., to protect data privacy.)
- On-premises customers want to know they have a path to the cloud.
- Off-premises customers want the possibility of leaving their SaaS vendor’s servers.
- SaaS can be great for testing, learning or otherwise adopting software that will eventually be operated in-house.
- Marketing and sales efforts for SaaS and packaged versions can be synergistic.
- The basic value proposition, competitive differentiation, etc. should be the same, irrespective of delivery details.
- In some cases, SaaS can be the lower cost/lower commitment option, while packaged product can be the high end or upsell.
- An ideal sales force has both inside/low-end and bag-carrying/high-end components.
But the “how” of combining SaaS and traditional software is harder. Let’s review why. Read more
1. There are multiple ways in which analytics is inherently modular. For example:
- Business intelligence tools can reasonably be viewed as application development tools. But the “applications” may be developed one report at a time.
- The point of a predictive modeling exercise may be to develop a single scoring function that is then integrated into a pre-existing operational application.
- Conversely, a recommendation-driven website may be developed a few pages — and hence also a few recommendations — at a time.
Also, analytics is inherently iterative.
- Everything I just called “modular” can reasonably be called “iterative” as well.
- So can any work process of the nature “OK, we got an insight. Let’s pursue it and get more accuracy.”
If I’m right that analytics is or at least should be modular and iterative, it’s easy to see why people hate multi-year data warehouse creation projects. Perhaps it’s also easy to see why I like the idea of schema-on-need.
2. In 2011, I wrote, in the context of agile predictive analytics, that
… the “business analyst” role should be expanded beyond BI and planning to include lightweight predictive analytics as well.
I gather that a similar point is at the heart of Gartner’s new term citizen data scientist. I am told that the term resonates with at least some enterprises. Read more
|Categories: Business intelligence, Data warehousing, Datameer, Hadoop, Log analysis, Oracle, Platfora, Predictive modeling and advanced analytics, SAS Institute, Software as a Service (SaaS), Tableau Software, Web analytics||2 Comments|
- Continuuity toured in 2012 and touted its “app server for Hadoop” technology.
- Continuuity recently changed its name to Cask and went open source.
- Cask’s product is now called CDAP (Cask Data Application Platform). It’s still basically an app server for Hadoop and other “big data” — ouch do I hate that phrase — data stores.
- Cask and Cloudera partnered.
- I got a more technical Cask briefing this week.
- App servers are a notoriously amorphous technology. The focus of how they’re used can change greatly every couple of years.
- Partly for that reason, I was unimpressed by Continuuity’s original hype-filled positioning.
So far as I can tell:
- Cask’s current focus is to orchestrate job flows, with lots of data mappings.
- This is supposed to provide lots of developer benefits, for fairly obvious reasons. Those are pitched in terms of an integration story, more in a “free you from the mess of a many-part stack” sense than strictly in terms of data integration.
- CDAP already has a GUI to monitor what’s going on. A GUI to specify workflows is coming very soon.
- CDAP doesn’t consume a lot of cycles itself, and hence isn’t a real risk for unpleasant overhead, if “overhead” is narrowly defined. Rather, performance drags could come from …
- … sub-optimal choices in data mapping, database design or workflow composition.
I chatted last night with Ion Stoica, CEO of my client Databricks, for an update both on his company and Spark. Databricks’ actual business is Databricks Cloud, about which I can say:
- Databricks Cloud is:
- Currently running on Amazon only.
- Not dependent on Hadoop.
- Databricks Cloud, despite having a 1.0 version number, is not actually in general availability.
- Even so, there are a non-trivial number of paying customers for Databricks Cloud. (Ion gave me an approximate number, but is keeping it NDA until Spark Summit East.)
- Databricks Cloud gets at data from S3 (most commonly), Redshift, Elastic MapReduce, and perhaps other sources I’m forgetting.
- Databricks Cloud was initially focused on ad-hoc use. A few days ago the capability was added to schedule jobs and so on.
- Unsurprisingly, therefore, Databricks Cloud has been used to date mainly for data exploration/visualization and ETL (Extract/Transform/Load). Visualizations tend to be scripted/programmatic, but there’s also an ODBC driver used for Tableau access and so on.
- Databricks Cloud customers are concentrated (but not unanimously so) in the usual-suspect internet-centric business sectors.
- The low end of the amount of data Databricks Cloud customers are working with is 100s of gigabytes. This isn’t surprising.
- The high end of the amount of data Databricks Cloud customers are working with is petabytes. That did surprise me, and in retrospect I should have pressed for details.
I do not expect all of the above to remain true as Databricks Cloud matures.
Ion also said that Databricks is over 50 people, and has moved its office from Berkeley to San Francisco. He also offered some Spark numbers, such as: Read more
|Categories: Amazon and its cloud, Cloud computing, Databricks, Spark and BDAS, EAI, EII, ETL, ELT, ETLT, Parallelization, Petabyte-scale data management, Predictive modeling and advanced analytics, Software as a Service (SaaS)||6 Comments|
7-10 years ago, I repeatedly argued the viewpoints:
- Relational DBMS were the right choice in most cases.
- Multiple kinds of relational DBMS were needed, optimized for different kinds of use case.
- There were a variety of specialized use cases in which non-relational data models were best.
Since then, however:
- Hadoop has flourished.
- NoSQL has flourished.
- Graph DBMS have matured somewhat.
- Much of the action has shifted to machine-generated data, of which there are many kinds.
So it’s probably best to revisit all that in a somewhat organized way.
I believe in all of the following trends:
- Hadoop is a Big Deal, and here to stay.
- Spark, for most practical purposes, is becoming a big part of Hadoop.
- Most servers will be operated away from user premises, whether via SaaS (Software as a Service), co-location, or “true” cloud computing.
Trickier is the meme that Hadoop is “the new OS”. My thoughts on that start:
- People would like this to be true, although in most cases only as one of several cluster computing platforms.
- Hadoop, when viewed as an operating system, is extremely primitive.
- Even so, the greatest awkwardness I’m seeing when different software shares a Hadoop cluster isn’t actually in scheduling, but rather in data interchange.
There is also a minor issue that if you distribute your Hadoop work among extra nodes you might have to pay a bit more to your Hadoop distro support vendor. Fortunately, the software industry routinely solves more difficult pricing problems than that.
|Categories: Cloud computing, Databricks, Spark and BDAS, Hadoop, MapReduce, MemSQL, Software as a Service (SaaS)||15 Comments|
It seems reasonable to wonder whether analytic data management is headed for the cloud. In no particular order:
- Amazon Redshift appears to be prospering.
- So are some SaaS (Software as a Service) business intelligence vendors.
- Amazon Elastic MapReduce is still around.
- Snowflake Computing launched with a cloud strategy.
- Cazena, with vague intentions for cloud data warehousing, destealthed.*
- Cloudera made various cloud-related announcements.
- Data is increasingly machine-generated, and machine-generated data commonly originates off-premises.
- The general argument for cloud-or-at-least-colocation has compelling aspects.
- Analytic workloads can be “bursty”, and so could benefit from true cloud elasticity.
I talked with the Snowflake Computing guys Friday. For starters:
- Snowflake is offering an analytic DBMS on a SaaS (Software as a Service) basis.
- The Snowflake DBMS is built from scratch (as opposed, to for example, being based on PostgreSQL or Hadoop).
- The Snowflake DBMS is columnar and append-only, as has become common for analytic RDBMS.
- Snowflake claims excellent SQL coverage for a 1.0 product.
- Snowflake, the company, has:
- 50 people.
- A similar number of current or past users.
- 5 referenceable customers.
- 2 techie founders out of Oracle, plus Marcin Zukowski.
- Bob Muglia as CEO.
Much of the Snowflake story can be summarized as cloud/elastic/simple/cheap.*
*Excuse me — inexpensive. Companies rarely like their products to be labeled as “cheap”.
In addition to its purely relational functionality, Snowflake accepts poly-structured data. Notes on that start:
- Ingest formats are JSON, XML or AVRO for now.
- I gather that the system automagically decides which fields/attributes are sufficiently repeated to be broken out as separate columns; also, there’s a column for the documents themselves.
I don’t know enough details to judge whether I’d call that an example of schema-on-need.
A key element of Snowflake’s poly-structured data story seems to be lateral views. I’m not too clear on that concept, but I gather: Read more
|Categories: Amazon and its cloud, Cloud computing, Data mart outsourcing, Data models and architecture, Data warehousing, Market share and customer counts, Parallelization, Pricing, Software as a Service (SaaS), Structured documents||2 Comments|