July 19, 2016

Notes on vendor lock-in

Vendor lock-in is an important subject. Everybody knows that. But few of us realize just how complicated the subject is, nor how riddled it is with paradoxes. Truth be told, I wasn’t fully aware either. But when I set out to write this post, I found that it just kept growing longer.

1. The most basic form of lock-in is:

2. Enterprise vendor standardization is closely associated with lock-in. The core idea is that you have a mandate or strong bias toward having different apps run over the same platforms, because:

3. That last point is double-edged; you have more power over suppliers to whom you give more business, but they also have more power over you. The upshot is often an ELA (Enterprise License Agreement), which commonly works:

Read more

February 15, 2016

Some checklists for making technical choices

Whenever somebody asks for my help on application technology strategy, I start by trying to ascertain three things. The absolute first is actually a prerequisite to almost any kind of useful conversation, which is to ascertain in general terms what the hell it is that we are talking about. :)

My second goal is to ascertain technology constraints. Three common types are:

That’s often a short and straightforward discussion, except in those awkward situations when all three of my bullet points above are applicable at once.

The third item is usually more interesting. I try to figure out what is to be accomplished. That’s usually not a simple matter, because the initial list of goals and requirements is almost never accurate. It’s actually more common that I have to tell somebody to be more ambitious than that I need to rein them in.

Commonly overlooked needs include:

And if you take one thing away from this post, then take this:

I guarantee it.

Read more

November 19, 2015

CDH 5.5

I talked with Cloudera shortly ahead of today’s announcement of Cloudera 5.5. Much of what we talked about had something or other to do with SQL data management. Highlights include:

While I had Cloudera on the phone, I asked a few questions about Impala adoption, specifically focused on concurrency. There was mention of: Read more

October 26, 2015

Differentiation in business intelligence

Parts of the business intelligence differentiation story resemble the one I just posted for data management. After all:

That said, insofar as BI’s competitive issues resemble those of DBMS, they are those of DBMS-lite. For example:

And full-stack analytic systems — perhaps delivered via SaaS (Software as a Service) — can moot the BI/data management distinction anyway.

Of course, there are major differences between how DBMS and BI are differentiated. The biggest are in user experience. I’d say: Read more

October 26, 2015

Differentiation in data management

In the previous post I broke product differentiation into 6-8 overlapping categories, which may be abbreviated as:

and sometimes also issues in adoption and administration.

Now let’s use this framework to examine two market categories I cover — data management and, in separate post, business intelligence.

Applying this taxonomy to data management:
Read more

October 26, 2015

Sources of differentiation

Obviously, a large fraction of what I write about involves technical differentiation. So let’s try for a framework where differentiation claims can be placed in context. This post will get through the generalities. The sequels will apply them to specific cases.

Many buying and design considerations for IT fall into six interrelated areas:  Read more

July 14, 2014

21st Century DBMS success and failure

As part of my series on the keys to and likelihood of success, I outlined some examples from the DBMS industry. The list turned out too long for a single post, so I split it up by millennia. The part on 20th Century DBMS success and failure went up Friday; in this one I’ll cover more recent events, organized in line with the original overview post. Categories addressed will include analytic RDBMS (including data warehouse appliances), NoSQL/non-SQL short-request DBMS, MySQL, PostgreSQL, NewSQL and Hadoop.

DBMS rarely have trouble with the criterion “Is there an identifiable buying process?” If an enterprise is doing application development projects, a DBMS is generally chosen for each one. And so the organization will generally have a process in place for buying DBMS, or accepting them for free. Central IT, departments, and — at least in the case of free open source stuff — developers all commonly have the capacity for DBMS acquisition.

In particular, at many enterprises either departments have the ability to buy their own analytic technology, or else IT will willingly buy and administer things for a single department. This dynamic fueled much of the early rise of analytic RDBMS.

Buyer inertia is a greater concern.

A particularly complex version of this dynamic has played out in the market for analytic RDBMS/appliances.

Otherwise I’d say:  Read more

April 30, 2014

Hardware and storage notes

My California trip last week focused mainly on software — duh! — but I had some interesting hardware/storage/architecture discussions as well, especially in the areas of:

I also got updated as to typical Hadoop hardware.

If systems are designed at the whole-rack level or higher, then there can be much more flexibility and efficiency in terms of mixing and connecting CPU, RAM and storage. The Google/Facebook/Amazon cool kids are widely understood to be following this approach, so others are naturally considering it as well. My most interesting of several mentions of that point was when I got the chance to talk with Berkeley computer architecture guru Dave Patterson, who’s working on plans for 100-petabyte/terabit-networking kinds of systems, for usage after 2020 or so. (If you’re interested, you might want to contact him; I’m sure he’d love more commercial sponsorship.)

One of Dave’s design assumptions is that Moore’s Law really will end soon (or at least greatly slow down), if by Moore’s Law you mean that every 18 months or so one can get twice as many transistors onto a chip of the same area and cost than one could before. However, while he thinks that applies to CPU and RAM, Dave thinks flash is an exception. I gathered that he thinks the power/heat reasons for Moore’s Law to end will be much harder to defeat than the other ones; note that flash, because of what it’s used for, has vastly less power running through it than CPU or RAM do.

Read more

March 23, 2014

Wants vs. needs

In 1981, Gerry Chichester and Vaughan Merlyn did a user-survey-based report about transaction-oriented fourth-generation languages, the leading application development technology of their day. The report included top-ten lists of important features during the buying cycle and after implementation. The items on each list were very similar — but the order of the items was completely different. And so the report highlighted what I regard as an eternal truth of the enterprise software industry:

What users value in the product-buying process is quite different from what they value once a product is (being) put into use.

Here are some thoughts about how that comes into play today.

Wants outrunning needs

1. For decades, BI tools have been sold in large part via demos of snazzy features the CEO would like to have on his desk. First it was pretty colors; then it was maps; now sometimes it’s “real-time” changing displays. Other BI features, however, are likely to be more important in practice.

2. In general, the need for “real-time” BI data freshness is often exaggerated. If you’re a human being doing a job that’s also often automated at high speed — for example network monitoring or stock trading — there’s a good chance you need fully human real-time BI. Otherwise, how much does a 5-15 minute delay hurt? Even if you’re monitoring website sell-through — are your business volumes really high enough that 5 minutes matters much? eBay answered “yes” to that question many years ago, but few of us work for businesses anywhere near eBay’s scale.

Even so, the want for speed keeps growing stronger. :)

3. Similarly, some desires for elastic scale-out are excessive. Your website selling koi pond accessories should always run well on a single server. If you diversify your business to the point that that’s not true, you’ll probably rewrite your app by then as well.

4. Some developers want to play with cool new tools. That doesn’t mean those tools are the best choice for the job. In particular, boring old SQL has merits — such as joins! — that shiny NoSQL hasn’t yet replicated.

5. Some developers, on the other hand, want to keep using their old tools, on which they are their employers’ greatest experts. That doesn’t mean those tools are the best choice for the job either.

6. More generally, some enterprises insist on brand labels that add little value but lots of expense. Yes, there are many benefits to vendor consolidation, and you may avoid many headaches if you stick with not-so-cutting-edge technology. But “enterprise-grade” hardware failure rates may not differ enough from “consumer-grade” ones to be worth paying for.

Read more

February 1, 2014

More on public policy

Occasionally I take my public policy experience out for some exercise. Last week I wrote about privacy and network neutrality. In this post I’ll survey a few more subjects.

1. Censorship worries me, a lot. A classic example is Vietnam, which basically has outlawed online political discussion.

And such laws can have teeth. It’s hard to conceal your internet usage from an inquisitive government.

2. Software and software related patents are back in the news. Google, which said it was paying $5.5 billion or so for a bunch of Motorola patents, turns out to really have paid $7 billion or more. Twitter and IBM did a patent deal as well. Big numbers, and good for certain shareholders. But this all benefits the wider world — how?

As I wrote 3 1/2 years ago:

The purpose of legal intellectual property protections, simply put, is to help make it a good decision to create something.

Why does “securing … exclusive Right[s]” to the creators of things that are patented, copyrighted, or trademarked help make it a good decision for them to create stuff? Because it averts competition from copiers, thus making the creator a monopolist in what s/he has created, allowing her to at least somewhat value-price her creation.

I.e., the core point of intellectual property rights is to prevent copying-based competition. By way of contrast, any other kind of intellectual property “right” should be viewed with great suspicion.

That Constitutionally-based principle makes as much sense to me now as it did then. By way of contrast, “Let’s give more intellectual property rights to big corporations to protect middle-managers’ jobs” is — well, it’s an argument I view with great suspicion.

But I find it extremely hard to think of a technology industry example in which development was stimulated by the possibility of patent protection. Yes, the situation may be different in pharmaceuticals, or for gadgeteering home inventors, but I can think of no case in which technology has been better, or faster to come to market, because of the possibility of a patent-law monopoly. So if software and business-method patents were abolished entirely – even the ones that I think could be realistically adjudicatedI’d be pleased.

3. In November, 2008 I offered IT policy suggestions for the incoming Obama Administration, especially:  Read more

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