Analysis of companies, products, and user strategies in the area of business intelligence. Related subjects include:
“Real-time” technology excites people, and has for decades. Yet the actual, useful technology to meet “real-time” requirements remains immature, especially in cases which call for rapid human decision-making. Here are some notes on that conundrum.
1. I recently posted that “real-time” is getting real. But there are multiple technology challenges involved, including:
- General streaming. Some of my posts on that subject are linked at the bottom of my August post on Flink.
- Low-latency ingest of data into structures from which it can be immediately analyzed. That helps drive the (re)integration of operational data stores, analytic data stores, and other analytic support — e.g. via Spark.
- Business intelligence that can be used quickly enough. This is a major ongoing challenge. My clients at Zoomdata may be thinking about this area more clearly than most, but even they are still in the early stages of providing what users need.
- Advanced analytics that can be done quickly enough. Answers there may come through developments in anomaly management, but that area is still in its super-early days.
- Alerting, which has been under-addressed for decades. Perhaps the anomaly management vendors will finally solve it.
|Categories: Business intelligence, Databricks, Spark and BDAS, In-memory DBMS, Investment research and trading, Log analysis, Streaming and complex event processing (CEP), Text, Web analytics, Zoomdata||2 Comments|
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken
— John Keats, “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer”
1. In June I wrote about why anomaly management is hard. Well, not only is it hard to do; it’s hard to talk about as well. One reason, I think, is that it’s hard to define what an anomaly is. And that’s a structural problem, not just a semantic one — if something is well enough understood to be easily described, then how much of an anomaly is it after all?
Artificial intelligence is famously hard to define for similar reasons.
“Anomaly management” and similar terms are not yet in the software marketing mainstream, and may never be. But naming aside, the actual subject matter is important.
2. Anomaly analysis is clearly at the heart of several sectors, including:
- IT operations
- Factory and other physical-plant operations
Each of those areas features one or both of the frameworks:
- Surprises are likely to be bad.
- Coincidences are likely to be suspicious.
So if you want to identify, understand, avert and/or remediate bad stuff, data anomalies are the first place to look.
3. The “insights” promised by many analytics vendors — especially those who sell to marketing departments — are also often heralded by anomalies. Already in the 1970s, Walmart observed that red clothing sold particularly well in Omaha, while orange flew off the shelves in Syracuse. And so, in large college towns, they stocked their stores to the gills with clothing in the colors of the local football team. They also noticed that fancy dresses for little girls sold especially well in Hispanic communities … specifically for girls at the age of First Communion.
|Categories: Business intelligence, Log analysis, Predictive modeling and advanced analytics, Web analytics||Leave a Comment|
I’ve been an analyst for 35 years, and debates about “real-time” technology have run through my whole career. Some of those debates are by now pretty much settled. In particular:
- Yes, interactive computer response is crucial.
- Into the 1980s, many apps were batch-only. Demand for such apps dried up.
- Business intelligence should occur at interactive speeds, which is a major reason that there’s a market for high-performance analytic RDBMS.
- Theoretical arguments about “true” real-time vs. near-real-time are often pointless.
- What matters in most cases is human users’ perceptions of speed.
- Most of the exceptions to that rule occur when machines race other machines, for example in automated bidding (high frequency trading or otherwise) or in network security.
A big issue that does remain open is: How fresh does data need to be? My preferred summary answer is: As fresh as is needed to support the best decision-making. I think that formulation starts with several advantages:
- It respects the obvious point that different use cases require different levels of data freshness.
- It cautions against people who think they need fresh information but aren’t in a position to use it. (Such users have driven much bogus “real-time” demand in the past.)
- It covers cases of both human and automated decision-making.
Straightforward applications of this principle include: Read more
I used to spend most of my time — blogging and consulting alike — on data warehouse appliances and analytic DBMS. Now I’m barely involved with them. The most obvious reason is that there have been drastic changes in industry structure:
- Many of the independent vendors were swooped up by acquisition.
- None of those acquisitions was a big success.
- Microsoft did little with DATAllegro.
- Netezza struggled with R&D after being bought by IBM. An IBMer recently told me that their main analytic RDBMS engine was BLU.
- I hear about Vertica more as a technology to be replaced than as a significant ongoing market player.
- Pivotal open-sourced Greenplum. I have detected few people who care.
- Ditto for Actian’s offerings.
- Teradata claimed a few large Aster accounts, but I never hear of Aster as something to compete or partner with.
- Smaller vendors fizzled too. Hadapt and Kickfire went to Teradata as more-or-less acquihires. InfiniDB folded. Etc.
- Impala and other Hadoop-based alternatives are technology options.
- Oracle, Microsoft, IBM and to some extent SAP/Sybase are still pedaling along … but I rarely talk with companies that big.
Simply reciting all that, however, begs the question of whether one should still care about analytic RDBMS at all.
My answer, in a nutshell, is:
Analytic RDBMS — whether on premises in software, in the form of data warehouse appliances, or in the cloud – are still great for hard-core business intelligence, where “hard-core” can refer to ad-hoc query complexity, reporting/dashboard concurrency, or both. But they aren’t good for much else.
- I spent three weeks in California on a hybrid personal/business trip. I had a bunch of meetings, but not three weeks’ worth.
- The timing was awkward for most companies I wanted to see. No blame accrues to those who didn’t make themselves available.
- I came back with a nasty cough. Follow-up phone calls aren’t an option until next week.
- I’m impatient to start writing. Hence tonight’s posts. But it’s difficult for a man and his cough to be productive at the same time.
A running list of recent posts is:
- As a companion to this post, I’m publishing a very long one on vendor lock-in.
- Spark and Databricks are both prospering, and of course enhancing their technology as well.
- Ditto DataStax.
- Flink is interesting as the streaming technology it’s now positioned to be, rather than the overall Spark alternative it used to be positioned as but which the world didn’t need.
Subjects I’d like to add to that list include:
- MemSQL, Zoomdata, and Neo Technology (also prospering).
- Cloudera (multiple topics, as usual).
- Analytic SQL engines (“traditional” analytic RDBMS aren’t doing well).
- Microsoft’s reinvention (it feels real).
- Metadata (it’s ever more of a thing).
- Machine learning (it’s going to be a big portion of my research going forward).
- Transitions to the cloud — this subject affects almost everything else.
As I observed yet again last week, much of analytics is concerned with anomaly detection, analysis and response. I don’t think anybody understands the full consequences of that fact,* but let’s start with some basics.
An anomaly, for our purposes, is a data point or more likely a data aggregate that is notably different from the trend or norm. If I may oversimplify, there are three kinds of anomalies:
- Important signals. Something is going on, and it matters. Somebody — or perhaps just an automated system — needs to know about it. Time may be of the essence.
- Unimportant signals. Something is going on, but so what?
- Pure noise. Even a fair coin flip can have long streaks of coming up “heads”.
Two major considerations are:
- Whether the recipient of a signal can do something valuable with the information.
- How “costly” it is for the recipient to receive an unimportant signal or other false positive.
What I mean by the latter point is:
- Something that sets a cell phone buzzing had better be important, to the phone’s owner personally.
- But it may be OK if something unimportant changes one small part of a busy screen display.
Anyhow, the Holy Grail* of anomaly management is a system that sends the right alerts to the right people, and never sends them wrong ones. And the quest seems about as hard as that for the Holy Grail, although this one uses more venture capital and fewer horses. Read more
Five years ago, in a taxonomy of analytic business benefits, I wrote:
A large fraction of all analytic efforts ultimately serve one or more of three purposes:
- Problem and anomaly detection and diagnosis
- Planning and optimization
That continues to be true today. Now let’s add a bit of spin.
1. A large fraction of analytics is adversarial. In particular: Read more
|Categories: Business intelligence, Investment research and trading, Log analysis, Predictive modeling and advanced analytics, RDF and graphs, Surveillance and privacy, Web analytics||3 Comments|
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:
- Compatible with legacy systems and/or enterprise standards.
- Cheap, free and/or open source.
- Proven, vetted by sufficiently many references, and/or generally having an “enterprise-y” reputation.
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:
- If you want to sell something and have happy users, you need a good UI.
- You will also soon need tools and a UI for administration.
- Customers demand low-latency/fresh data. Your explanation of why they don’t really need it doesn’t contradict the fact that they want it.
- Providing data access and saying “You can hook up any BI tool you want and build charts” is not generally regarded as offering a good UI.
- When “adding analytics” to something previously focused on short-request processing, it is common to underestimate the variety of things users will soon want to do. (One common reason for this under-estimate is that after years of being told it can’t be done, they’ve learned not to ask.)
And if you take one thing away from this post, then take this:
- If you “know” exactly which features are or aren’t helpful to users, …
- .. and if you supply only what you “know” they should use, …
- … then you will discover that what you “knew” wasn’t really accurate.
I guarantee it.
|Categories: Business intelligence, Buying processes, EAI, EII, ETL, ELT, ETLT, Predictive modeling and advanced analytics||2 Comments|
Cloudera released Version 2 of Cloudera Director, which is a companion product to Cloudera Manager focused specifically on the cloud. This led to a discussion about — you guessed it! — Cloudera and the cloud.
Making Cloudera run in the cloud has three major aspects:
- Cloudera’s usual software, ported to run on the cloud platform(s).
- Cloudera Director, which for example launches cloud instances.
- Points of integration, e.g. taking information about security-oriented roles from the platform and feeding then to the role-based security that is specific to Cloudera Enterprise.
Features new in this week’s release of Cloudera Director include:
- An API for job submission.
- Support for spot and preemptable instances.
- High availability.
- Some cluster repair.
- Some cluster cloning.
I.e., we’re talking about some pretty basic/checklist kinds of things. Cloudera Director is evidently working for Amazon AWS and Google GCP, and planned for Windows Azure, VMware and OpenStack.
As for porting, let me start by noting: Read more
I’m on two overlapping posting kicks, namely “lessons from the past” and “stuff I keep saying so might as well also write down”. My recent piece on Oracle as the new IBM is an example of both themes. In this post, another example, I’d like to memorialize some points I keep making about business intelligence and other analytics. In particular:
- BI relies on strong data access capabilities. This is always true. Duh.
- Therefore, BI and other analytics vendors commonly reinvent the data management wheel. This trend ebbs and flows with technology cycles.
Similarly, BI has often been tied to data integration/ETL (Extract/Transform/Load) functionality.* But I won’t address that subject further at this time.
*In the Hadoop/Spark era, that’s even truer of other analytics than it is of BI.
My top historical examples include:
- The 1970s analytic fourth-generation languages (RAMIS, NOMAD, FOCUS, et al.) commonly combined reporting and data management.
- The best BI visualization technology of the 1980s, Executive Information Systems (EIS), was generally unsuccessful. The core reason was a lack of what we’d now call drilldown. Not coincidentally, EIS vendors — notably leader Comshare — didn’t do well at DBMS-like technology.
- Business Objects, one of the pioneers of the modern BI product category, rose in large part on the strength of its “semantic layer” technology. (If you don’t know what that is, you can imagine it as a kind of virtual data warehouse modest enough in its ambitions to actually be workable.)
- Cognos, the other pioneer of modern BI, depending on capabilities for which it needed a bundled MOLAP (Multidimensional OnLine Analytic Processing) engine.
- But Cognos later stopped needing that engine, which underscores my point about technology ebbing and flowing.
|Categories: Business intelligence, Business Objects, Cognos, Databricks, Spark and BDAS, EAI, EII, ETL, ELT, ETLT, Hadoop, Information Builders, MicroStrategy, Software as a Service (SaaS), Teradata||5 Comments|