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EMC Swallows a Green Plum?

July 7, 2010

News broke on Tuesday that EMC plans to acquire Greenplum to focus on data warehousing and analytics on “big data”. The idea is that by doing so, EMC is officially throwing its hat into the competitive ring for the ‘Data Warehouse Appliance’ (DWA) market – something of a defensive mechanism now that virtually all of the major data warehouse vendors are now selling their own versions of a DWA – and consequently greatly reducing sales pull-through of EMC storage for data warehouse deployments.

Some referred to the merger as “a good fit for a storage vendor with appliance-y ideas” and others hailed it as follows, “the market has shifted as of late moving toward integrated appliances and this move gives EMC a very important arrow in its quiver” and labeled Greenplum as a purveyor of “very high performance database systems”.

One can also reasonably assume that this acquisition not only is intended to shore up a product offering weakness, but that it is also destined for affiliation with EMC’s other major initiative announced earlier this year – the Acadia Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) Joint Venture with Cisco Systems and headed up by Michael Capellas. The Acadia JV includes EMC’s storage and its VMWare virtualization software as well as Cisco Systems’ compute nodes and networking. VCE is built on the concept of modular building blocks, called vblocks that marry computing horsepower to storage capacity. All that’s missing from that story is a data warehouse DBMS to make it a full-on data warehouse appliance, right?

There are two big problems with these assumptions…

Performance: For all the discussion about “scale” and  “big data” in the EMC announcement, there is no mention of how either party can address the real issues that mainstream enterprises face every single day with their data warehouse systems – how to get maximum performance out of a complex, highly concurrent operational environment where hundreds if not thousands of users are banging away on the system, night and day.

  • The fact is that the actual Greenplum target market has clearly NOT been one that focused on high-performance analytics over the past several years. Instead, the few wins publicly announced by the company have been for very high capacity, limited compute platforms – applications more commonly referred to as “queryable archive”.
  • Curt Monash today again mentioned Greenplum’s lack of support for the “high-concurrency” requirements of a mainstream data warehouse.
  • This looks much more like adding a very basic set of storage-centric data warehousing capabilities in a move to find a broader channel for EMC’s traditional storage products rather than any strategic move into the world of high performance data analytics. Further to this point, neither company has done much of anything to address a very strong trend in the mainstream data warehouse market – the marriage of advanced, predictive analytics into the busy data warehouse systems.
  • David Vellante confirmed that to be successful the EMC/Greenplum marriage will need to yield, “optimized sytems[sic]; smokin’ fast performance; reference architectures; scale;” and “federation capabilities; not just big honking systems.” We couldn’t agree more but one can’t help but notice that neither Greenplum nor EMC have brought any of those characteristics to market for data warehousing to date.

Appliances: Since the acquisition is fairly transparent in its defense against moves by the likes of Oracle, Teradata and IBM (as well as Netezza seven years ago) to the appliance model, it’s hard to see how either EMC or Greenplum are effectively equipped now to do battle against those established players.

  • EMC have never really “sold” data warehousing to anyone previously and Greenplum have nearly prided themselves in going after “Greenfield” high capacity applications rather than head-to-head competition vs. established players. And one need look no further than the limited market penetration of H-P’s NeoView to understand that it takes more than simply deep pockets to succeed in the data warehousing market.
  • Greenplum is not a purveyor of “integrated appliances” and at best, they can hope to infuse in EMC the ability to make their joint product offering a little more of an “appliance-y idea” (hat tip to Dr. Monash for coining the term) to the market. Instead, Greenplum have fashioned themselves over the past several years as a software only solution.
  • Assume that the Acadia VCE and “vblock” application is a big piece of this strategy. Neither Cisco nor EMC would claim that their servers, networking or storage arrays offer the lowest price-per-bit or price-per-performance alternative in the market. So one needs to think about what that means in terms of the price-performance competitiveness of this new “appliance-y” joint product.

In short, Greenplum joins the pantheon of “interesting” acquisitions for EMC as it will certainly stir some news cycles and drive some analysts and bloggers to create “fresh, new” content; but it’s not really something that I think will register on the Richter scale of customer market share.