Will the real appliance please stand up

Sr. Technical Marketing Analyst, IBM

The term "appliance" is liberally used by many vendors in the big data space these days. It seems that almost everyone has latched onto the term and it is being used not only to define data warehousing and analytic product offerings, but also to subtly (or not so subtly in some cases) set customer expectations about the underlying ease of deployment and ongoing cost of ownership associated with the product.

After all, everyone knows that appliances are easy to use. You simply plug them in, give them bread, and they spit out toast, right?

Indeed, with respect to Oracle's "appliance" offerings, IBM's Steve Mills was recently quoted on ZDNet to say:

It’s easy to throw a lot of stuff into a crate, ship it as one thing and say it’s an integrated product...

But that does not provide appliance simplicity, ease of use and value.

Wikipedia defines a data warehouse appliance as “an integrated set of servers, storage, operating system(s), DBMS and software specifically pre-installed and pre-optimized for data warehousing.

While essentially correct, this definition does not convey some of the key aspects of a true appliance.  Let's take a look at some general appliance truisms, or what I have come to refer to as the Golden Rules of Appliances:

  • Appliances are Plug and Play
  • Appliances are purpose-built
  • Appliances are easy to use

People like appliances because they provide rapid time to value, do what they are supposed to do (and little else), and do it all with a keep it simple mindset.  (Translation: IT can spend time adding business value instead of spending time on tedious system integration work)

Vendor Plug and Play Purpose-Built Easy to use Score
IBM Netezza       0
Teradata       0
Oracle Exadata       0
ParAccel       0
EMC Greenplum       0
HP Vertica       0

If we accept the above points as inherent to a solution's "applianceness" it provides an excellent framework by which to evaluate the appliance claims of various solution providers. This series of posts focuses on offerings from Oracle, EMC Greenplum, Teradata, HP, and of course, IBM.

Throughout the process, I’ll be keeping score to see which vendor truly understands what it means to be an appliance.

Tune in next time when I explore the first Golden Rule of Appliances -- Appliances are Plug and Play!