Sunday, March 13, 2011

Database System Startups Capitulate

In the last decade, there have been many database system startups, most of them aimed at the analytics market. In the last year, several of the most prominent ones have sold out to large companies. Here are my notes on what has happened.

Netezza to IBM
Netezza is database appliance that uses hardware assistance to do search. Recently it has been quite successful, with revenues getting into the $200M range. Netezza was founded in 2000 and sold out to IBM for $1.7B. The deal closed in November 2010. The Netezza hardware assistance is a gismo near the disk head that decides which data to read. Many people, myself included, think that special purpose hardware in this application is of marginal value at best. You can get better price performance and much more flexibility with commodity hardware and clever software. IBM seems to be keeping Netezza at arms length as a separate company and brand, which is unusual as IBM normally integrates the companies it buys into its existing product lines.

Greenplum to EMC
Greenplum is a massive multi-processor database system. For example, Brian Dolan told the BI SIG last year how Fox Interactive Media (MySpace) used a 40 host Greenplum database system to do their data analytics. The company was founded in 2003. The sale to EMC closed in July 2010. The price is rumoured to be somewhere at the top of the $300M to $400M range. EMC is a storage system vendor that has been growing very fast, partly by acquiring successful companies. EMC owns VMWare (virtualization), RSA (security) and many other businesses. The Greenplum acquisition adds big data to big storage.

Vertica to HP
Vertica is a columnar database system for analytics. The privately held company started in 2005 with respected database guru Mike Stonebreaker as a founder. The sale was announced in February 2011. The sale price has not been announced. I have heard a rumour of $180M which seems low, although the company received only $30M in VC funding. Initially Vertica seemed to be doing well, however in the last year it seems to have lost momentum.

The other interesting part of this equation is HP which used to be a big partner with Oracle for database software. When Oracle bought HP hardware rival Sun Microsystems in 2009, HP was left in a dangerous position as they did not have a database system to call their own. I was surprised that nobody commented on this at the time. In the analytics area, HP tried to fill in with the NeoView database system, which proved to be such a disaster that they recently cancelled it and bought Vertica instead. NeoView was based on the Tandem transaction processing database system. Firstly, it is difficult to get database system that is optimized for doing large numbers of small transactions to do large analytic queries well, and the Tandem system is highly optimized for transaction processing. Secondly, the Tandem database system only ran on the most expensive hardware that HP had to offer so it was very expensive to implement.

Aster Data Systems to Teradata
Aster Data is a massive multi-processor database system, which in theory is a little more flexible about using a cluster of hosts than Greenplum. The company was founded in 2006 and sold out to Teradata for about $300M in March 2011. Teradata, founded in 1979 and acquired by NCR in 1991 was spun out of NCR in 2007 and since then has been sucessfully growing in the data warehouse space. It is not clear how Aster Data and Teradata will integrate their product lines. One thing is that Aster data gives Teradata a scalable offering in the cloud computing space. Teradata has been angling to get into this space for some time as we heard last summer when Daniel Graham spoke the the BI SIG.

Recently there have been a lot of database systems startups, and several of them are still independent. On the other side, there are not a lot of companies that might want to buy a database systems vendor. Furthermore, there is a strong movement to NoSQL databases which are easier to develop and where there are several strong contenders. The buyout prices are good, but apart from Netezza the prices are no blowout. The VCs behind these sales probably decided that they do not want to be left standing when the music stops and so sold out for a good but not great profit.

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