Data cloud, datastructure, and the end of the EDW

There have been a spate of reports and blog posts recently postulating about the potential demise of the enterprise data warehouse (EDW) in the light of big data and evolving approaches to data management.

There are a number of connected themes that have led the likes of Colin White and Barry Devlin to ponder the future of the EDW, and as it happens I’ll be talking about these during our 451 Client event in San Francisco on Wednesday.

While my presentation doesn’t speak directly to the future of the EDW, it does cover the trends that are driving the reconsideration of the assumption that the EDW is, and should be, the central source of business intelligence in the enterprise.

As Colin points out, this is an assumption based on historical deficiencies with alternative data sources that evolved into best practices. “Although BI and BPM applications typically process data in a data warehouse, this is only because of… issues… concerning direct access [to] business transaction data. If these issues could be resolved then there would be no need for a data warehouse.”

The massive improvements in processing performance seen since the advent of data warehousing means that it is now more practical to process data where it resides, or is generated rather than forcing data to be held in a central data warehouse.

For example, while distributed caching was initially adopted to improve the performance of Web and financial applications, it also provides an opportunity to perform real-time analytics on application performance and user behaviour (enabling targeted ads for example) long before the data get anywhere near the data warehouse.

While the central EDW approach has some advantages for data control, security and reliability, this has always been more theoretical than practical, as there is the need for regional and departmental data marts, and users continue to use local copies of data.

As we put it in last year’s Data Warehousing 2009-2013 report:

“The approach of many users now is not to stop those distributed systems from being created, but rather to ensure that they can be managed according to the same data-quality and security rules as the EDW.

With the application of cloud computing capabilities to on-premises infrastructure, users now have the promise of distributed pools of enterprise data that marry central management with distributed use and control, empowering business users to create elastic and temporary data marts without the risk of data-mart proliferation.”

The concept of the “data cloud” is nascent, but companies such as eBay are pushing in that direction, while also making use of data storage and processing technologies above and beyond traditional databases.

Hadoop is a prime example, but so too are the infrastructure components that are generating vast amounts of data that can be used by the enterprise to better understand how the infrastructure is helping or hindering the business in responding to changing demands.

For the 451 client event we have come up with the term ‘datastruture’ to describe these infrastructure elements. What is ‘datastructure’? It’s the machines that are responsible for generating machine-generated data.

While that may sound like we’ve just slapped a new label on existing technology we believe that those data-generating machines will evolve over time to take advantage of improved available processing power with embedded data analytics capabilities.

Just as in-database analytics has enabled users to reduce data processing latency by taking the analytics to the data in the database, it seems likely that users will look to do the same for machine-generated data by taking the analytics to the data in the ‘datastructure’.

This ‘datastructure’ with embedded database and analytics capabilties therefore becomes part of the wider ‘data cloud’, alongside regional and departmental data marts, and the central business application data warehouse, as well as the ability to spin up and provision virtual data marts.

As Barry Devlin puts it: “A single logical storehouse is required with both a well-defined, consistent and integrated physical core and a loose federation of data whose diversity, timeliness and even inconsistency is valued.”

Making this work will require new data cloud management capabilities, as well as an approach to data management that we have called “total data”. As we previously explained:

“Total data is about more than data volumes. It’s about taking a broad view of available data sources and processing and analytic technologies, bringing in data from multiple sources, and having the flexibility to respond to changing business requirements…

Total data involves processing any data that might be applicable to the query at hand, whether that data is structured or unstructured, and whether it resides in the data warehouse, or a distributed Hadoop file system, or archived systems, or any operational data source – SQL or NoSQL – and whether it is on-premises or in the cloud.”

As for the end of the EDW, both Colin and Barry argue, and I agree, that what we are seeing does not portend the end of the EDW but recognition that the EDW is a component of business intelligence, rather than the source of all business intelligence itself.

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#1 Miguel on 02.25.11 at 7:12 am

You seem to be very far away from the reality of today’s companies. IT is suffering not to build, even to understand the concept of EDW and you are stating here that the concept is old fashion… Throwing tech terms and unexisting or at least unproven technologies doesn’t help your readers…

#2 Matthew Aslett on 02.27.11 at 2:15 am

Hi Miguel, we are forward thinking, no doubt, but our predictions are based around the strategies and concepts being deployed by early adopter organisations driving the evolution of the industry. It is in part precisely because people are struggling to deploy EDWs that they need to look beyond the concept. The EDW cannot deliver the single, centralised version of the truth it was supposed to, so companies are accepting that are and exploring other strategies.