Entries from February 2010 ↓

Saying yes to NoSQL

As a company, The 451 Group has built its reputation on taking a lead in covering disruptive technologies and vendors. Even so, with a movement as hyped as NoSQL databases, it sometimes pays to be cautious.

In my role covering data management technologies for The 451 Group’s Information Management practice I have been keeping an eye on the NoSQL database movement for some time, taking the time to understand the nuances of the various technologies involved and their potential enterprise applicability.

That watching brief has now spilled over into official coverage, following our recent assessment of 10gen. I also recently had the chance to meet up with Couchio’s VP of business development, Nitin Borwankar (see coverage initiation of Couchio). I’ve also caught up with Basho Technologies sooner rather than later. A report on that is now imminent.

There are a couple of reasons why I have formally began covering the NoSQL databases. The first is the maturing of the technologies, and the vendors behind them, to the point where they can be considered for enterprise-level adoption. The second is the demand we are getting from our clients to provide our view of the NoSQL space and its players.

This is coming both from the investment community and from existing vendors, either looking for potential partnerships or fearing potential competition. The number of queries we have been getting related to NoSQL and big data have encouraged articulation of my thoughts, so look-out for a two-part spotlight on the implications for the operational and analytical database markets in the coming weeks.

The biggest reason, however, is the recognition that the NoSQL movement is a user-led phenomena. There is an enormous amount of hype surrounding NoSQL but for the most part it is not coming from vendors like 10gen, Couchio and Basho (although they may not be actively discouraging it) but from technology users.

A quick look at the most prominent key-value and column-table NoSQL data stores highlights this. Many of these have been created by user organizations themselves in order fill a void and overcome the limitations of traditional relational databases – for example Google (BigTable), Yahoo (Hbase), Zvents (Hypertable), LinkedIn (Voldemort), Amazon (Dynamo), and Facebook (Cassandra).

It has become clear that traditional database technologies do need meet the scalability and performance requirements of dealing with big data workloads, particularly at a scale experienced by social networking services.

That does raise the question of how applicable these technologies will be to enterprises that do not share the architecture of the likes of Google, Facebook and LinkedIn – at least in the short-term. Although there are users – Cassandra users include Rackspace, Digg, Facebook, and Twitter, for example.

What there isn’t – for the likes of Cassandra and Voldemort, at least – is vendor-based support. That inevitably raises questions about the general applicability of the key-value/column table stores. As Dave Kellog notes, “unless you’ve got Google’s business model and talent pool, you probably shouldn’t copy their development tendencies”.

Given the levels of adoption it seems inevitable that vendors will emerge around some of these projects, not least since, as Dave puts it, “one day management will say: ‘Holy Cow folks, why in the world are we paying programmers to write and support software at this low a level?'”

In the meantime, it would appear that the document-oriented data stores (Couchio’s CouchDB, 10gen’s MongoDB, Basho’s Riak) are much more generally applicable, both technologically and from a business perspective. UPDATE – You can also add Neo Technology and its graph database technology to that list).

In our forthcoming two-part spotlight on this space I’ll articulate in more detail our view on the differentiation of the various NoSQL databases and other big data technologies and their potential enterprise applicability. The first part, on NoSQL and operational databases, is here.

Goodbye Newssift, we hardly knew you

Newssift, which was set up by the FT Search unit within the Financial Times and launched in March 2009 was shut down recently after just a few months in full operation. We looked  at it from time and time and obviously looked at it closely at launch time, talked to the executive in charge of it (who also appears to have left the FT) and to most of the vendors that supplied the technology – namely Endeca, Lexalytics, Nstein and Reel Two.

But the fact that people like us only looked at it from time was indicative of the problems the site apparently had. According to a source at one of the technology suppliers, the site was sticky once people had stayed around on it for the first time, but  those new users were hard to come by and those that didn’t persist that first time didn’t find a reason to come back.

But Newssift’s loss is a bit of a blow to those in the text analysis industry, as it was supposed to be a flagship application of the technology, brought to market by one of the pre-eminent publishers in the world. That combination apparently wasn’t enough to make it succeed.

The thing that reminded us to look at it was yesterday’s acquisition of Nstein technologies by fellow Canadian content management player (and roll-up machine) Open Text for $35m, which seems to be a case primarily of Open Text consolidating its industry as long as it can get a good price, rather than being a deal for customers or technology.

We probably should have been using Newssift daily rather than relying on M&A to jog our memory as to its existence. But we weren’t, and now it’s gone .

Thoughts on EMC – FatWire partnership

There is news that EMC has a new partnership with FatWire Software for WCM.  There are a few components to this deal, as we understand it:

  • EMC will resell FatWire Content Server in a new package called EMC Web Experience Management by FatWire.
  • EMC will have rights to resell the whole FatWire portfolio.
  • EMC has made an undisclosed equity investment in FatWire.
  • FatWire will resell the EMC DAM product.
  • FatWire will develop apps on Documentum xCP.

It’s a substantial partnership and an admission that EMC’s own efforts in WCM weren’t cutting it with customers.  Still, it falls short of the rumored acquisition.  Why?  The two vendors claim a partnership gives EMC access to high-end WCM technology while letting FatWire remain nimble enough to develop products quickly and be more responsive to market needs — the equity investment is meant to help FatWire along these lines.  This makes some sense as acquired WCM often gets lost in a larger ECM vendor.  But with the market consolidation that has already occurred in this sector, EMC is taking on some risk relying on a third-party for its WCM rather than owning it outright.

Apparently it’s a risk EMC is willing to take, which we take to mean that WCM isn’t seen as strategic enough to EMC to do the acquisition.  That’s not all that surprising really.  WCM is as much (if not more) a part of marketing automation these days as it is part of the sorts of ECM apps EMC is invested in.  Buying WCM at this point would mean making some commitment to continued innovation in areas of online marketing (e.g., multivariate testing, web analytics etc.) that don’t relate much to other areas of EMC’s business.  EMC is focusing on its core transactional document management apps and information governance opportunities that tie records management to archiving and e-discovery.  WCM doesn’t really have much to do with any of that.

FatWire’s products will essentially replace EMC’s WCM assets (though EMC hasn’t yet announced specific products or timelines for end-of-life, but that will come) and so this is potentially a boon to FatWire’s sales, insomuch as EMC can sell FatWire’s software.  If this partnership does have a material impact on FatWire’s sales, it could impact its ability to be acquired by another vendor, at least at a valuation it might want.  So this could be a big deal for FatWire, one way or another.

LegalTech New York 2010 Wrap-Up

Nick and I spoke with about 30 software & service providers at LegalTech in New York this year; that’s in addition to the 30-some briefings (with some overlaps) last month for March’s upcoming annual e-Discovery report. We have a more comprehensive LegalTech wrap-up of vendor developments and shifts in the market landscape for our clients here , but here are some of the themes that came up at this year’s well-attended show. ALSO: we’re still soliciting end user participation in our e-discovery user survey, which you or your customers can access here, or contact me for more information  – all participants will receive a copy of the results.

Defensibility and the Scheindlin Opinion: Judge Scheindlin’s ruling in University of Montreal Pension Plan v. Banc of America was a hot topic, particularly the 85-page opinion “Zubulake Revisited: Six Years Later.” (pdf) It defines culpability for defensibility failures in ediscovery, i.e. what constitutes negligence, gross negligence and willfulness. Some of these include failure to issue a legal hold, incomplete collections, destruction of email or tapes, failure to preserve metadata and failure to determine accuracy and validity of search terms. It’s great to see some concrete guidelines, with obvious implications for e-discovery software and services. I found a concise wrap up here and from law.com here.  Software vendors are taking note, and already incorporating the ruling into their marketing.

Price sensitivity: Increased competition in the ediscovery market, lower budgets in legal departments, and more flexible law firm pricing due to pre-review data culling, LPO, AFA’s, etc. all contributed to greater industry price sensitivity this year, with more customer choices and influence in the market. Software and service vendors expanded pricing options and continued to target the outside legal spend from general counsel in their offerings. E-discovery service providers added per-gigabyte contract review to their software and service processes, and offered either “review management” or extensive collaboration with outside counsel. Software vendors offered more project management and monitoring capabilities for tracking time, cost and productivity. Collaboration workflows designed to lower outside counsel fees came up. Vendors increasingly talked about reuse of reviewed documents as another cost savings measure for serial litigants. Some vendor messaging was downright conspiratorial in insinuating that corporate legal could use software to throttle the law firm spend; although many e-discovery vendors have large law firm customer bases, the enterprise accounts remain lucrative and coveted.

New software releases: With deal sizes decreasing at some of the highest price points, there has been increased competition both from upstarts aiming to undercut the bigger names and the bigger names making a play for the mid-market. We heard a lot of “flat is the new up” last year, and many vendors seem to be hustling even harder to win customers by expanding to platforms or trying to tick all the RFI boxes with new features of varying validity. Even more than last year, vendors claim to be end to end and predict that customers want one throat to choke, and they’re attached to it. The customer market is more educated and savvy about its own requirements this year, which lowered the marketing artistry quotient quite a bit, but some of the features we saw added for legal hold, data mapping, retention and disposition policy, review, collaboration, and workflow are better than others. As much as customers may be tired of stringing together point tools with additional budget line items for auxiliary integration or conversion costs and extra fees, most of the products we’ve seen are not the silver bullets they promise – customers should continue to educate themselves about their organizational needs, what other companies are doing, and what the market has to offer. And vendors should consider that unhappy customers are usually the loudest ones.

Early case assessment: All the ECA product releases in the last year seem to have made it a de facto step in the ediscovery process, the only argument remaining is how early it should occur – as early as the initial data gathering at identification and collection, or just before review but after processing? The need for processing itself was a matter for debate – CaseCentral gave its direct Symantec Enterprise Vault connector a big push, but processing vendors advocate just as strongly for the benefits of thorough metadata extraction and preservation.

Information Management Reference Model: We missed the EDRM luncheon, but spoke with Reed Irvin of CA and Sandra Song of H5, the co-chairs of the group tasked with expanding the first box of the EDRM diagram into its own full Information Management Reference Model (IMRM). The working draft is a series of concentric circles outlining the information lifecycle from creation to retention, disposition, discovery and storage, including the architecture and business drivers behind these processes. We’ve written previously on the push for information governance in establishing a litigation preparedness and information management strategy, and are glad to see some structure and industry thought leadership put to these initiatives.

M&A: Lots of M&A buzz this year, unfortunately a lot of it speculation about vendors suspected to be looking for a necessarily swift exit.

A great show this year overall, and many thanks to everyone who took the time to speak with us.  We will be wrapping up the e-discovery report in the next month.  Watch this space.

Is Sybase buying Aleri?

Marc Adler and Marco Seiriö seem to think so.

Such a deal would seem a little strange coming less than a year after Sybase licensed the underlying complex event processing (CEP) engine for Sybase CEP from Coral8, immediately prior to Coral8’s acquisition by Aleri.

The terms of that licensing agreement provide a clue as to why Sybase would consider opening up its wallet again to snap up Aleri, however.

As Aleri insisted last March, “The licensing arrangement allows Sybase to embed CEP capabilities within and ONLY WITHIN Sybase products such as RAP”.

Sybase later confirmed (clients only) to us that this was indeed the arrangement and maintained that its strategy for CEP was to embed it within larger platform products.

As well as RAP – The Trading Edition, the company’s risk-analytics platform, Sybase also had plans to target opportunities in the telecommunications, healthcare and government sectors.

One justification for the acquisition of Aleri would be that it would allow Sybase to target those markets and other opportunities with a standalone CEP offering based on Aleri’s next-generation engine codenamed Ohio which is slated for roll-out in 2010 and is designed to include the best features from Aleri Streaming Platform and the Coral8 Engine and be backwards-compatible with both.

Then of course there are the Aleri/Coral assets beyond the core CEP engine, including the Aleri Studio visual modeling application, as well as dashboard and OLAP server capabilities, and packaged applications for risk and liquidity analysis and management.

As for why Aleri would sell out to Sybase – we certainly noted some trepidation from the company when we caught up (clients only) in September last year. While the company was buoyant about its plans for Ohio it was reticent to discuss details of customer wins/successes.

The only thing the company would say was that it had more than 80 customers, the number of combined customers when the merger closed.

At that point it was somewhat more confident, claiming (clients only) to be the largest pure-play CEP vendor in terms of headcount and customer base and revenue (although with none of the CEP vendors disclosing revenue figures, that last claim was always highly debatable).