Don DeLoach's CEO Blog
I was reflecting over Thanksgiving dinner about the recently completed US election. The back-and-forth about “our plan” versus “your plan” versus “jobs” versus “tax cuts” has tapered off a bit post-election. But it hasn’t totally gone away. And lots of people have the same view today that they had a month ago in terms of whether the economy will be well served or undermined by the election results. Many of these folk fall into two sub-categories. The first subgroup is made of people in the US who believe the outcome of the election was not really going to make a material impact on the economic outlook, one way or the other. The second subgroup is much, much larger. It is made of people everywhere else in the world, where concerns about the economy on both a local and globe basis are ongoing. In Europe, there is widespread concern about the gravity of the economies ranging from Greece to Ireland to Spain and others. Asia has a different set of worries. And while many feel the economies in North America, the U.S. in particular, is beginning to rebound, it is hardly "strong." So what does that mean as far as technology?
Pretty simple. It means technologists are being asked to spend less while getting more done. This is not the first time this has happened, and it certainly won't be the last. But the interesting phenomenon that is taking place now is the emerging landscape of new tools that can actually deliver significant improvements at radically reduced costs. I highly recommend the report from Peter Goldmacher at Cowen & Company from 2011 which showed tremendous gains to be realized through emerging technologies. This was followed with a subsequent report highlighting organizational migration away from many conventional technology vendors. This is not to say that Hadoop is a silver bullet to fix all your technology ailments any more than it is to say that you can rip out SAP tomorrow. But it does suggest that there is ample opportunity for organizations to benefit by understanding the sea change that is upon us.
At Infobright we see this everyday. Our value proposition reflects this sea change in way that could hardly be any more straightforward. If your business (or solution offering) has a need to store and analyze machine-generated data, we can help you do that much more cost-effectively then more traditional and general purpose alternatives. That's it.
I think hard times make you better. When I was in college, I learned to work on my car because I couldn't afford the mechanic. Professional athletes will tell you they learn more in defeat that in victory. The people of New Orleans will tell you they are stronger and more resilient for having been through the massive devastation and challenges they faced. I had a conversation last year with the CEO of one of our customers who told me he challenged his team to do more with less, and they came back after a couple weeks and said with about $500,000 additional investment they could get a 2x improvement on their current system. He said "they did not understand I wanted a 10x improvement for $50,000". In then end, that's pretty much what they got, but it takes thinking differently sometimes to make that jump. And hard times push people to do that.
As my father said to me when I was very young, "something good comes out of everything."
I have this conversation now all the time. I am not entirely sure about this, but I think the facial expressions I see might be very similar to the ones witnessed by Moonies or Tom Cruise when he's jumping on couches or talking about Scientology. That does not damper my enthusiasm however, although it may lead to my wife and me being invited to fewer parties. But it remains my favorite conversation. I call it the "M2M wave will change the world as we know it" conversation. It goes something like this…
In the late 80s and early 90s, nobody was really surfing the web or thinking in terms of the internet. Fast forward ten years and everyone is plugged in. Ten years more and everyone is plugged in via a smart phone, on Facebook, and generally existing in a hyper-extended virtual world: all facilitated by the internet. Life changed and, in a way, we will never - and really can never - look back. Some resist, some embrace; but it is the reality of our world today. One thing is for certain, the internet also fostered a boom of technology companies as it changed life as we know it.
Today, I think we are in a similar position to where we were in the early 90s, but the distinction is a little more subtle. The internet is not about to happen - it already did. There isn't going to be another one. But at first, the internet allowed everyone to go to web sites and read things. More recently, it allows people to go to websites and do things, like trade stocks or check into flights, or donate money, and much, much more. In fact, now all of these things are now made possible via mobile applications as well riding over the internet. The last few years have been characterized by some as the "era of the handset." I think that's true. The projections on handsets connected to the internet is expected to exceed the number of people on earth in the not-too-distant future. That means cell phones are extending beyond the reach of electricity. And while that does represent a bit of sea change in terms of how we exploit technology, the real wave, the next wave, the "dawn of the internet" type wave is, I truly believe, the coming of M2M solutions. Some will call this the "era of the device." Machine talking to machines. No human intervention and/or some human interaction, but a completely new day. And that day will be here in no time.
What is that day, exactly? It's the one where your refrigerator "talks" to your power meter, which in turn coordinates with your washing machine, thermostat, and ultimately the power generation station and substation responsible for delivering power into your house. And the thermostat "talks" to the weatherman, or should I say, weather devices that provide instructions on heating and cooling based on weather changes. Your body may be "talking" to your phone to "tell it" that your blood sugar is too low, or your heartbeat is too fast, or your temperature is too high, and your phone many then "call" the doctor, or the pharmacy, or some other medical provider, and you may be automatically scheduled to go see the doctor. So you get in your car, which already "knows" where you are going and drives you there. You don't drive, the car does. It "talks" to the traffic system, routing or re-routing based on what it is being "told," and driving headed on a precise understanding of where it is, all the while sensing everything that is around it, including how fast or slow other cars are moving relative to it. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.
This is the world of smart grids for energy. This is the world of intelligent cars and smart cities. This is the world of mobile health. IBM calls it the "Smarter Planet." Many are now referencing "the internet of things." And many, many companies are getting extremely deep in their understanding and potential exploitation of this, including Cisco, Vodaphone, Siemens, GE, Hitachi, IBM, EMC, Oracle, Huawei, Fujitsu, Microsoft, and on and on and on. This is the surest indication that the vision becomes the reality.
At Infobright we are so laser locked into this because the fuel for all of this is machine-generated-data. That is what we do all day, every day. And we do it well. And we love it. And, we believe it will literally change the world. Literally.
How cool is that?
When I joined Prime Computer in 1984, there was an emerging market call "GIS" which stands for Geographic Information Systems. This had basically evolved from "computer mapping" then "AM/FM" (Automated Mapping and Facilities Management), which basically utilized thematic maps to mostly overlay utilities' infrastructures on maps. Then came ESRI (the Environmental Systems Research Institute). While ESRI had been around since 1969, they were really pioneering the use of data in the world of computer-based mapping. The maps themselves were merely a spatial lens into the data. ESRI was a big partner of Prime, and I really liked what they were doing. By 1987, I had become a "GIS Specialist." In reality, I knew very little. But GIS was a very, very hot topic then. Everyone wanted to get in on the action. And because of this, I learned a very simple but important lesson: if you know 15% of a topic that almost everyone only knows 2%, then you appear to almost everyone as an expert. Really.
Nowadays, everyone wants in on Hadoop. The more advanced people extend these discussions to NoSQL as well. Yet, many, many people in the technology space still don't understand much about Hadoop, other than they must need it and need it fast. This was the GIS phenomenon in 1987. I was recently at a conference where there were several big Hadoop shops. There were also several, seemingly sophisticated organizations expressing the need they felt to move in that direction, though they clearly had no idea what they were really talking about. Many of these people were higher up in their organizations, so perhaps there were much more sophisticated technologists involved below them in their organizations. But decisions are often made by people who really don't understand much about what they are doing. I hear that from time to time from my own team! That is actually OK to a point, but I truly believe it makes great sense for decision-makers to understand very, very basic aspects of technology when the well-being of their organizations are dependent on technology and the decisions they either make or approve. So here goes my quick attempt to get the Hadoop 2%ers up to 10% to 15%.
What Hadoop is:
- A collection of (free) open source programs available from the Apache Foundation. These programs mainly include a file system, capabilities for writing processing logic, distributing processing over large numbers of systems and gathering back the results, and creating a data warehouse structure for summarization, query, and analysis. Hadoop is continually evolving via the Apache Foundation.
- There are a number of companies who have commercialized the distributions to provide added value capabilities and support that make Hadoop more desirable in commercial production environments. The main four are Cloudera, HortonWorks, EMC, and MapR. In these cases, it is, of course, no longer free. However, you are paying for the support and added value.
- It is a proven platform for storing very large amounts of unstructured data. This is more and more a need in industries ranging from digital advertising and social networking to financial services to telecommunications to government, especially defense.
- It is a platform that can scale, utilizing a large number of commodity distributed-processing resources effectively
What Hadoop is not:
- It is not a silver bullet that will solve all your technology problems
- It is not a technology that can be deployed without administrative people to establish or maintain the environment, so there are people costs involved
- It is not an interactive environment (in and of itself), nor is it a real-time system
- It is not mature (yet), but it's definitely getting there
Where it can often be really effective:
- Your organization has to deal with very, very large amounts of unstructured data, like a video advertising organization such as LiveRail
- Your organization needs to sort and manipulate large amounts of unstructured and semi-structured data, such as a developing and deploying mobile advertising campaigns like inMobi
- Your organization needs to index large amounts of data, such as an online brand management like AdSafe Media
Where it is not as effective:
- When you are constrained in terms of talent. Hadoop talent is much in demand, in part because it is quite necessary for establishing and maintaining a Hadoop environment. And as a result, as you might expect, Hadoop expertise is not inexpensive.
- If you run an operation with limited numbers of servers, it is more difficult to take advantage of Hadoop's capabilities. The same is true for available storage.
- If you need to perform an very heavy computational analysis against a small amount of data
- If you need to perform interactive investigative analytics like ad-hoc queries agains large amounts of data
Basic commentary: The main takeaway I always suggest to people is that there is no silver bullet. In reality, Hadoop is often used in combination with other technologies. Of course, I was prompted to write this based on the growing number of Infobright customers using Infobright in combination with Hadoop. This is a very simple, yet powerful approach, whereby Hadoop may provide a main repository of mountains of semi-structured and unstructured data, but periodically run Map-Reduce jobs to collect smaller mountains of data which is moved into Infobright. That can be automated and very easy to do, and once the data is in Infobright, it becomes very easily interrogated, including robust ad-hoc query support. It also is then accessible using the BI tools sets used in almost any company, including Jaspersoft, Pentaho, MicroStrategies, Cognos, Actuate/BIRT, Business Objects, and many, many more, not to mention Java, PhP, and other common programming languages as well.
But it all comes down to a few basic questions. What are you trying to accomplish? How much data to you have and what does it look like? What do you need to do with the data? Who needs to use the data and in what form? If you want to expose information through a portal for customers to interactively inquire about their operations, you will take a different approach than if you want to provide a repository for archiving documents. Again, it all comes down to the use case, and seldom is there one technology that solves all the problems...even Hadoop. But the right technologies, deployed in the right combinations, can be very, very powerful.
One last thought. There are a number of major players in the Hadoop and NoSQL market that have communicated that as knowledge of Hadoop grows, the true need for most executives to really understand it will actually diminish. The reason for this is that the true value of these technologies will ultimately be delivered as an underlying component of the applications that utilize them. I totally agree with that. In fact, more and more of our customers and revenues are a function of exactly that model, where Infobright is embedded in applications delivered by our OEM solution partners. And I think this is going to be true for many of the emerging technologies we are seeing as well.
If anything, the message to CEO's should be this: make sure you have very strong technology architectural talent in your organization. Make sure they are aware of and conversant in the technology landscape, as your real opportunity will truly come in the combinations of the right technologies for your business. Doing this right can deliver significant competitive advantages in terms of increased savings and advanced capabilities.
By the way, Infobright is used alongside Hadoop with each of the examples in this blog. And many, many more.
I have been in the technology business all my life. I have worked with some inspirational sales leaders and executive leaders. I have known fantastic sales support people, and administrative people who deserve more credit than could ever be given. Likewise, I have seen examples on the dark side. These include sales people willing to twist the truth for a deal, executives engrossed in themselves and icons of hypocrisy, and technologists who were often wrong but never in doubt, causing undue damage to those around them.
Without elaborating on anything other than the technologists, some of the great sales, operational, or executive leaders were Steve Capelli at Sybase, Chuck Wilmoth at Prime Computer, my late friend and CFO of Aleri Janine Condor, and Mark Logan and Brian Ladyman at YOUcentric, though all for different reasons. I will save the what and why regarding them for a later day. Today, I want to speak about four technologists who have impressed me above and beyond the rest.
The first is Jim Dow. I have long lost touch with Jim, but he ran the Computer-Aided Engineering group at Southern Company in the early 1980s. Jim had a profound understanding of technology architecture and its technological and business implications. Jim was frustrated with incompetence and delighted in true advancement. He was as articulate as he was smart, and would speak often and passionately about the implications of new technologies and on the challenges faced on many fronts.
The second is Dave Walker. I met Dave when he was a consultant, acting in an interim VP of Technology role at Aleri when I took over there. Dave is the complete package. He has the instinctive architectural understanding of Jim Dow, but couples that with very pragmatic, hands-on delivery to customers with exceptional results. Customers love him because he delivers way more value than what he is paid, which is non-trivial. But Dave is also a great guy. He is ethical and straightforward, clear in his communications and upbeat in his demeanor.
The third is Jerry Baulier. He actually took over as the CTO at Aleri and drove the development of the Aleri Complex Event Processing System. Jerry is a deep database technologist, coming out of Bell Labs. He has a profound respect for technology, not unlike many of the colleages he brought on board (spectacular in their own right) like Jon Riecke and Scott Koledczieski. Jerry is understated but firm, and cares deeply about both his team and the products they build.
The last is our own Graham Toppin. Graham is a bit of a renaissance technologist, with perhaps the broadest range of techology understanding I know. He both loves technology and truly appreciates the future, even though some around him can't always see that far. He is at his best when engaged in the healthy debate over various aspects of technology, ranging from ways to solve a significant challenge to the pros and cons of an architectural vision. He seems to get the linkages well before they become clear to others, but crafts that vision into what we do—which is deliver a product uniquely suited for storing and analyzing machine-generated data. This is awesome today, but in Graham's view, never done. As it should be. And he cares as passionately about customers being successful with our products as any human being I have ever seen.
So what message do I get from this? First, a good technologist has to be passionate about technology. It is more of a calling than a job. Second, they have to put in the time. I guess that, in part, is fueled by the passion, but in each case these people invest countless hours to understand the landscape and what the broad scope of technology opportunity means in the context of any of their initiatives. And third, they have to be able to communicate this opportunity. This is an art form. Some have it, but few have it like these guys.
One last note. Roger Bodamer is an advisor to Infobright. Had I worked operationally with Roger, I am sure he would be on this list. He fits all of the traits and then some. He is a technologist I would bet on all day any day, and many have and still do. We love having Roger as an advisor, and on a personal note, as a friend.