HP snaps up Vertica

February 25, 2011
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So, another innovative start-up in the data warehousing space has succumbed to the blandishments of a richer, bigger suitor in a Valentine’s Day marriage!  Sorry, couldn’t resist the obvious parallels as HP and Vertica announced a match made in heaven on February 14th.

So, another innovative start-up in the data warehousing space has succumbed to the blandishments of a richer, bigger suitor in a Valentine’s Day marriage!  Sorry, couldn’t resist the obvious parallels as HP and Vertica announced a match made in heaven on February 14th.

Vertica, founded in 2005 by Dr. Michael Stonebraker (Berkley and MIT database guru) and Andrew Palmer, has had an enviable reputation for being a leading innovator and market success in the columnar database field in recent years.  Most recently, they have introduced a hybrid database model on top of the pure columnar database, giving some of the performance advantages of both row-based and column-based models.

On the other hand, HP’s status in the data warehousing field is unfortunately most closely tied to the slow-motion train-wreck that was Neoview, whose demise was confirmed in late January.

Of course, we must assume (as presumably HP does) that the Vertica team will bring both their innovative thinking and their undoubted cachet in the specialized data warehouse analytic database market to HP.  The question is: is this a reasonable assumption?

Sadly, in many cases it proves impossible to take external innovation and reputation and successfully embed it into a larger organization.  Whether it is the large organization ethos, the incumbent power structures or the existing technical skills, most acquisitions of smaller technological assets tend to underperform on their buyers’ expectations.  And the leadership team of the acquired company, both business and technical, often finds the new environment too challenging, and either leaves as soon as the golden handcuffs are undone or slips namelessly into the larger company culture and forgoes the innovative drive.

While fully understanding the economic realities involved for smaller companies in a market dominated by a relatively small number of enormous players, I am concerned that the trend towards increasing consolidation will kill the innovation we’ve seen blossoming in the data warehousing space in the past few years.  That would be a great shame, as the business needs that have emerged in recent times demand a significantly different model of business intelligence than we’ve followed over the past twenty years.  That model, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, requires advanced innovation from people who understand where we’ve come from in BI and both the possibilities and limitations of new technologies to solve tomorrow’s information challenges.

HP’s success with Vertica depends on economic and technological factors, for sure.  However, the most important will undoubtedly be organizational and political in nature.  Will HP, chastened by their clear failure with Neoview, step back and look at the market with fresh eyes and allow Vertica be a change agent in a new and emerging view of business insight?  Or will they attempt to compete with the market incumbents and cast their new Vertica database in the old roles of either buying market presence or playing technical catchup?

In the analytic database marketplace as of now, the mantle of independent innovation must now fall upon ParAccel, Aster Data and a few smaller, mostly open source vendors.