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Colin White

I like the various blogs associated with my many hobbies and even those to do with work. I find them very useful and I was excited when the Business Intelligence Network invited me to write my very own blog. At last I now have somewhere to park all the various tidbits that I know are useful, but I am not sure what to do with. I am interested in a wide range of information technologies and so you might find my thoughts will bounce around a bit. I hope these thoughts will provoke some interesting discussions.

About the author >

Colin White is the founder of BI Research and president of DataBase Associates Inc. As an analyst, educator and writer, he is well known for his in-depth knowledge of data management, information integration, and business intelligence technologies and how they can be used for building the smart and agile business. With many years of IT experience, he has consulted for dozens of companies throughout the world and is a frequent speaker at leading IT events. Colin has written numerous articles and papers on deploying new and evolving information technologies for business benefit and is a regular contributor to several leading print- and web-based industry journals. For ten years he was the conference chair of the Shared Insights Portals, Content Management, and Collaboration conference. He was also the conference director of the DB/EXPO trade show and conference.

Editor's Note: More articles and resourcesare available in Colin's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

March 2007 Archives

I seem to be reading more articles pointing out there are now much better options than using Google. If my experience is anything to go by I agree.

1. When evaluating search products for the enterprise, Google may have the mind share and the right price, but there seems to be universal agreement that Google search appliances don't approach the capabilities offered by Endeca, FAST and IBM. Why then are the BI vendors so pre-occupied with supporting Google? Perhaps they should be looking elsewhere.

2. I tried using Google's new blogging software, but it was the most bug-ridden and unusable piece of software I have come across in a long time. I sent bug reports to Google, but the reply said we read these, but don't guarantee to do anything about them.

3. I find more and more when researching the Web, Google may be okay for consumer products, but when it comes to technology research is superior and more usable. Perhaps advertisers should be looking elsewhere as well.

4. I have been using Google desktop search for a while, but it bogs down system performance and keeps hanging my computers. I have continued to use it for searching Outlook files because it is so much better than what Microsoft offers. Ken Rudin of LucidEra suggested I try X1, which is a replacement for Yahoo desktop search. It was like a breath of fresh air! It was way faster. more reliable, easier to use, and more capable.

Google's bloated and buggy products seem to resemble those of its main competitor. What's your experience?

Posted March 28, 2007 2:49 PM
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I read with interest Dataupia’s recent press release about its new management team. In it Foster Hinshaw (its President and CEO) is described as “the father of data warehouse appliances.” This started me thinking of whether there is a difference between being a father and being a creator, or inventor, of something. As the father and creator of my children I am very proud because I built them from the ground up. Most of the work of course was done by my wife, but it couldn’t have happened without me! Is this true of fathers in the IT industry? Did they really create and invent the technology they are the father of?

When thinking about fathers of information technology, topics like data warehousing, business intelligence and relational databases come to mind The people most often viewed as the fathers of these technologies are Bill Inmon, Howard Dresner, and Dr. Ted Codd, respectively. While there is no question that these people have made major contributions to the industry and brought each of their respective technologies to the forefront of people’s thinking, did they really “create” and “invent” the technology?

Let’s consider DW appliances first. As I stated in my previous blog, Netezza was one of the prime movers in getting DW appliances accepted in the industry. Before moving to Dataupia, Foster Hinshaw was the CTO of Netezza, and therefore played a major role in the birth of the DW appliance.

Appliances of course have been around for a long time. Think of toasters, for example (the bread kind, not the Battlestar Gallactica kind). In IT, Network Appliance was one of the first vendors to introduce a hardware appliance. Cisco routers and telephone switches can also be thought of as appliances.

I personally think DW appliances go back to the days of database machines. The creators of those machines were people like Phil Neches who designed the DBC/1012, which became Teradata’s first offering. Other key people at that time were David Britton and Geoffrey Lee who created the Britton-Lee database machine. Their company and technology was later renamed Sharebase. It was subsequently acquired by Teradata who buried it.

Howard Dressner, formerly with Gartner and now CSO of Hyperion (recently acquired by Oracle), is often associated with the term business intelligence. The wikipedia entry for business intelligence states, “In 1989 Howard Dressner, a Research Fellow at Gartner Group popularized “BI” as an umbrella term to describe a set of concepts and methods to improve business decision-making by using fact-based support systems.” I really like the word “popularized.”

On the data warehousing front, Bill Inmon is viewed as the father of data warehousing. The concept of data warehousing was actually invented largely in IBM by Barry Devlin, who (somewhat tongue in cheek) describes himself the “grandfather” of data warehousing.

Nobody would question that Dr. Codd is the father of the modern day relational DBMS. He was after all the inventor (and thus creator) of the relational model. Chris Date also played a major roll in making the world aware of Dr. Codd’s work. I don’t think he would mind me saying he “popularized” relational technology. He would be appalled, however, if I described him as the father of relational database.

The bottom line for me is that there are the inventors who create new technologies, and there are people who popularize them. These roles may be performed by the same people, but often they are not. Rather than people saying they are the “father” of something, I would prefer they said they “popularized” something. This is a less loaded term and has the same impact on the industry. I of course wouldn’t say I popularized my children!

Posted March 23, 2007 3:38 PM
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Data warehouse appliances are certainly creating mind share in the data warehousing industry these days. The buzz went up one notch today with Netezza filing for an IPO. Netezza was one of the first entrants in the DW appliance space. It helped create visibility for what has become a disruptive technology. Since then there have been several other entrants into this space and those companies can thank Netezza for doing the trail blazing.

The problem for the DW appliance vendors is that this market is becoming crowded. Not only are there new entrants like Datallegro, Dataupia and Paraccel, for example (company names don't get any easier do they!), but also system vendors such as IBM and HP are waking up to the fact that the appliance vendors are starting to erode some of their market share, and are now fighting back with one package and one install solutions.

While interviewing DW appliance customers for the study Richard Hackathorn and I are doing on DW appliances, one user remarked, "We don't use the term appliance, we just see it as a big computer." The bottom line here is that the vendor that produces a "big computer" for data warehousing with the best TCO, most flexibility, and best price is going to be the winner!

Posted March 23, 2007 1:25 PM
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It is interesting that whenever we talk about business intelligence we immediately think of it in the context of data warehousing. The two always go together, right? Wrong! I think we have been indoctrinated into thinking this way. We have lost sight of the fact that data warehousing only came about because we couldn’t design our operational systems right in the first place.

This point was brought home to me while teaching a class on operational BI with Claudia Imhoff at the recent DAMA conference. It became obvious that some people came into the seminar thinking of operational BI in terms of data warehousing. When I started talking about the concept that operational BI should be process driven and tightly integrated with (and possibly embedded in) operational processes, it came as somewhat of a surprise to some attendees that data warehousing didn’t appear in the picture.

I also discussed master data management (MDM) on the seminar. It would be reasonable to ask what MDM has got to do with operational BI. Well the problem is that some so-called operational BI applications are not really BI applications, they are MDM applications. An example would be creating a single view of the customer. This has nothing to do with BI. It’s an operational issue, not a decision support one. This doesn’t mean to say that integrated customer master data cannot be used in business intelligence processing.

Hub products that frantically move data into an operational data store or data warehouse to create a single view of something add latency to the data, and are simply papering over the cracks of master data problems, rather than trying to solve the issue at the source, i.e., in the operational systems.

We should be aiming to put less data into the data warehousing environment, not more. Our long term objective should be to eliminate the data warehouse. The first step in this process is to remove master data from both operational transaction systems and from the data warehouse. This data should be stored in a separate master data store (MDS) that is maintained by separate master data applications. We can start to do this as we redesign our operational systems and move to a services-oriented architecture. The MDM system simply becomes a service. In this scheme, the MDS contains both current and historical master data. Both operational and BI applications can access the master data by calling the MDM system as a service. Initially, for performance reasons, business view subsets of the master data may be replicated into a data warehouse to act as dimension tables.

Removing master data from the data warehouse has the advantage of also removing much of the complexity and many of the data quality problems from data warehouse design. A separate MDM environment also simplifies the operational data store (ODS). The ODS now only needs to contain integrated business transaction data. The ODS effectively becomes an operational transaction data store, or OTDS.

The concept of splitting an ODS into an MDS and an OTDS was well accepted by many of the seminar attendees. I have seen several companies in both the US and Europe do this. In some cases the decision support environment consists of an OTDS, MDS and data marts, i.e., there is no enterprise data warehouse. Heresy, I hear people say. My answer is that we have to start thinking outside of the box. For example, there are some very viable search technologies appearing that also enable organizations to build BI applications without the need for an data warehouse.

Some of my comments above are a little tongue in cheek. The objective is to get people to accept that a data warehouse is not always required for business intelligence, and as I said earlier, the long-term objective should be to eliminate the data warehouse. Comments?

Posted March 22, 2007 1:34 AM
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Following rapidly after SAP's acquisition of Pilot Software, Oracle announced this morning they intend to acquire Hyperion Solutions for $3.3 billion. This heats up the battle between Oracle and SAP for BI and analytical application mind share.

The proposed Oracle acquisition further complicates an already confusing Oracle BI product set. The two obvious questions come to mind. First, the acquisition of Hyperion gives Oracle two multi-dimensional database engines -- one embedded in the Oracle database product, the other is Hyperion Essbase. Second, Oracle's strategy to date has been to offer Siebel Analytics as its premier analytics environment. The Hyperion acquisition adds a second set of analytical capabilities. Whereas the Siebel and Hyperion analytic applications could be considered to compliment each other, the BI toolsets definitely overlap.

The SAP acquisition of Pilot Software adds capabilities that SAP was lacking. However, the Oracle acquisition definitely propels Oracle's BI capabilities beyond those of SAP. The challenge for Oracle will be to integrate its wide range of tools and applications.

The question is who is next? Can Business Objects and Cognos continue to grow given the pressure coming Microsoft, Oracle and SAP?

Posted March 1, 2007 8:38 AM
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