Monday, August 2, 2010

Thoughts on Kickfire’s apparent demise

There have been some recent conflicting reports on the future prospects of Kickfire’s analytical database technology. Forbes reported a couple of months ago that Kickfire sold $5 million worth of boxes in their first year of existence (they launched their product in April 2009), and was extremely positive about Kickfire’s outlook. Then, a couple of months later, Curt Monash reported that Kickfire was discontinuing their product, and selling their IP and engineers. Obviously, Monash is the more reliable source here (and I independently heard a rumor from a reputable source that Teradata was acquiring Kickfire at a “firesale” price).

In my interactions with the company, I have been impressed with Raj Cherabuddi and members of the Kickfire technical team, and it is always sad when good technology fails to gain any traction in the marketplace. I’m also sad (though obviously to a lesser extent) to see the many thousands of words I have written about Kickfire in this blog (including an in-depth post on their technology) become largely obsolete. In fact, one of the first posts I wrote for this blog was on the subject of Kickfire --- a mostly positive post --- but questioning their go-to-market strategy. In that post, I took issue with the assumption that there is a “mass market” for data warehousing in the MySQL ecosystem, especially for a proprietary approach like Kickfire's. The CEO of Kickfire kindly took the time to respond to this original post, quoting a bunch of IDC numbers about the size of the MySQL data warehouse market. I chose to respond to this comment in a separate post, in which I said (amongst other things):

"The point of my post was that I think the [MySQL data warehouse] market is smaller than these [IDC] numbers indicate. Sure, there are a lot of MySQL deployments, but that's because it's free. The number of people actually paying for the MySQL Enterprise Edition is far less, but those are probably the people who'd be willing to pay for a solution like Kickfire's. Furthermore, […] a lot of people who use MySQL for warehousing are using sharded MySQL, which is nontrivial (or at least not cheap) to port to non-shared-nothing solutions like Kickfire and Infobright. Finally, the amount of data that corporations are keeping around is increasing rapidly, and the size of data warehouses are doubling faster than Moore's law. So even if most warehouses today are pretty small, this might not be the case in the future. I'm a strong believer that MPP shared-nothing parallel solutions are the right answer for the mass market of tomorrow. Anyway, the bottom line is that I'm openly wondering if the market is actually much smaller than the IDC numbers would seem to suggest. But obviously, if Kickfire, Infobright, or Calpont achieves a large amount of success without changing their market strategy, I'll be proven incorrect."

I think the above paragraph lists two of the three most probable reasons why Kickfire seems to have failed:

(1) Building a propriety database stack of hardware and software around a MySQL codebase that attributes much of its success to being open and free is a poor cultural match.

(2) Trying to make it in the "Big Data Era" without a scalable MPP product is a recipe for disaster. It is well known that over 95% of data warehouses are smaller than 5TB, and that MPP is not strictly necessary for less than 5TB, so it is easy to get into the trap of Kickfire’s thinking that the mass market is addressable without building a MPP product. However, businesses are looking forward, and seeing much more data in their future (whether this is wishful or realistic thinking is entirely irrelevant), and can often be reluctant to select a product with known scalability limits.

(The third alternative reason why Kickfire might have failed is the TPC-H benchmark orientation. It is really easy to spend a lot of time working on an analytical database to get it to run TPC-H --- even optimizing it for TPC-H --- before realizing that the marketing benefit that the product gets from stellar TPC-H numbers does not justify the time investment of getting it to run --- and in fact find out that many of the features that were added for TPC-H are not actually used by real-life customers.)

It is tempting to add a fourth reason for Kickfire’s demise --- the long list of failed hardware-accelerated DBMS companies and Kickfire’s obvious inclusion in this group. However, I believe that Netezza’s success is a demonstration of the potential of the benefits of hardware acceleration and the appliance approach in the modern era where the rate of performance improvements with each successive processor generation is slowing significantly.

Anyway, RIP Kickfire (assuming the rumors are correct). Good technology. Bad go-to-market strategy. Tough fit for the “Big Data” era.


  1. Thanks Daniel for this very good analyze.

    Over here in Europe, a lot actually think that non MPP DBMS could be a market success, even for "small" databases, pushed by the opensource (read: MySQL) momentum. But it is a big mistake!!

    I think that Calpont has a promising future, provided its GTM is correct and if it backups its DBMS strategy with Postgres or Ingres.

    I never heard of the rumor about Teradata (I am an ex Teradata myself)and Kickfire, but it would certainly make sense. Teradata has always suffered from a too "high end" image.
    With Kickfire (or other!), it could very smartly address an increasing SME market where he is currently out.
    BTW, SME for the US means very often "big account" for Europe...

  2. Kickfire did have some excellent engineers, and it just happens that ScaleDB is looking to hire DB kernel experts and we're local, drop us a line.