I came across a podcast the other day where host Ken Hess interviewed the CEO of Kickfire, Bruce Armstrong (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/FrugalFriday/2009/05/22/Frugal-Friday-with-guest-Bruce-Armstrong-CEO-KickFire --- note: Armstrong doesn't come on until the 30 minute mark and I suggest skipping to that since the discussion at the 17 minute mark made me a little uncomfortable). Kickfire intrigues me since they are currently at the top of TPC-H for price performance (http://www.tpc.org/tpch/results/tpch_price_perf_results.asp) at the 100 and 300GB data warehouse sizes (admittedly these are pretty small warehouses these days, but Kickfire feels that the market for small data warehouses is nothing to sneeze at). Although TPC-H has many faults, it is the best benchmark we have (as far as I know), and I've used it as the benchmark in several of my research papers.
In order for me to get excited about Kickfire, I have to ignore Mike Stonebraker's voice in my head telling me that DBMS hardware companies have been launched many times in the past are ALWAYS fail (the main reasoning is that Moore's law allows for commodity hardware to catch up in performance, eventually making the proprietary hardware overpriced and irrelevant). But given that Moore's law is transforming into increased parallelism rather than increased raw speed, maybe hardware DBMS companies can succeed now where they have failed in the past (Netezza is a good example of a business succeeding in selling proprietary DBMS hardware, though of course they will tell you that they use all commodity components in their hardware).
Anyway, the main sales pitch for Kickfire is that they want to do for data warehousing what Nvidia did for graphics processing: sell a specialized chip for data analysis applications currently running MySQL. The basic idea is that you would switch out your Dell box running MySQL with the Kickfire box, and everything else would stay the same, since Kickfire looks to the application like a simple storage engine for MySQL. You would get 100-1000X the performance of MySQL (assuming a standard storage engine like MyISAM or InnoDB) at only about twice the price of the Dell box. And, by the way, they are a column-store, which I'm a huge fan of.
But at the 50 minute mark of the above mentioned podcast, Armstrong started talking about potentially being acquired by Oracle. Although he did use the term "down the road", it struck me as a little weird to start talking about acquisition as such a young startup (it seems to me like if you want to maximize the purchase price, you need to establish yourself in the market before being acquired). It made me start wondering, maybe things aren't going as well as the Kickfire CEO makes it seem. If I remember correctly, they burst onto the scene in 2007 in topping the TPC-H rankings, launched at a MySQL conference somewhere around the middle of 2008, didn't make any customer win announcements for the whole year (as far as I recall), and then relaunched at another MySQL conference in the middle of 2009 (last month) along with (finally) a customer win announcement (Mamasource).
Maybe Kickfire is doing just fine and I'm reading way too much into the words of the Kickfire CEO. But if not, why would a company with what seems to be a high quality product be struggling? The conclusion might be: the go-to-market strategy. Kickfire has decided to target the "MySQL data warehousing mass market" and their whole strategy depends on there really being such a market. But do people really use MySQL for their data warehousing needs? My research group's experience with using MySQL to run a data warehousing benchmark for our HadoopDB project (I'll post about that later) was very negative. It didn't seem capable of high performance for the complex joins we needed in our benchmark.
Meanwhile, Infobright and Calpont have chosen similar go-to-market strategies. I don't have much more knowledge about Calpont than can be found in Curt Monash's blog (e.g., http://www.dbms2.com/2009/04/20/calpont-update-you-read-it-here-first/), but I've been hearing about them for years (since they are also a column-store), and I haven't heard about any customer wins from them either. Meanwhile Infobright (another column-store that I like, and their technical team --- lead by VP of Engineering Victoria Eastwood --- are high quality and were very helpful when my research group played around with Infobright for one of our projects) recently open sourced their software which is either an act of desperation or their plan all along, depending on who you ask.
The bottom line is that I've having doubts about whether there really is a MySQL data warehousing mass market. I know this blog is still very young and does not have many readers, so there are unlikely to be any comments, but if you do have thoughts on this subject, I'd be interested to hear them.