Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Netezza's competitors open fire

It's fairly unusual to see a company openly attack a competitor in a public forum. I don't know the exact reason, but I presume it has something to do with the old dictum "there's no such thing as bad publicity", so giving a competitor free publicity of any kind (even the negative sort) is deemed a bad idea. Or maybe it's because the attack might backfire --- if the attack is not made using solid reasoning, the company might come off looking foolish. Or maybe it's because attacking a competitor is, in a way, a tacit validation of their position as an equal --- small, insignificant companies would be ignored; an attack is acknowledging that the two companies see each other often in competitive situations, and might encourage a potential customer to consider the competitor in the same POC when they might have not done so otherwise.

This is why the back and forth between Netezza and its competitors has been so jarring. By my estimation, it started when Larry Ellison positioned the new Oracle Exadata release back in September 2008 against Netezza, questioning Netezza's fault tolerance, DW functionality, and DBMS know-how (http://www.rittmanmead.com/2008/09/24/live-blogging-from-the-larry-ellison-keynote-oow-2008/). This was then responded to by Netezza, who became absolutely obsessed with Oracle Exadata, attacking them in multiple postings on their Data Liberators blog (see here, here, here, and here) even resorting to name calling ("Oracle Exaggerdata").

In the last few days, the attacks on Netezza have increased in intensity. First, I came across an Oracle blog post that basically claimed that Oracle Exadata is better than Netezza along every possible dimension: storage, CPU power, memory, interconnect, load performance, query performance, and architecture.

Then, I came across an Aster Data blog post which made wild claims such as Netezza's new release is an indication that Netezza regrets building their DBMS around FPGAs and is now desperately trying to abandon ship and switch to mainstream CPUs.

Be careful reading both of these attacks. I find them both full of FUD and disagree with much of the premise of both of them. Oracle's blog post omits comparing Netezza and Oracle along perhaps the two most important dimensions: price/performance and total cost of ownership. Oracle brags that their database machine uses a 20Gb infiniband interconnect while Netezza only uses 1Gb ethernet. But presumably the price of the expensive interconnect gets passed on to the customer --- it could easily be argued that Netezza's use of 1GB ethernet is an indication that their architecture might be superior --- Oracle needs infiniband to connect the storage and computation layers of their system; Netezza's ability to push computation to the data allows them to avoid having to include the high cost interconnect. I would guess that Netezza's price/performance is significantly superior to Oracle's, but trying to calculate the price of Oracle's database machine is far too complicated to put some meat behind this statement. Furthermore, Netezza's superior total cost of ownership relative to Oracle is common knowledge, I would be surprised to see someone argue otherwise.

I also find the Aster Data post full of FUD. Claiming that Netezza is trying to abandon their FPGA approach is ridiculous (in my opinion). They have invested a huge amount into doing decompression, projections, selections, and other DBMS operations inside the FPGA, and there are performance advantages in doing so. The redesign of their architecture was necessary to be able to improve caching of data in memory (to improve repeated scans of the same table) and to add more commodity components to their system, allowing them to take better advantage of upgrades to the disk and CPU technology they incorporate.

Though the Oracle and Aster Data reactions are misleading, I'm still a little worried about Netezza. Like everyone else, I was looking forward to their "big" announcement at TDWI, and was disappointed when I found out what it was. Sure, the internal architectural redesign is big news to Netezza internally, but ultimately, all it means to the customers is that Netezza can now do some things that its competitors already can do. Sure lower prices and a better ability to handle mixed workloads are nice, but I was expecting something a little more radical. I guess the lesson to be learned is that it is never a good idea to prepare people for a big announcement --- it just leaves lots of potential for disappointment.


  1. Also Kognito is having a crack

    Personally I think these small (customer wise) companies trying to eat each other’s lunch is largely a waste of time as the wins that can be made off each other are quite small. Their collective competitors really are Oracle & Teradata and this is where they should be focusing their taunts. In fact, a having a bunch of alternatives doing this at the same time will probably produce a better result for everyone.

  2. I have to agree that I was dissappointed as well. No software features, just a hardware replatform. I had thought that they would at least be using the Nehalem-EP CPUs but they are only using the Harpertown CPUs. One has to be curious why. Seeminly it would be fairly easy to upgrade but I would suspect that given the 2x performance deltas that most are observing with the Nehalem vs Harpertown, it would probably distort the balance of their current configuration. Eventually they will probably get there. Time will tell.

  3. Tony, Greg, thanks for your comments. It was interesting to see the Kognitio post was very similar in spirit to the Aster Data post.

    BTW: I have noticed that Netezza has responded to the Oracle attack:


    Will we see something similar re: Aster Data/Kognitio or is Netezza reluctant to validate these smaller companies (at least in the US market) with a response?

  4. Hi Daniel

    Nice Summary. I work for a company that recently bought IBM BCU. Although IBM will not acknowledge that BCU is an appliance, in all practical sense, i believe it is an appliance. So need your thoughts when you compare BCU against Netezza or exadata or Aster