At Oracle OpenWorld this week I focused on what the company is doing in business analytics, and in particular on what it is doing with its Exalytics In-Memory Machine. The Exalytics appliance is an impressive in-memory hardware approach to putting right-time analytics in the hands of end users by providing a full range of integrated analytic and visualization capabilities. Exalytics fits into the broader analytics portfolio by providing support for Oracle BI Foundational Suite including OBIEE, Oracle’s formidable portfolio of business analytics and business performance applications, as well interactive visualizations and discovery capabilities.
Exalytics connects with an Exadata machine over a high-throughput InfiniBand link. The system leverages Oracle’s TimesTen In-Memory Database with columnar compression originally built for online transaction processing in the telecommunications industry. Oracle’s Summary Advisor software provides a heuristic approach to making sure the right data is in-memory at the right time, though customers at the conference mentioned that in their initial configuration they did not need to turn on Summary Advisor since they were able to load their entire datasets in memory. Oracle’s Essbase OLAP server is also integrated, but since it requires a MOLAP approach and computationally intensive pre-aggregation, one might question whether applications such as Oracle’s Hyperion planning and forecasting tools will truly provide analysis at the advertised ”speed of thought.” To address this latter point, Oracle points to examples in the consumer packaged goods industry, where it has already demonstrated its ability to reduce complex planning scenario cycle times from 24 hours down to four hours. Furthermore, I discussed with Paul Rodwick, Oracle’s vice president of product management for business intelligence, the potential for doing in-line planning, where integrated business planning and complex what-if modeling can be done on the fly. For more on this particular topic, please check out my colleague’s benchmark research on the fast clean close.
Another important part of the Exalytics appliance is the Endeca discovery tool. Endeca, which Oracle acquired just a year ago, provides an exploratory interactive approach to root cause analysis and problem-solving without the traditional struggle of complex data modeling. It does this through a search technology that leverages key-value pairings in unstructured data, thereby deriving structure delivered in the form of descriptive statistics such as recency and frequency. This type of tool democratizes analytics in an organization and puts power into the hands of line-of-business managers. The ability to navigate across data was the top-ranked business capability in our business analytics benchmark research. However, while Endeca is a discovery and analysis tool for unstructured and semi-structured data, it does not provide full sentiment analysis or deeper text analytics, as do tools such as IBM’s SPSS Text Analytics and SAS Social Conversation Center. For more advanced analytics and data mining, Oracle integrates its version of R for the enterprise on its Exadata Database Machine and its Big Data Appliance, Oracle’s integrated Hadoop approach based on the Cloudera stack.
At the conference, Oracle announced a few updates for Exalytics. The highlights include a new release of Oracle Business Intelligence 18.104.22.168.2BP1 optimized for Exalytics. The release includes new mobility and visualization capabilities, including trellis visualizations that allow users to see a large number of charts in a single view. These advanced capabilities are enabled on mobile devices through the increased speed provided by Exalytics. In addition, Endeca is now certified with Oracle Exalytics, and the TimesTen database has been certified with GoldenGate and Oracle Data Integrator, allowing the system and users to engage in more event-driven analytics and closed-loop processes. Finally, Hyperion Planning is certified on Exalytics.
On the upside, Oracle’s legacy platform support on Exalytics allows the company to leverage its entire portfolio and offer more than 80 prebuilt analytics applications ready to run on Exalytics without any changes. The platform also supports the full range of the Business Intelligence Foundational Suite and provides a common platform and a common dimensional model. In this way, it provides alignment with overall business processes, content management systems and transactional BI systems. This alignment is especially attractive for companies that have a lot of Oracle software already installed, and companies looking to operationalize business analytics through event-based closed-loop decision-making at the front lines of the organization. The speed of the machine, its near-real-time query speeds, and its ability to deliver complex visualizations to mobile devices allow users to create use cases and ROI scenarios they could not before. For example, the San Diego Unified School District was able to utilize Exalytics to push out performance dashboards across multiple device types to students and teachers, thereby increasing attendance and garnering more money from the state.The Endeca software lets users make qualitative and to some degree quantitative assessments from social data and to overlay that with structured data. The fact that Exalytics comprises an integrated hardware and software stack makes it a turnkey solution that does not require expensive systems integration services. Each of these points makes Exalytics an interesting and even an exciting investment possibility for companies.
On the downside, the integrated approach and vendor lock-in may discourage some companies concerned about Oracle’s high switch costs. This may pose a risk for Oracle as maturing alternatives become available and the economics of switching begin to make more sense. However, it is no easy task to switch away from Oracle, especially for companies with large Oracle database and enterprise application rollouts. The economics of loyalty are such that when customers are dissatisfied but captive, they remain loyal; however, as soon as a viable alternative comes on the market, they quickly defect. This defection threat for Oracle could come from dissatisfaction with configuration and ease-of-use issues in combination with new offerings from large vendors such as SAP, with its HANA in-memory database appliance, and hardware companies such as EMC that are moving up the stack into the software environment. To be fair, Oracle is addressing the issues around useability by moving the user experience away from “one size fits all” to more of a personae or role-based interface. Oracle will likely have time to do this, given the long tail of its existing database entrenchment and the breadth and depth of its analytics application portfolio.
With Exalytics, Oracle is addressing high market demand for right-time analytics and interactive visualization. I expect this device will continue to sell well especially since it is plug-and-play and Oracle has such a large portfolio of analytic applications. For companies already running Oracle databases and Oracle applications, Exalytics is very likely a good investment. In particular, it makes sense for those that have not fully leveraged the power of analytics in their business and that are therefore losing competitive position. Our benchmark research on analytics shows a relatively low penetration for analytics software today, but investments are accelerating due to the large ROI companies are realizing from analytics. In situations where companies find the payoffs to be less obvious, or where they fear lock-in, companies should take a hard look at exactly what they hope to accomplish with analytics and which tools best suit that need. The most successful companies start with the use case to justify the investment, then determine which technology makes the most sense.
In addition to this blog, please see Ventana Research’s broader coverage of Oracle OpenWorld.