Greenplum – Reaching Escape Velocity

Greenplum is one of several companies who have defied the notion that “RDBMS has been done,” and one of the most successful of late on the high end (of scale, but not necessarily price.) The argument goes that it’s a waste of time to build a new enterprise class RDBMS – kernel, optimizer, and associated feature set  – because there is no room left for real innovation. It takes years, deep engineering expertise, and money – and when you’re done, your reward is to enter a crowded market dominated by players who have multi-billion dollar deep pockets, massive sales and engineering teams, and legions of loyal customers. A losing proposition. And yet, Greenplum has done it, and is winning deals. Regularly, and at an increasing rate.

I visited the team last week to catch up on recent progress, and their story illustrates the possibilities. If you want a good summary of Greenplum’s first two years (2006-07) and technical highlights, there’s no need for me to do that here – Curt Monash does an excellent job on this post from 2008, and he recently talked with Ebay about their use of Greenplum on a massive scale in this article. The eBay site is also a harbinger of things to come, as Greenplum settles into a vision of supplementing, feeding, and coexisting with older enterprise data warehouse products that don’t cost-effectively handle the new petabyte-scale business opportunities. Monash does a nice job explaining how eBay describes the new opportunities for exploiting data in ways that didn’t exist when leading RDBMSs were designed.

Greenplum’s 2006 deal with Sun came at an important time in their arc, and it helped kick-start things. When venture capital was most necessary, as Greenplum hardened its multi-year engineering effort and moved to deploy, support early customers and ramp up sales and partner efforts, Sun’s strong endorsement was an important validation. It no doubt helped convince early investors to come on board for Greenplum’s C round, and helped open doors for some key early sales, too. So it was natural for me to ask president Scott Yara how much impact he expects from Oracle’s potential acquisition of Sun. His answer: “Our relationship with Sun has been a very productive partnership, but from day one our focus has always been about software and leveraging general purpose hardware. As long as Oracle maintains its commitment to be a general purpose systems provider, we have every intention of continuing to support Sun/Solaris, and give our customers the power of choice whether that’s Sun/Oracle, Dell, HP, EMC, etc.”

Greenplum has racked up 65 customers in two and half years – a pace faster than, say, Teradata over a similar period, Yara says. “Our vision seems to be resonating well in the market: we’ve been acquiring 8-10 new enterprise customers per quarter, at a pace (wins per sales team) faster than our much larger competitors [i.e. Netezza and Teradata – MA] with a fraction of the sales coverage. We are continuing to aggressively build out that sales force, which today has direct coverage in the US, Asia Pacific, Japan and EMEA.”  IT Market Strategy believes that Greenplum will double its number of sales teams in 2009. The firm has recently announced a partnership with EMC, and has a new release about to launch. And Greenplum has a clear message about their offering: a petabyte-scale database for data warehousing and business intelligence. They know what kind of deals they are after – big ones. And they’re getting them.

So yes, there is still room for innovation. Numerous firms are building off open source code lines, as Greenplum and others have done with Postgres, adding features targeted at specific markets, and winning business. Open source + capital has created an intriguing new model of rapid innovation in “mature” markets, and the database space – like BI – is not a done deal. It is indeed possible to escape the gravity well, if you execute. Greenplum is getting it done, and is among the new stars to watch.

Published by Merv Adrian

Independent information technology market analyst and consultant, 40 years of industry experience, covering software in and around the data management space.

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