A Tale Of Three Cities, and Oracle, Teradata and IBM Databases
October 29, 2009 5 Comments
It was the best of times; it was (sometimes) the worst of times. The month of October has for years been data management analysts’ busy season. Oracle, Teradata and IBM hold major conferences, and for customers, prospects, partners, journalists as well as analysts, the recent past, near future and plans for the long term are on display. How vendors use this opportunity to position themselves has always been instructive, and 2009 was no exception. In brief: Oracle took shots at IBM; Teradata put its successful customers on display; and IBM proposed ways to change the world for the better.
I’ve already put up a brief piece about Oracle and will get into more detail in an upcoming post, but in this brief note I want to simply call out the character of the event. The spotlight was on Larry, as always. Before the Monday start of the main event, he held his first press conference, and got the headlines he wanted, bashing IBM and talking smack. For the next couple of days, others took the stage, with flash notably in check, and talked about products. Database events (and partners) were pushed out of the main Moscone North and South buildings, so application-related content had the most visibility, and presentations in the main room were about the whole stack – an increasingly impressive portfolio that was cogently presented by Thomas Kurian in an overlong session. Other keynotes were commercials from other vendors and drove attendees away in droves. Speculation about Fusion Applications continued to mount, since clearly nobody else was going to be given the chance to make the big news statement. On day 3, Larry returned, with the Governor of California, and succeeded in getting some more headlines with talk of the “first database machine” that proved politicians are not the only historical revisionists. And yes, he talked about Fusion applications. Apparently something is going to happen sometime next year, and astonishingly, that was not the headline.
Teradata Partners followed a week later, in Washington, DC. The event has always been a little different because of its emphasis on its customers, a model that serves it well. Over 100 of the sessions were given by users of the products, and the focus is on the business challenges they face and how the Teradata products help them. The conference itself is hosted and chaired by the user group, so no “cult of personality” building goes on there. Ben Stein was a keynoter, and his manner was as it always is, dry with humor and some conservative economic philosophy. Teradata’s management team is not flashy; a straightforward, businesslike discussion of results and plans is typical, and the big news was Teradata’s move to a family of offerings. There’s some work to do on the messaging – after a ringing endorsement of enterprise data warehouses as the only way to go, the keynote leaped directly to “we love data marts” with little transition to explain why this was not a direct contradiction. Marketplace necessity has driven Teradata to build offerings that compete with Netezza, and the message that they were doing so was clear, but not combative.
Finally, the moving caravan arrived in Las Vegas, and IBM put an expanded Information Management leadership team on display to connect its story to the larger Smarter Planet message of the IBM Corporation. In this, they hit a home run. Steve Mills, Group Executive of the Software Group, waited until the second day to tell his story. Ambuj Goyal, General Manager, led off with a powerful message: IBM has spent $12B in the last few years acquiring, building (and steadily integrating) a portfolio of analytics software, 4000 consultants, the world’s largest private team of mathematicians dedicated to predictive analytics, and partners ready to drive information-led transformation. His colleague, Arvind Krishna, now also a GM with responsibility for the information platform (the data management products upon which the analytics depend) followed with a product story that includes new releases of databases, data integration, and other software that increasingly shares common elements for a more seamless integration across differing workloads and stewardship tasks. Mills returned the next day to build the link to the big picture, and he did it mostly through stories illustrating how customers are using IBM technologies to change the world – building new systems that pay for themselves with cost effectiveness and savings while delivering on the higher vision of the Smart Planet initiative. Malcolm Gladwell was IBM’s choice for a keynoter, and he delivered a ringing challenge to the attendees to lead their companies forward into information-based transformation.
The tone of the three companies is instructive. In analyst sessions at the events, numerous direct comparisons were presented by Oracle, asserting feature/function superiority and cost advantages. Teradata outlined its new family of products, explaining how the various offerings kept some features and dropped others, and were configured for differing types of workloads (except for the top of the line, which is positioned as doing everything with workload management that allows it to do so.) IBM resolutely avoided direct comparisons or attacks on its competition, even when specifically challenged to do so during executive Q&A sessions; its topline story was IBM’s increasing use of business process templates and industry models to accelerate time to value.
Will these styles matter to the market? A bit. At the end of the day, nobody will turn away from Oracle, or go to them, because of their feistiness – it will be about products that fit and are priced correctly. Some prospects will be attracted to Teradata because the customer stories Teradata tells will sound like their own challenges and they will kick the tires to see if it works for them too. And IBM’s customer list will not swell with public-spirited firms for whom doing the right thing is the key strategic decision variable. Finally, it will come down, as it always does, to field execution. Each of these vendors must arm their sales teams with the stories they told us, deliver products that work, and find customers who hear their message in terms of value expected.
As the next few quarters roll in, we’ll see if all three can continue their recent momentum – all have weathered the downturn well. IBM, who grew database revenue in both Linux and Unix in 2008 according to Gartner, is lightyears ahead in defining an information-led transformation story based on a growing ability to drive improved information governance, and they have invested hugely in it as a strategic bet. Teradata made a dramatic transition in the past year, with a huge uptick in Linux-based revenue that matched a corresponding drop for its Unix offerings, and the rollout of offerings targeted downmarket from its EDW stronghold. Oracle’s Linux database revenue growth was dramatic, but its Unix results were flat. Its plans with Sun are being delayed and remain somewhat unclear till the dust settles, but its application strategy will be tested in 2010 when Fusion finally rolls out. Oracle’s new Sun-based database machine will attempt to outdo the solid early start of its now-abandoned HP version, and no doubt Oracle hopes it will be a far, far better thing than the one that went before.