So I published this book last Spring ('11) on how the Netezza machine is a change-agent. It initiates transformation upon people or products that happen to intersect with it. Most of the time this transformation makes the subject better. Sort of like how heavy-lifting of weights will make the body stronger. Or the pressure can crush the subject. Stress works that way. We could imagine the Netezza machine as the change-agent entering the environment. Everything brushing against it or interacting with it will have to step-up, beef-up or adapt. I sometimes hear the new players say things like "But if the Netezza machine could only.." That's like a Buck Private saying of his drill sargeant, "If he could only ..." No, the subject must consider that the Netezza machine is never the object of transformation but rather is the initiator of it. But it's not a harsh existence by any means. Products that can adapt are far-and-away better than before. Those that cannot adapt now, will eventually, or remain in their current tier.
Having been directly or indirectly alongside these sorts of product integrations and proof-of-concepts (POCs) numerous times, it's always an interesting ride. The vendor shows up ready-to-go with visions-of-sugarplums in their head. And the suits who show up with them, are salivating for the ink on the license agreement. In less than an hour into the POC, all of them have a very different opinion of their product than when they arrived. Their bravado is reduced to a shy, sort of sheepish spin. Throw them a bone, not everyone walks out of this ring intact. Some of them shake their fist at the Netezza machine. It is unimpressed. Others shake their fist at their own product. Alas, it is but virtual, inanimate matter. What is transforming now? The person in the seat.
So I have watched them scramble to make the product hit-the-mark. Patches? We don't need no stinkin' patches. Except for today, when they will be on the phone in high-intensity conversations with their "engine-room" begging for special releases while on-site. Alas such malaise could have been avoided if only they had connected their product - at least once - to a Netezza machine. In so many cases, they will claim that they have Netezza machines in-the-shop so they are prepared-and-all-that. It is revealed, sometimes within the first hour, that the product has never been connected to a Netezza machine. It doesn't even do the basics, or address the machine correctly. It is especially humorous to hear them speak in terms of scalability as though a terabyte is a high-water mark for them. One may well ask, why are we wasting our time with underpowered technology? Well, in point of fact, when placed next to the Netezza machine it's all underpowered, so really it's just a matter of degree.
Case in point, Enzees know that in order to copy data from one database to another, we have to connect to the target database (we can only write to the database we are connected to). And then use a fully-qualifed database/tablename to grab data from elsewhere - in the "select" phrase. Forsooth, their product wants to do it like "all the others do" and connect to the source, pushing data to the target. Staring numb at the white board in realization of this fundamental flaw, they mutter "If only Netezza could....". But that's not the point. They arrived on site, product CD in hand, without ever having performed even one test on real Netezza machine, or this issue (and others) would have hit them on the first operation. They would have pulled up a chair in their labs, started the process of integration and perhaps call the potential customer "Can we push the POC off until next week? We have some issues (insert fabricated storyline here) and need to do this later."
Cue swarming engineers. Transformation ensues.
Another case in point, many enterprise products are built to standards that are optimized for the target runtime server. That is, they fully intend to bring the data out of the machine, process it and send it back. One of my colleagues made a joke about Jim Carrey's "The Grinch" and the mayor's lament for a "Grinch-less" Christmas. Well, didn't the Grinch tell Cindy-Lou Who that in order to fix a light on the tree, he would take the tree, fix it and bring it back? Seems like a lot of hassle for one light? Why can't you fix it here and not take it anywhere? Enzees see the analogy unfolding. No, we don't want to take the data out, process it and put it back. We want "Grinch-less" processing, too. Fix the data where it already is.
Why do this? Well, in 6.0 version of the NPS Host, the compression engine could easily give us up to 32x compression on the disk. Or even a nominal 16x compression, meaning that our 80 terabytes is now 5TB of storage. And while we may have to de-compress it on the inside of the machine to process it, the machine is well-suited to moving these quantities around internally. Woe unto the light-of- heart who would pull the data out into-the-open, blooming it to its full un-compressed glory, on the network, CPU, the network again - just to process it and put it back.
Unprepared for the largesse of such data stores, our vendor contender's product centers on common scalar data types. Integer, character, varchar, date. No big deal. Connect to the Netezza machine and find out that the "common" database size is in the many billions and tens of billions of rows. A chocolate-and-vanilla software product without regard to a BigInt (8 byte) data type, cannot exceed the ceiling of 2 billion (that's the biggest a simple integer can hold). This does not bode well for integrating to a database with a minmum of ten billion records and that's just the smallest table. Having integers peppered throughout the software architecture by default - would require a sweeping overhaul to remediate. As the day wears on, we see them struggle with singleton inserts (a big No-No in Netezza circles) and lack of process control over the Netezza return states and status. These are not exotic or odd, but no two databases behave the same way. The moment that Netezza returned the row-count that it had successfully copied four billion rows, we watched the product crash because it could not store the row-count anywhere - the product had standardized on integers, not big integers, so the internal variable overflowed and tossed everything overboard. Quite unfortunately, this was a data-transfer product and performed destructive operations on the data (copy over there, delete the original source over here). So any hiccup meant that we could lose data, and lots of it.
Cue announceer: "And the not-ready-for-prime-time-players..."
Oh, and that "lose data and lots of it" needs to be underscored. In a database holding tens of billions of rows (hundreds of terabytes) of structured data, that is, each record in inventory, with fiducial, legal, contractual, perhaps even regulatory wrappers around it, and we're way, way past the coffin zone. Some of you recall the "coffin zone" is the point-of-no-return for an extreme rock-face climber. Cross that boundary and you can't climb down. But we're not climbing a rock face are we? The principle is the same. Lose that data and we'll get a visit from the grim reaper. He doesn't hold a sickle, just a pink slip in one hand and a cardboard box in the other (just big enough for empty a desk-full of personal belongings).
One test after another either fails or reveals another product flaw. When the smoke clears, the "rock solid offering" complete with sales-slicks and slick-salesmen, is beaten and battered and ready for the showers. The product engineers must now overhaul their technology (transform it) and fortify it for Netezza, or remain in their tier. The Netezza machine has spoken, reset itself into a resting-stance, presses a fist into a palm, graciously bows, and with a terse, gutteral challenge of a sensei master, says: "Your Kung Fu is not strong!"
Now it's transformation-fu.
Superficially, this can look like a common product-integration firefight. But this kind of scramble tells a larger tale: They weren't really ready for the POC. This would be similar to an "expert" big-city fireman, supremely trained and battle-hardened in the art of firefighting and all its risks, joining Red Adair's oil-well -fire-fighting team ( a niche to be sure) and finding that none of the equipment or procedures he is familiar with apply any longer. He will have to unlearn what he knows in order to be effective on a radically larger scale. He might have been a superhero back home, faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall (burning) buildings in a single bound, but when he shows up at Red Adair's place, they will tell him to exchange his clothing for a fireproof form and get rid of the cape. Nobody's a hero around an oil-field fire. Heroes leave the site horizontally, feet-first. No exceptions.
Enzees have experienced a similar transformation (with a different kind of fire). The most-oft-asked questions at conferences are just that flavor: How do we bring newbees into the fold? How do we get them from thinking in row-based/transactional solutions into set-based solutions? How do we help them understand how to use sweeping-query-scans to process billions of rows? Or use one-rule-multiple-row approaches versus cursor-based multiple-rule-per-row? How do we get testers into a model of testing with key-based summaries instead of eyeballs-on-rows (when rows are in billions)?
We were dealing with a backup problem at one site because of a lack of external disk space. Commodity tools often use external disk space for this purpose, until they are connected to a Netezza machine and their admin tool complains that they need to add "another hundred terabytes" of workspace. We gulp, realizing that the workspace is only today a grand total of ten terabytes in size. And you need another hundred! Yeesh, you big-data-people!
Most of the universe outside the Enzee universe will never have to address problems on this scale. It is not the machine itself that is the niche. It is the problem/solution domain. Most of the commodity products that are stepping up are doing so only because it's clear that Netezza is here to stay and they need to step into Netezza's domain. I suppose at some point they expected Netezza to give them a call to start the integration process, but the Netezza Enzee Universe already had all that under control. It's amazing how lots-of-power can simplify hard tasks to the end of ignoring commodity products entirely.
Another case in point, a product vendor "popped over" with a couple of his newbee product guys and spent two weeks trying to get their product to play in-scale with Netezza. Before throwing in the towel, they offered up the common litany of observations. "No indexes? What the?" and "Netezza needs to change X", or the favorite "Nobody stores this much data in one place." The short version is, you brought a knife to a gun fight, as Sean Connery would assert, or perhaps, you brought a pick-axe and a rope to scale Mt. Everest. What were you thinking? You see, most people who have never heard of Netezza (I know, there really are folks out there who don't know about it, strange as is seems) do not understand the scale of data inside its enclosure. Billions of records? Tens of billions of records? A half-trillion records? Is that all you got?
We will watch a switch flip over in their brains as they assess what they are trying to bite off. A small group will embrace the problem and work toward harnessing the Netezza machine in every way possible. Another group will provide a bolt-on adapter for Netezza to interface to their core product engine. While another, larger group will assess the expense of such things, the marketplace they currently address, and conclude that they will for now remain in their current tier. This is like a 180-lb fighter climbing into the ring with a heavyweight, and walking away realiizing that they need to add some muscle, some speed, and some toughness or just stay in their own weight class and be successful there.
Another case-in-point is the need for high-intensity data processing in-the-box in a continuous form, coupled with the need for the reporting environment to share the data once-processed, likewise coupled with the need for backup/restore/archive and perhaps a hot-swap failover protocol. We can do these things with smaller machines and their supporting vendor software products. But what about Netezza, with such daunting data sizes, adding the complexity of data processing?
At one site we had a TwinFin 48 (384 processors) and two TwinFin 24's (192 processors) with the '48 doing the heavy-lifting for both production roles. When it came time to get more hardware, the architects decided to get another '48 and split the roles, so that one of the machines would do hard-data-processing and simply replicate-final-results to the second '48, limiting its processing impact for any given movement. This was not the only part of their plan. They then set up replicators to make "hot" versions of each of these databases on the other server. This allowed them to store all of the data on both, providing a hot DR live/live configuration, but it would only cost them storage, not CPU power. Configured correctly, neither of the live databases would know the difference. Our replicators (nzDIF modules) seamlessly operated this using the Netezza compressed format to achieve an effective 6TB/hour inter-machine transfer rate, plenty of power for incremental/trickle feeds across the machines.
Some say "I want an enterprise product that I can use for all of my databases". Well, this is the problem isn't it? Netezza is not like "all of our other databases". Products that have a smashing time with the lower-volume environments start to think that a "big" version of one of those environments somehow qualifies their product to step-up. I am fond of noting that Ab Initio, at one site loading a commodity SMP RDBMS, was achieving fifteen million rows in two hours. Ab Initio can load data a lot faster than that (and is on record as the only technology that can feed Netezza's load capacity). So what was the problem? The choice of database hardware? Software? Disk space? Actually it was the mistaken belief that any of those can scale to the same heights as Netezza. I could not imagine, for example, that if fifteen million rows would take two hours, what about a billion rows (1300 hours? ). Netezza's cruising-speed is over a million rows a second from one stream, and can load multiple streams-at-a-time.
Many very popular enteprise products have not bothered to integrate with a Netezza machine, and many of those who have, provide some form of bolt-on adapter for it. It usually works, but because the problem domain is a niche, it's not on their "product radar". It's not "integrated as-one". What does this mean? Netezza's ecosystem, and now assimilated by IBM, through IBM's product genius and sheer integration muscle, will ultimately have a powerful stack for enterprise computing such that none of the other players will be able to catch up. If those vendors have not integrated by now, the goal-line to achieve it is even now racing ahead of them toward the horizon. Perhaps they won't catch up. Perhaps they won't keep up. Some products (e.g. nzDIF) are at the front-edge, but nzDIF is not a shrink-wrapped or download-and-go kind of toolkit. We use it to accelerate our clients and differentiate our approaches. It's a development platform, an operational environment and expert system (our best and brightest capture Netezza best practices directly into the core). This has certainly been a year where we've gotten the most requests for it. But there's only one way to get a copy.
Cue Red Adair.
"No capes!" - Edna Mode, clothing-designer-for-the-gods, Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles