Teradata Lays Another Egg

Teradata reports Q3 revenue of $606 million, down 3% in “constant” dollars, down 9% in actual dollars, the kind you can spend.  Product revenue, from selling software and boxes, declined 14%.

In a brutal call with analysts, CEO Mike Koehler noted: “revenue was not what we expected.”  It could have been a recorded message.

Teradata executives tried to blame the weak revenue on the strong dollar.  When pressed, however, they admitted that deferred North American sales drove the shortfall, as companies put off investments in Teradata’s big box solutions.

In other words, the dogs don’t like the dog food.

From the press release:

Teradata is in the process of making transformational changes to improve the long-term performance of the company, including offering more flexibility and options in the way customers buy Teradata products such as a software-only version of Teradata as well as making Teradata accessible in the public cloud. The initial cloud version of Teradata will be available on Amazon’s Web Services in the first quarter of 2016.

An analyst asked about expected margins in the software-only business; Teradata executives clammed up.  The answer is zero.  Teradata without a box is a bladeless knife without a handle, competing directly with open source databases, such as Apache Greenplum.

Another analyst asked about Teradata on AWS, noting that Teradata executives previously declared that their customers would never use AWS.  Response from the executives was more mush.  HP just shuttered its cloud business; Teradata’s move to AWS implies that Teradata Cloud is toast.

Koehler also touted Teradata’s plans to offer Aster on Hadoop, citing “100 pre-built applications”.  Good luck with that.  Aster on Hadoop is a SQL engine that still runs through MapReduce; in other words it’s obsolete, a point reinforced by Teradata’s plans to move forward with Presto.  Buying an analytic database with pre-built applications is like buying a car with pre-built rides.

More from the press release:

“We remain confident in Teradata’s technology, our roadmaps and competitive leadership position in the market and we are taking actions to increase shareholder value.  We are making transformative changes to the company for longer term success, and are also aligning our cost structure for near term improvement,” said Mike Koehler, chief executive officer, Teradata Corporation. 

In other words, expect more layoffs.

“Our Marketing Applications team has made great progress this year, and has market leading solutions. As part of our business transformation, we determined it best to exclusively focus our investments and attention on our core Data and Analytics business.  We are therefore selling our Marketing Applications business. As we go through this process, we will work closely with our customers and employees for continued success.

“We overpaid for Aprimo five years ago, so now we’re looking for some greater fool to buy this dog.”

In parallel, we are launching key transformation initiatives to better align our Data and Analytics solutions and services with the evolving marketplace and to meet the needs of the new Teradata going forward.”

Update your resumes.

During the quarter, Teradata purchased approximately 8.5 million shares of its stock worth approximately $250 million.  Year to date through September 30, Teradata purchased 15.5 million shares, worth approximately $548 million.

“We have no vision for how to invest in our business, so we’re buying back the stock.”

In early trading, Teradata’s stock plunges.

In 2012, five companies led the data warehousing platform market: Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Teradata and SAP.  Here’s how their stocks have fared since then:

  • Oracle: Up 24%
  • IBM: Down 29%
  • Microsoft: Up 77%
  • Teradata: Down 61%
  • SAP: Up 22%

Nice work, Teradata!  Making IBM look good…

Big Analytics Roundup (October 12, 2015)

Dell and Silver Lake Partners announce plans to buy EMC for $67 billion, a transaction that is a big deal in the tech world, and mildly interesting for analytics.  Dell acquired StatSoft in 2014,but nothing before or since suggests that Dell knows how to position and sell analytics.  StatSoft is lost inside Dell, and will be even more lost inside Dell/EMC.

EMC acquired Greenplum in 2010; at the time, GP was a credible competitor to Netezza, Aster and Vertica.  It turns out, however, that EMC’s superstar sales reps, accustomed to pushing storage boxes, struggled to sell analytic appliances.  Moreover, with the leading data warehouse appliances vertically integrated with hardware vendors, Greenplum was out there in the middle of nowhere peddling an appliance that isn’t really an appliance.

EMC shifted the Greenplum assets to its Pivotal Software unit, which subsequently open sourced the software it could not sell and exited the Hadoop distribution business under the ODP fig leaf.  Alpine Data Labs, which used to be tied to Greenplum like bears to honey, figured out a year ago that it could not depend on Greenplum for growth, and has diversified its platform support.

What’s left of Pivotal Software is a consulting business, which is fine — all of the big tech companies have consulting arms.  But I doubt that the software assets — Greenplum, Hawq and MADLib — have legs.

In other news, the Apache Software Foundation announces three interesting software releases:

  • Apache AccumuloRelease 1.6.4, a maintenance release.
  • Apache Ignite: Release 1.4.0, a feature release with SSL and log4j2 support, faster JDBC driver implementation and more.
  • Apache Kafka: Release 0.8.2.2, a maintenance release.

Spark

On the MapR blog, Jim Scott takes a “Spark is a fighter jet” metaphor and flies it until the wings fall off.

Spark Performance

Dave Ramel summarizes a paper he thinks is too long for you to read.  That paper, here, written by scientists affiliated with IBM and several universities, reports on detailed performance tests for MapReduce and Spark across four different workloads.  As I noted in a separate blog post, Ramel’s comment that the paper “calls into question” Spark’s record-setting performance on GraySort is wrong.

Spark Appliances

Ordinarily I don’t link sponsored content, but this article from Numascale is interesting.  Numascale, a Norwegian company, offers analytic appliances with lots of memory; there’s an R appliance, a Spark appliance and a database appliance with MonetDB.

Spark on Amazon EMR

On Slideshare, Amazon’s Jonathan Fritz and Manjeet Chayel summarize best practices for data science with Spark on EMR.  The presentation includes an overview of Spark DataFrames, a guide to running Spark on Amazon EMR, customer use cases, tips for optimizing performance and a plug for Zeppelin notebooks.

Use Cases

In Datanami, Alex Woodie describes how Uber uses Spark and Hadoop.

Stitch Fix offers personalized style recommendations to its customers.  Jas Khela describes how the startup uses Spark.   (h/t Hadoop Weekly)

SQL/OLAP/BI

Apache Drill

MapR’s Neeraja Rentachintala, Director of Product Management, rethinks SQL for Big Data.  Without a trace of irony, he explains how to bring SQL to NoSQL datastores.

Apache Hawq

On the Pivotal Big Data blog, Gavin Sherry touts Apache Hawq and Apache MADLib.  Hawq is a SQL engine that federates queries across Greenplum Database and Hadoop; MADLib is a machine learning library.   MADLib was always open source; Hawq, on the other hand, is a product Pivotal tried to sell but failed to do so.  In Datanami, George Leopold reports.

In CIO Today, Jennifer LeClaire speculates that Pivotal is “taking on” Oracle’s traditional database business with this move, which is a colossal pile of horse manure.

At Apache Big Data Europe, Caleb Welton explains Hawq’s architecture in a deep dive.  The endorsement from GE;s Jeffrey Immelt is a bit rich considering GE’s ownership stake in Pivotal, but the rest of the deck is solid.

Apache Phoenix

At Apache Big Data Europe, Nick Dimiduk delivers an overview of Phoenix, a relational database layer for HBase.  Phoenix includes a query engine that transforms SQL into native HBase API calls, a metadata repository and a JDBC driver.  SQL support is broad enough to run TPC benchmark queries.  Dimiduk also introduces Apache Calcite, a Query parser, compiler and planner framework currently in incubation.

Data Blending

On Forbes, Adrian Bridgewater touts the data blending capabilities of ClearStory Data and Alteryx without explaining why data blending is a thing.

Presto

On the AWS Big Data Blog, Songzhi Liu explains how to use Presto and Airpal on EMR.  Airpal is a web-based query tool developed by Airbnb that runs on top of Presto.

Machine Learning

Apache MADLib

MADLib is an open source project for machine learning in SQL.  Developed by people affiliated with Greenplum, MADLib has always been an open source project, but is now part of the Apache community.  Machine learning functionality is quite rich.  Currently, MADLib supports PostgreSQL, Greenplum database and Apache Hawq.  In theory, the software should be able to run in any SQL engine that supports UDFs; since Oracle, IBM and Teradata all have their own machine learning stories, I doubt that we will see MADLib running on those platforms. (h/t Hadoop Weekly)

Apache Spark (SparkR)

On the Databricks blog, Eric Liang and Xiangrui Meng review additions to the R interface in Spark 1.5, including support for Generalized Linear Models.

Apache Spark (MLLib)

On the Cloudera blog, Jose Cambronero explains what he did this summer, which included running K-S tests in Spark.

Apache Zeppelin

At Apache Big Data Europe, Datastax’ Duy Hai Doan explains why you should care about Zeppelin’s web-based notebook for interactive analytics.

H2O and Spark (Sparkling Water)

In a guest post on the Cloudera blog, Michal Malohlava, Amy Wang, and Avni Wadhwa of H2O.ai explain how to create an integrated machine learning pipeline using Spark MLLib, H2O and Sparkling Water, H2O’s interface with Spark.

How Yahoo Does Deep Learning on Spark

Cyprien Noel, Jun Shi, Andy Feng and the Yahoo Big ML Team explain how Yahoo does Deep Learning with Caffe on Spark.  Yahoo adds GPU nodes to its Hadoop clusters; each GPU node has 10X the processing power of a commodity Hadoop node.  The GPU nodes connect to the rest of the cluster through Ethernet, while Infiniband provides high-speed connectivity among the GPUs.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 10.32.39 AM

Caffe is an open source Deep Learning framework developed by the Berkeley Vision and Learning Center (BVLC).  In Yahoo’s implementation, Spark assembles the data from HDFS, launches multiple Caffe learners running on the GPU nodes, then saves the resulting model back to HDFS. (h/t Hadoop Weekly)

Streaming Analytics

Apache Flink

On the MapR blog, Henry Saputra recaps an overview of Flink’s stream and graph processing from a recent Meetup.

Apache Kafka

Cloudera’s Gwen Shapira presents Kafka “worst practices”: true stories that happened to Kafka clusters. (h/t Hadoop Weekly)

Apache Spark Streaming

On the MapR blog, Jim Scott offers a guide to Spark Streaming.

Software for High Performance Advanced Analytics

Strata+Hadoop World week is a good opportunity to update the list of platforms for high-performance advanced analytics.  Vendors are hustling this week to announce their latest enhancements; I’ll post updates as needed.

First some definition.  The scope of this analysis includes software with the following properties:

  • Support for supervised and unsupervised machine learning
  • Support for distributed processing
  • Open platform or multi-vendor platform support
  • Availability of commercial support

There are three main “architectures” for high-performance advanced analytics available today:

  • Integration with an MPP database through table functions
  • Push-down integration with Hadoop
  • Native distributed computing, freestanding or co-located with Hadoop

I’ve written previously about the importance of distributed computing for high-performance predictive analytics, why it’s difficult to deliver and potentially disruptive to the analytics ecosystem.

This analysis excludes software that runs exclusively in a single vendor’s data platform (such as Netezza Analytics, Oracle Advanced Analytics or Teradata Aster‘s built-in analytic functions.)  While each of these vendors seeks to use advanced analytics to differentiate its data warehousing products, most enterprises are unwilling to invest in an analytics architecture that promotes vendor lock-in.  In my opinion, IBM, Oracle and Teradata should consider open sourcing their machine learning libraries, since they’re effectively giving them away anyway.

This analysis also excludes open source libraries “in the wild” (such as Vowpal Wabbit) that lack significant commercial support.

Open Source Software

H2O 

Distributor: H2O.ai (formerly 0xdata)

H20 is an open source distributed in-memory computing platform designed for deployment in Hadoop or free-standing clusters. Current functionality (Release 2.8.4.4) includes Cox Proportional Hazards modeling, Deep Learning, generalized linear models, gradient boosted classification and regression, k-Means clustering, Naive Bayes classifier, principal components analysis, and Random Forests. The software also includes tooling for data transformation, model assessment and scoring.   Users interact with the software through a web interface, a REST API or the h2o package in R.  H2O runs on Spark through the Sparkling Water interface, which includes a new Python API.

H2O.ai provides commercial support for the open source software.  There is a rapidly growing user community for H2O, and H2O.ai cites public reference customers such as Cisco, eBay, Paypal and Nielsen.

MADLib 

Distributor: Pivotal Software

MADLib is an open source machine learning library with a SQL interface that runs in Pivotal Greenplum Database 4.2 or PostgreSQL 9.2+ (as of Release 1.7).  While primarily a captive project of Pivotal Software — most of the top contributors are Pivotal or EMC employees — the support for PostgreSQL qualifies it for this list.    MADLib includes rich analytic functionality, including ten different regression methods, linear systems, matrix factorization, tree-based methods, association rules, clustering, topic modeling, text analysis, time series analysis and dimensionality reduction techniques.

Mahout

Distributor: Apache Software Foundation

Mahout is an eclectic machine learning project incepted in 2011 and currently included in major Hadoop distributions, though it seems to be something of an embarrassment to the community.  The development cadence on Mahout is very slow, as key contributors appear to have abandoned the project three years ago.   Currently (Release 0.9), the project includes twenty algorithms; five of these (including logistic regression and multilayer perceptron) run on a single node only, while the rest run through MapReduce.  To its credit, the Mahout team has cleaned up the software, deprecating unsupported functionality and mandating that all future development will run in Spark.  For Release 1.0, the team has announced plans to deliver several existing algorithms in Spark and H2O, and also to deliver something for Flink (for what that’s worth).  Several commercial vendors, including Predixion Software and RapidMiner leverage Mahout tooling in the back end for their analytic packages, though most are scrambling to rebuild on Spark.

Spark

Distributor: Apache Software Foundation

Spark is currently the platform of choice for open source high-performance advanced analytics.  Spark is a distributed in-memory computing framework with libraries for SQL, machine learning, graph analytics and streaming analytics; currently (Release 1.2) it supports Scala, Python and Java APIs, and the project plans to add an R interface in Release 1.3.  Spark runs either as a free-standing cluster, in AWS EC2, on Apache Mesos or in Hadoop under YARN.

The machine learning library (MLLib) currently (1.2) includes basic statistics, techniques for classification and regression (linear models, Naive Bayes, decision trees, ensembles of trees), alternating least squares for collaborative filtering, k-means clustering, singular value decomposition and principal components analysis for dimension reduction, tools for feature extraction and transformation, plus two optimization primitives for developers.  Thanks to large and growing contributor community, Spark MLLib’s functionality is expanding faster than any other open source or commercial software listed in this article.

For more detail about Spark, see my Apache Spark Page.

Commercial Software

Alpine Chorus

Vendor: Alpine Data Labs

Alpine targets a business user persona with a visual workflow-oriented interface and push-down integration with analytics that run in Hadoop or relational databases.  Although Alpine claims support for all major Hadoop distributions and several MPP databases, in practice most customers seem to use Alpine with Pivotal Greenplum database.  (Alpine and Greenplum have common roots in the EMC ecosystem).   Usability is the product’s key selling point, and the analytic feature set is relatively modest; however, Chorus’ collaboration and data cataloguing capabilities are unique.  Alpine’s customer list is growing; the list does not include a recent win (together with Pivotal) at a large global retailer.

dbLytix

Vendor: Fuzzy Logix

dbLytix is a library of more than eight hundred functions for advanced analytics; analytics run as database table functions and are currently supported in Informix, MySQL, Netezza, ParAccel, SQL Server, Sybase IQ, Teradata Aster and Teradata Database.  Embedded in SQL, analytics may be invoked from a range of application, including custom web interfaces, Microsoft Excel, popular BI tools, SAS or SPSS.   The software is highly extensible, and Fuzzy Logix offers a team of well-qualified consultants and developers for custom applications.

For those seeking the absolute cutting edge in advanced analytics, Fuzzy’s Tanay Zx Series offers more than five hundred analytic functions designed to run on GPU chips.  Tanay is available either as a software library or as an analytic appliance.

IBM SPSS Analytic Server

Vendor: IBM

Analytic Server serves as a Hadoop back end for IBM SPSS Modeler, a mature analytic workbench targeted to business users (licensed separately).  The product, which runs on Apache Hadoop, Cloudera CDH, Hortonworks HDP and IBM BigInsights, enables push-down MapReduce for a limited number of Modeler nodes.  Analytic Server supports most SPSS Modeler data preparation nodes, scoring for twenty-four different modeling methods, and model-building operations for linear models, neural networks and decision trees.  The cadence of enhancements for this product is very slow; first released in May 2013, IBM has released a single maintenance release since then.

RapidMiner Radoop

Vendor: RapidMiner

(Updated for Release 2.2)

RapidMiner targets a business user persona with a “code-free” user interface and deep selection of analytic features.  Last June, the company acquired Radoop, a three-year-old business partner based in Budapest.  Radoop brings to RapidMiner the ability to push down analytic processing into Hadoop using a mix of MapReduce, Mahout, Hive, Pig and Spark operations.

RapidMiner Radoop 2.2 supports more than fifty operators for data transformation, plus the ability to implement custom HiveQL and Pig scripts.  For machine learning, RapidMiner supports k-means, fuzzy k-means and canopy clustering, PCA, correlation and covariance matrices, Naive Bayes classifier and two Spark MLLib algorithms (logistic regression and decision trees); Radoop also supports Hadoop scoring capabilities for any model created in RapidMiner.

Support for Hadoop distributions is excellent, including Cloudera CDH, Hortonworks HDP, Apache Hadoop, MapR, Amazon EMR and Datastax Enterprise.  As of Release 2.2, Radoop supports Kerberos authentication.

Revolution R Enterprise

Vendor: Revolution Analytics

Revolution R Enterprise bundles a number of components, including Revolution R, an enhanced and commercially supported R distribution, a Windows IDE, integration tools and ScaleR, a suite of distributed algorithms for predictive analytics with an R interface.  A little over a year ago, Revolution released its version 7.0, which enables ScaleR to integrate with Hadoop using push-down MapReduce.   The mix of techniques currently supported in Hadoop includes tools for data transformation, descriptive statistics, linear and logistic regression, generalized linear models, decision trees, ensemble models and k-means clustering.   Revolution Analytics supports ScaleR in Cloudera, Hortonworks and MapR; Teradata Database; and in free-standing clusters running on IBM Platform LSF or Windows Server HPC.  Microsoft recently announced that it will acquire Revolution Analytics; this will provide the company with additional resources to develop and enhance the platform.

SAS High Performance Analytics

Vendor: SAS

SAS High Performance Analytics (HPA) is a distributed in-memory analytics engine that runs in Teradata, Greenplum or Oracle appliances, on commodity hardware or co-located in Hadoop (Apache, Cloudera or Hortonworks).  In Hadoop, HPA can be deployed either in a symmetric configuration (SAS instance on each DataNode) or in an asymmetric configuration (SAS deployed on dedicated “Analysis” nodes within the Hadoop cluster.)  While an asymmetric architecture seems less than ideal (due to the need for data movement and shuffling), it reduces the need to upgrade the hardware on every node and reduces SAS software licensing costs.

Functionally, there are five different bundles, for statistics, data mining, text mining, econometrics and optimization; each of these is separately licensed.  End users leverage the algorithms from SAS Enterprise Miner, which is also separately licensed.  Analytic functionality is rich compared to available high-performance alternatives, but existing SAS users will be surprised to see that many techniques available in SAS/STAT are unavailable in HPA.

SAS first introduced HPA in December, 2011 with great fanfare.  To date the product lacks a single public reference customer; this could mean that SAS’ Marketing organization is asleep at the switch, or it could mean that customer success stories with the product are few and far between.  As always with SAS, cost is an issue with prospective customers; other issues cited by customers who have evaluated the product include HPA’s inability to run existing programs developed in Legacy SAS, and concerns about the proprietary architecture. Interestingly, SAS no longer talks up this product in venues like Strata, pointing prospective customers to SAS In-Memory Statistics for Hadoop (see below) instead.

SAS In-Memory Statistics for Hadoop

Vendor: SAS

SAS In-Memory Statistics for Hadoop (IMSH) is an analytics application that runs on SAS’ “other” distributed in-memory architecture (SAS LASR Server).  Why does SAS have two in-memory architectures?  Good luck getting SAS to explain that in a coherent manner.  The best explanation, so far as I can tell, is a “mud-on-the-wall” approach to new product development.

Functionally, IMSH Release 2.5 supports data prep with SAS DS2 (an object-oriented language), descriptive statistics, classification and regression trees (C4.5), forecasting, general and generalized linear models, logistic regression, a Random Forests lookalike, clustering, association rule mining, text mining and a recommendation system.   Users interact with the product through SAS Studio, a web-based IDE introduced in SAS 9.4.

Overall, IMSH is a better value than HPA.  SAS prices this software based on the number of cores in the servers upon which it is deployed; while I can’t disclose the list price per core, it’s fair to say that any configuration beyond a sandbox will rapidly approach seven figures for the first year fee.

Skytree

Product: Skytree Infinity

Skytree began life as an academic machine learning project (FastLab, at Georgia Tech); the developers shopped the distributed machine learning core to a number of vendors and, finding no buyers, launched as a commercial software vendor in January 2013.  Recently rebranded from Skytree Server to Skytree Infinity, the product now includes modules for data marshaling and preparation that run on Spark.  Distributed algorithms can run as a free-standing cluster or co-located in Hadoop under YARN.  The product has a programming interface; the vendor claims ability to run from R, Weka, C++ and Python.   Neither Skytree’s modest list of algorithms nor its short list of public reference customers has changed in the past two years.

Strata Report: Advanced Analytics in Hadoop

Here is a quick review of the capabilities for advanced analytics in Hadoop for five vendors at the recent Strata NYC conference:

0XData

Product(s)

  • H20 (open source project)
  • h2o (R package)

Description

Smart people from Stanford with VC backing and a social media program.   Services business model with open source software.  H20 is an open source library of algorithms designed for deployment in Hadoop or free-standing clusters;  aggressive vision, but currently available functionality limited to GLM, k-Means, Random Forests.   Update: 0xData just announced H20 2.0, which includes Distributed Trees and Regression, such as Gradient Boosting Machine (GBM), Random Forest (RF), Generalized Linear Modeling (GLM), k-Means and Principal Component Analysis (PCA).  They also claim to run “100X faster than other predictive analytics providers”, although this claim is not supported by evidence.  R users can interface through h2o package.  Limited customer base.  Partners with Cloudera and MapR.

Key Points

  • True open source model
  • Comprehensive roadmap
  • Limited functionality
  • Limited user base
  • Performance claims undocumented

Alpine Data Labs

Product(s)

  • Alpine 2.8

Description

Alpine targets a business user persona with a visual workflow-oriented interface (comparable to SAS Enterprise Miner or SPSS Modeler).   Supports a reasonably broad range of analytic features.  Claims to run “in” a number of databases and Hadoop distributions, but company is opaque about how this works.  (Appears to be SQL/HiveQL push-down).   In practice, most customers seem to use Alpine with Greenplum.  Thin sales and customer base relative to claimed feature mix suggests uncertainty about product performance and stability.  Partners with Pivotal, Cloudera and MapR.

Key Points

  • Reasonable option for users already committed to Greenplum Database
  • Limited partner and user ecosystem
  • Performance and stability should be vetted thoroughly in POC

Oracle

Product(s)

Description

Oracle R Distribution (ORD) is a free distribution of R with bug fixes and performance enhancements; Oracle R Enterprise is a supported version of ORD with additional enhancements (detailed below).

Oracle Advanced Analytics (an option of Oracle Database Enterprise Edition) bundles Oracle Data Mining, a distributed data mining engine that runs in Oracle Database, and Oracle R Enterprise.   Oracle Advanced Analytics provides an R to SQL transparency layer that maps R functions and algorithms to native in-database SQL equivalents.  When in-database equivalents are not available, Oracle Advanced Analytics can run R commands under embedded R mode.

Oracle Connection to Hadoop  is an R interface to Hadoop; it enables the user to write MapReduce tasks in R and interface with Hive.  As of ORCH 2.1.0, there is also a fairly rich collection of machine learning algorithms for supervised and unsupervised learning that can be pushed down into Hadoop.

Key Points

  • Good choice for Oracle-centric organizations
  • Oracle Data Mining is a mature product with an excellent user interface
  • Must move data from Hadoop to Oracle Database to leverage OAA
  • Hadoop push-down from R requires expertise in MapReduce

SAS

Products

  • SAS/ACCESS Interface to Hadoop
  • SAS Scoring Accelerator for Cloudera
  • SAS Visual Analytics/SAS LASR Server
  • SAS High Performance Analytics Server

Description

SAS/ACCESS Interface to Hadoop enables SAS users to pass Hive, Pig or MapReduce commands to Hadoop through a connection and move the results back to the SAS server.   With SAS/ACCESS you can haul your data out of Hadoop, plug it into SAS and use a bunch of other SAS products, but that architecture is pretty much a non-starter for most Strata attendees.   Update:  SAS has announced SAS/ACCESS for Impala.

Visual Analytics is a Tableau-like visualization tool with limited predictive analytic capabilities; LASR Server is the in-memory back end for Visual Analytics.  High Performance Analytics is a suite of distributed in-memory analytics.   LASR Server and HPA Server can be co-located in a Hadoop cluster, but require special hardware.  Partners with Cloudera and Hortonworks.

Key Points

  • Legacy SAS connects to Hadoop, does not run in Hadoop
  • SAS/ACCESS users must know exact Hive, Pig or MapReduce syntax
  • Visual Analytics cannot work with “raw” data in Hadoop
  • Minimum hardware requirements for LASR and HPA significantly exceed standard Hadoop worker node specs
  • High TCO, proprietary architecture for all SAS products

Skytree

Product(s)

  • Skytree Server

Description

Academic machine learning project (FastLab, at Georgia Tech); with VC backing, launched as commercial software vendor January 2013.  Server-based technology, can connect to a range of data sources, including Hadoop.  Programming interface; claims ability to run from R, Weka, C++ and Python.  Good library of algorithms.  Partners with Cloudera, Hortonworks, MapR.  Skytree is opaque about technology and performance claims.

Key Points

  • Limited customer base, no announced sales since company launch
  • Hadoop integration is a connection, not “inside” architecture
  • Performance claims should be carefully vetted

SAS and Hadoop

SAS’ recent announcement of an alliance with Hortonworks marks a good opportunity to summarize SAS’ Hadoop capabilities.    Analytic enterprises are increasingly serious about using Hadoop as an analytics platform; organizations with significant “sunk” investment in SAS are naturally interested in understanding SAS’ ability to work with Hadoop.

Prior to January, 2012, a search for the words “Hadoop” or “MapReduce” returned no results on the SAS marketing and support websites, which says something about SAS’ leadership in this area.  In March 2012, SAS announced support for Hadoop connectivity;  since then, SAS has gradually expanded the features it supports with Hadoop.

As of today, there are four primary ways that a SAS user can leverage Hadoop:

Let’s take a look at each option.

“Legacy SAS” is a convenient term for Base SAS, SAS/STAT and various packages (GRAPH, ETS, OR, etc) that are used primarily from a programming interface.  SAS/ACCESS Interface to Hadoop provides SAS users with the ability to connect to Hadoop, pass through Hive, Pig or MapReduce commands, extract data and bring it back to the SAS server for further processing.  It works in a manner similar to all of the SAS/ACCESS engines, but there are some inherent differences between Hadoop and commercial databases that impact the SAS user.  For more detailed information, read the manual.

SAS/ACCESS also supports six “Hadoop-enabled” PROCS (FREQ, MEANS, RANK, REPORT, SUMMARY, TABULATE); for perspective, there are some 300 PROCs in Legacy SAS, so there are ~294 PROCs that do not run inside Hadoop.  If all you need to do is run frequency distributions, simple statistics and summary reports then SAS offers everything you need for analytics in Hadoop.  If that is all you want to do, of course, you can use Datameer or Big Sheets and save on SAS licensing fees.

A SAS programmer who is an expert in Hive, Pig or MapReduce can accomplish a lot with this capability, but the SAS software provides minimal support and does not “translate” SAS DATA steps.  (In my experience, most SAS users are not experts in SQL, Hive, Pig or MapReduce).  SAS users who work with the SAS Pass-Through SQL Facility know that in practice one must submit explicit SQL to the database, because “implicit SQL” only works in certain circumstances (which SAS does not document);  if SAS cannot implicitly translate a DATA Step into SQL/HiveQL, it copies the data back to the SAS server –without warning — and performs the operation there.

SAS/ACCESS Interface to Hadoop works with HiveQL, but the user experience is similar to working with SQL Pass-Through.  Limited as “implicit HiveQL” may be, SAS does not claim to offer “implicit Pig” or “implicit MapReduce”.   The bottom line is that since the user needs to know how to program in Hive, Pig or MapReduce to use SAS/ACCESS Interface to Hadoop, the user might as well submit your jobs directly to Hive, Pig or MapReduce and save on SAS licensing fees.

SAS has not yet released the SAS/ACCESS Interface to Cloudera Impala, which it announced in October for December 2013 availability.

SAS Scoring Accelerator enables a SAS Enterprise Miner user to export scoring models to relational databases, appliances and (most recently) to Cloudera.  Scoring Accelerator only works with SAS Enterprise Miner, and it doesn’t work with “code nodes” — which means that in practice must customers must rebuild existing predictive models to take advantage of the product.   Customers who already use SAS Enterprise Miner, can export the models in PMML and use them in any PMML-enabled database or decision engine and spend less on SAS licensing fees.

Which brings us to the two relatively new in-memory products, SAS Visual Analytics/SAS LASR Server and SAS High Performance Analytics Server.   These products were originally designed to run in specially constructed appliances from Teradata and Greenplum; with SAS 9.4 they are supported in a co-located Hadoop configuration that SAS calls a Distributed Alongside-HDFS architecture.  That means LASR and HPA can be installed on Hadoop nodes next to HDFS and, in theory, distributed throughout the Hadoop cluster with one instance of SAS on each node.

That looks good on a PowerPoint, but feedback from customers who have attempted to deploy SAS HPA in Hadoop is negative.  In a Q&A session at Strata NYC, SAS VP Paul Kent commented that it is possible to run SAS HPA on commodity hardware as long as you don’t want to run MapReduce jobs at the same time.  SAS’ hardware partners recommend 16-core machines with 256-512GB RAM for each HPA/LASR node; that hardware costs five or six times as much as a standard Hadoop worker node machine.  Since even the most committed SAS customer isn’t willing to replace the hardware in a 400-node Hadoop cluster, most customers will stand up a few high-end machines next to the Hadoop cluster and run the in-memory analytics in what SAS calls Asymmetric Distributed Alongside-HDFS mode.  This architecture adds latency to runtime performance, since data must be copied from the HDFS Data Nodes to the Analytic Nodes.

While HPA can work directly with HDFS data, VA/LASR Server requires data to be in SAS’ proprietary SASHDAT format.   To import the data into SASHDAT, you will need to license SAS Data Integration Server.

A single in-memory node supported by a 16-core/256GB can load a 75-100GB table, so if you’re working with a terabyte-sized dataset you’re going to need 10-12 nodes.   SAS does not publicly disclose its software pricing, but customers and partners report quotes with seven zeros for similar configurations.  Two years into General Availability, SAS has no announced customers for SAS High Performance Analytics.

SAS seems to be doing a little better selling SAS VA/LASR Server; they have a big push on in 2013 to sell 2,000 copies of VA and heavily promote a one node version on a big H-P machine for $100K.  Not sure how they’re doing against that target of 2,000 copies, but they have announced thirteen sales this year to smaller SAS-centric organizations, all but one outside the US.

While SAS has struggled to implement its in-memory software in Hadoop to date,  YARN and MapReduce 2.0 will make it much easier to run non-MapReduce applications in Hadoop.  Thus, it is not surprising that Hortonworks’ announcement of the SAS alliance coincides with the release of HDP 2.0, which offers production support for YARN.

SAS Visual Analytics: FAQ (Updated 1/2014)

SAS charged its sales force with selling 2,000 licenses for Visual Analytics in 2013; the jury is still out on whether they met this target.  There’s lots of marketing action lately from SAS about this product, so here’s an FAQ.

Update:  SAS recently announced 1,400 sites licensed for Visual Analytics.  In SAS lingo, a site corresponds roughly to one machine, but one license can include multiple sites; so the actual number of licenses sold in 2013 is less than 1,400.  In April 2013 SAS executives claimed two hundred customers for the product.   In contrast, Tableau reports that it added seven thousand customers in 2013 bringing its total customer count to 17,000.

What is SAS Visual Analytics?

Visual Analytics is an in-memory visualization and reporting tool.

What does Visual Analytics do?

SAS Visual Analytics creates reports and graphs that are visually compelling.  You can view them on mobile devices.

VA is now in its fifth dot release.  Why do they call it Release 6.3?

SAS Worldwide Marketing thinks that if they call it Release 6.3, you will think it’s a mature product.  It’s one of the games software companies play.

Is Visual Analytics an in-memory database, like SAP HANA?

No.  HANA is a standards-based in-memory database that runs on many different brands of hardware and supports a range of end-user tools.  VA is a proprietary architecture available on a limited choice of hardware platforms.  It cannot support anything other than the end-user applications SAS chooses to develop.

What does VA compete with?

SAS claims that Visual Analytics competes with Tableau, Qlikview and Spotfire.  Internally, SAS leadership refers to the product as its “Tableau-killer” but as the reader can see from the update at the top of this page, Tableau is alive and well.

How well does it compare?

You will have to decide for yourself whether VA reports are prettier than those produced by Tableau, Qlikview or Spotfire.  On paper, Tableau has more functionality.

VA runs in memory.  Does that make it better than conventional BI?

All analytic applications perform computations in memory.  Tableau runs in memory, and so does Base SAS.   There’s nothing unique about that.

What makes VA different from conventional BI applications is that it loads the entire fact table into memory.  By contrast, BI applications like Tableau query a back-end database to retrieve the necessary data, then perform computations on the result set.

Performance of a conventional BI application depends on how fast the back-end database can retrieve the data.  With a high-performance database the performance is excellent, but in most cases it won’t be as fast as it would if the data were held in memory.

So VA is faster?  Is there a downside?

There are two.

First, since conventional BI systems don’t need to load the entire fact table into memory, they can support usage with much larger datastores.  The largest H-P Proliant box for VA maxes out at about 10 terabytes; the smallest Netezza appliance supports 30 terabytes, and scales to petabytes.

The other downside is cost; memory is still much more expensive than other forms of storage, and the machines that host VA are far more expensive than data warehouse appliances that can host far more data.

VA is for Big Data, right?

SAS and H-P appear to be having trouble selling VA in larger sizes, and are positioning a small version that can handle 75-100 Gigabytes of data.  That’s tiny.

The public references SAS has announced for this product don’t seem particularly large.  See below.

How does data get into VA?

VA can load data from a relational database or from a proprietary SASHDAT file.  SAS cautions that loading data from a relational database is only a realistic option when VA is co-located in a Teradata Model 720 or Greenplum DCA appliance.

To use SASHDAT files, you must first create them using SAS.

Does VA work with unstructured data?

VA works with structured data, so unstructured data must be structured first, then loaded either to a co-located relational database or to SAS’ proprietary SASHDAT format.

Unlike products like Datameer or IBM Big Sheets, VA does not support “schema on read”, and it lacks built-in tools for parsing unstructured text.

But wait, SAS says VA works with Hadoop.  What’s up with that?

A bit of Marketing slight-of-hand.  VA can load SASHDAT files that are stored in the Hadoop File System (HDFS); but first, you have to process the data in SAS, then load it back into HDFS.  In other words, you can’t visualize and write reports from the data that streams in from machine-generated sources — the kind of live BI that makes Hadoop really cool.  You have to batch the data, parse it, structure it, then load it with SAS to VA’s staging area.

Can VA work with streaming data?

SAS sells tools that can capture streaming data and load it to a VA data source, but VA works with structured data at rest only.

With VA, can my users track events in real time?

Don’t bet on it.   To be usable VA requires significant pre-processing before it is loaded into VA’s memory.  Moreover, once it is loaded it can’t be updated; updating the data in VA requires a full truncate and reload.   Thus, however fast VA is in responding to user requests, your users won’t be tracking clicks on their iPads in real time; they will be looking at yesterday’s data.

Does VA do predictive analytics?

Visual Analytics 6.1 can perform correlation, fit bivariate trend lines to plots and do simple forecasting.  That’s no better than Tableau.  Surprisingly, given the hype, Tableau actually supports more analysis functions.

While SAS claims that VA is better than SAP HANA because “HANA is just a database”, the reality is that SAP supports more analytics through its Predictive Analytics Library than SAS supports in VA.

Has anyone purchased VA?

A SAS executive claimed 200 customers in early 2013, a figure that should be taken with a grain of salt.  If there are that many customers for this product, they are hiding.

There are five public references, all of them outside the US:

SAS has also recently announced selection (but not implementation) by

OfficeMax has also purchased the product, according to this SAS blog.

As of January 2014, the four customers who announced selection or purchase are not cited as reference customers.

What about implementation?  This is an appliance, right?

Wrong.  SAS’ considers an implementation that takes a month to be wildly successful.  Implementation tasks include the same tasks you would see in any other BI project, such as data requirements, data modeling, ETL construction and so forth.  All of the back end feeds must be built to put data into a format that VA can load.

Bottom line, does it make sense to buy SAS Visual Analytics?

Again, you will have to decide for yourself whether the SAS VA reports look better than Tableau or the many other options in this space.  BI beauty shows are inherently subjective.

You should also demand that SAS prove its claims to performance in a competitive POC.  Despite the theoretical advantage of an in-memory architecture, actual performance is influenced by many factors.  Visitors to the recent Gartner BI Summit who witnessed a demo were unimpressed; one described it to me as “dog slow”.  She didn’t mean that as a compliment.

The high cost of in-memory platforms mean that VA and its supporting hardware will be much more expensive for any given quantity of data than Tableau or equivalent products. Moreover, its proprietary architecture means you will be stuck with a BI silo in your organization unless you are willing to make SAS your exclusive BI provider.  That makes this product very good for SAS; the question is whether it is good for you.

The early adopters for this product appear to be very SAS-centric organizations (with significant prior SAS investment).  They also appear to be fairly small.  If you have very little data, money to burn and are willing to experiment with a relatively new product, VA may be for you.

Fact-Check: SAS and Greenplum

Does SAS run “inside” Greenplum?  Can existing SAS programs run faster in Greenplum without modification?  Clients say that their EMC rep makes such claims.

The first claim rests on confusion about EMC Greenplum’s product line.  It’s important to distinguish between Greenplum Database and Greenplum DCA.  Greenplum DCA is a rack of commodity blade servers which can be configured with Greenplum Database running on some of the blades and SAS running on the other blades.  For most customers, a single DCA blade provides insufficient computing power to support SAS, so EMC and SAS typically recommend deployment on multiple blades, with SAS Grid Manager implemented for workload management.   This architecture is illustrated in this white paper on SAS’ website.

As EMC’s reference architecture clearly illustrates, SAS does not run “inside” Greenplum database (or any other database); it simply runs on server blades that are co-located in the same physical rack as the database.  The SAS instance installed on the DCA rack works just like any other SAS instance installed on freestanding servers.  SAS interfaces with Greenplum Database through a SAS/ACCESS interface, which is exactly the same way that SAS interacts with other databases.

Does co-locating SAS and the database in the same rack offer any benefits?  Yes, because when data moves back and forth between SAS and Greenplum Database, it does so over a dedicated 10GB Ethernet connection.   However, this is not a unique benefit — customers can implement a similar high-speed connection between a free-standing instance of SAS and any data warehouse appliance, such as IBM Netezza.

To summarize, SAS does not run “inside” Greenplum Database or any other database; moreover, SAS’  interface with Greenplum is virtually the same as SAS’ interface with any other supported database.  EMC offers customers the ability to co-locate SAS in the same rack of servers as the Greenplum Database, which expedites data movement between SAS and the database, but this is a capability that can be replicated cheaply in other ways.

The second claim — that SAS programs run faster in Greenplum DCA without modification — requires more complex analysis.   For starters, though, keep in mind that SAS programs always require at least some modification when moved from one SAS instance to another, if only to update SAS libraries and adjust for platform-specific options.  Those modifications are small, however, so let’s set them aside and grant EMC some latitude for sales hyperbole.

To understand how existing SAS program will perform inside DCA, we need to consider the building blocks of those existing programs:

  1. SAS DATA Steps
  2. SAS PROC SQL
  3. SAS Database-Enabled PROCs
  4. SAS Analytic PROCs (PROC LOGISTIC, PROC REG, and so forth)

Here’s how SAS will handle each of these workloads within DCA:

(1) SAS DATA Steps: SAS attempts to translate SAS DATA Step statements into SQL.   When this translation succeeds, SAS submits the SQL expression to Greenplum Database, which runs the query and returns the result set to SAS.  Since SAS DATA Step programming includes many concepts that do not translate well to SQL, in most cases SAS will extract all required data from the database and run the required operations as a single-threaded process on one of the SAS nodes.

(2) SAS PROC SQL: SAS submits the embedded SQL to Greenplum Database, which runs the query and return the result set to SAS.   The SAS user must verify that the embedded SQL expression is syntactically correct for Greenplum.

(3) SAS Database-Enabled PROCs;  SAS converts the user request to database-specific SQL and submits to Greenplum Database, which runs the query and returns the result set to SAS.

(4) SAS Analytic PROCs:  In most cases, SAS runs the PROC on one of the server blades.  A limited number of SAS PROCs are automatically enabled for Grid Computing; these PROCs will run multi-threaded.

In each case, the SAS workload runs in the same way inside DCA as it would if implemented in a free-standing SAS instance with comparable computing power.   Existing SAS programs are not automatically enabled to leverage Greenplum’s parallel processing; the SAS user must explicitly modify the SAS program to exploit Greenplum Database just as they would when using SAS with other databases.

So, returning to the question: will existing SAS programs run faster in Greenplum DCA without modification?  Setting aside minor changes when moving any SAS program, the performance of existing programs when run in DCA will be no better than what would be achieved when SAS is deployed on competing hardware with comparable computing specifications.

SAS users can only realize radical performance improvements when they explicitly modify their programs to take advantage of in-database processing.   Greenplum has no special advantage in this regard; conversion effort is similar for all databases supported by SAS.

Customer Endorsement for SAS High Performance Analytics

When SAS released its new in-memory analytic software last December, I predicted that SAS would have one reference customer in 2012.  I believed at the time that several factors, including pricing, inability to run most existing SAS programs and SAS’ track record with new products would prevent widespread adoption, but that SAS would do whatever it takes to get at least one customer up and running on the product.

It may surprise you to learn that SAS does not already have a number of public references for the product.  SAS uses the term ‘High Performance Analytics’ in two ways: as the name for its new high-end in-memory analytics software, and to refer to an entire category of products, both new and existing.  Hence, it’s important to read SAS’ customer success stories carefully; for example, SAS cites CSI-Piemonte as a reference for in-memory analytics, but the text of the story indicates the customer has selected SAS Grid Manager, a mature product.

Recently, a United Health Group executive spoke at SAS’ Analytics 2012 conference and publicly endorsed the High Performance Analytics product; a search through SAS press releases and blog postings appears to show that this is the first genuine public endorsement.  You can read the story here.

Several comments:

— While it appears the POC succeeded, the story does not say that United Healthcare has licensed SAS HPA for production.

— The executive interviewed in the article appears to be unaware of alternative technologies, some of which are already owned and used by his employer.

— The use case described in the article is not particularly challenging.  Four million rows of data was a large data set ten years ago; today we work with data sets that are orders of magnitude larger than that.

— The reported load rate of 9.2 TB is good, but not better than what can be achieved with competing products.  The story does not state whether this rate measure load from raw data to Greenplum or from Greenplum into SAS HPA’s memory.

— Performance for parsing unstructured data — “millions of rows of text data in a few minutes” — is not compelling compared to alternatives.

The money quote in this story: “this Big Data analytics stuff is expensive…”  That statement is certainly true of SAS High Performance Analytics, but not necessarily so for alternatives.   Due to the high cost of this software, the executive in the story does not believe SAS HPA can be deployed broadly as an architecture, but must be implemented in a silo that will require users to move data around.

That path doesn’t lead to the Analytic Enterprise.

EMC Announces Partnership with Alpine Data Labs

Catching up on the news here.

The keyword in the title of this post is “announces”.  It’s not news that EMC partners with Alpine Data Labs.   Alpine Miner is a nifty product, but in the predictive analytics market Alpine is an ankle-biter compared to SAS, SPSS, Mathsoft and other vendors.   Greenplum and Alpine were sister companies funded by the same VC before EMC entered the picture.  When EMC acquired Greenplum, they passed on Alpine because (a) it didn’t fit into EMC’s all-things-data warehousing strategy, and (b) EMC didn’t want to mess up their new alliance with SAS.

SAS does not look kindly on alliance partners that compete with them; this is, in part, a knee-jerk response.  In the analytics software market, clients rarely switch from one vendor to another, and growth opportunities in the analytic tools market are limited.  Most of the action is in emerging users and analytic applications, where SAS’ core strengths don’t play as well.  Nevertheless, SAS expects to own every category in which it chooses to compete and expects its partners to go along even as SAS invades new territory.

After EMC acquired Greenplum, GP reps continued to work together on a “sell-with” basis in a kind of “stealth” partnership.

So it’s significant that EMC entered into a reseller agreement with Alpine and announced it to the world.  It’s a smart move by EMC; as I said earlier, Alpine is a nifty product. But it suggests that EMC isn’t getting the traction it expected from the SAS alliance — a view that’s supported by scuttlebutt from inside both SAS and EMC.