Monthly Archives: June 2011

Oracle Exadata and SAP HANA compared

This last week, Bob Evans from SAP wrote a blog entitled The Top 10 Reasons SAP HANA Is Disrupting Larry Ellison’s Grand Plans. I think it’s a great conversation to be had, but in the end (despite having some good content), Bob’s article comes over as Oracle-style willy waving and in my opinion loses credibility.

I was considering writing a response on my corporate blog, but I’m not enough of an expert in Exadata yet to put my company’s name to it. So, here are my musings on the subject.

What I will say is that one thing that Bob has right is that SAP and Oracle have the same long-term goal – to dominate the database market – or perhaps more accurately to reframe the database market into something new. Their approach is similar in only one way though – they are starting with an appliance to meet Data Warehouse needs.

How are Oracle Exadata and SAP HANA similar?

First, they are both are appliances – bundles of hardware and software and services that give you something that will run out the box. This means that the 3 elements: hardware, software and tuning – are highly optimised to work together.

Second, they are both initially optimised for Data Warehousing scenarios. This is partially because they are new technology and SAP and Oracle want to focus on getting it right for those workloads, and partially because Enterprise Data Warehouses often perform badly, so there is a simple business case for fast EDWs.

Third, both scale more or less linearly for large datasets. Performance with large data volumes just isn’t a problem with these technologies. Performance on the other hand is a problem for complex analytics where there is a lot of number crunching and neither Exadata nor HANA have really fixed that yet.

How are Oracle Exadata and SAP HANA fundementally different?

Oracle Exadata is a cell based Oracle appliance. This means that an Exadata Appliance is made up of multiple Oracle Exadata Storage Servers, each of which handles a workload, and part of a response set. So you ask a question of Exadata and the central node chunks stuff up and the Storage Servers crunch out responses. The node compiles those responses into an overall response.

SAP HANA is an in-Memory Appliance. It does break up responses if you have multiple nodes just like Exadata, but that’s not really the point. The point is that even with a single HANA node, you can get blistering performance from a reporting query, because it performs the calculation in main memory.

In addition, HANA has an application layer that sits with the In-Memory Database. This is the killer blow because the first native app is a calculation engine. This means it can do complex calculations without an application layer, which massively improves application performance.

So the key here is that whilst Exadata remains a database, SAP are pushing HANA as an application platform – and with good reason.

What does this mean in terms of what’s available right now?

This is where Oracle are doing well right now. They have over 1000 Exadata clusters out there and expect 3000 by the end of the year and I believe Larry Ellison on that. This is because if you have an Oracle Data Warehouse, you can reasonably expect to move it to Exadata right now, and expect dramatic performance improvements. It’s build on the existing Oracle 11g database and therefore isn’t a dramatic shift – just a bunch of existing components put together with some new plumbing.

SAP on the other hand have a number of Proof of Concept customers and a small number of customers who claim to be already getting some value. Their product just went live last week so that’s to be expected, but equally you can’t just take a SAP Data Warehouse yet and shift it into HANA. You have to do a lot of work (for now) building a new semantic layer for the information you want to produce.

What about the pipeline figures?

It’s worth a moment on those. Larry Ellison told the market that they had a $2bn pipeline and has since stopped talking about numbers. Bill McDermott from SAP has stated an existing $100m pipeline which they expect to increase to $1bn by the end of 2011. Oracle are certainly ahead in the game for now in this respect and the reflects the product maturity which Exadata already has.

What do the big 3 hardware vendors think of all this?

Well I can’t speak for HP, but it must be pretty pissed that Oracle are now building Exadata appliances on the Sun Microsystems hardware that it acquired, rather than the HP hardware that HP spent a load of money coinnovating on.

On the other hand, SAP HANA will run on any certified hardware, and the big 3 – IBM, HP and Dell, have certified hardware already and have built business development teams for SAP HANA. I think you can guess where they are going to be putting their marketing dollars, and it won’t be on Exadata!

To answer Bala Prabahar and George Matthew’s questions around DB2 – I think the Economist’s centenary article on IBM “IBM – 1100100 and counting” nails it – published a few weeks back. Look at the split of hardware, software and services. IBM is used to re-inventing itself and if it becomes more successful in SAP & Oracle Services due to a decline in DB2, it won’t care. Bear in mind we are looking at the macro-level here – HANA will take 5-10 years to change the market.

What about the future?

This is where it gets really interesting for me. What Oracle Exadata does is to substantially improve Oracle Data Warehouse workloads. But, I’m not sure that the parallel approach will work so well for OLTP workloads like the SAP Business Suite or Oracle Financials. But more to the point it’s just a means to make Oracle parallel. I’m not sure that it furthers the market that much, but it does make Oracle a very serious adversory to Teradata.

On the other hand, SAP HANA is only just getting started. HANA 1.0 SP02, which was released last week, is a basic analytics appliance. HANA 1.0 SP03, which will go into beta (SAP call it Ramp-Up) in Q4, will compete more directly with Exadata and allow SAP NetWeaver BW Data Warehouse customers to move their systems in-Memory.

And that’s where it gets interesting, because we get the second HANA native app: planning and what-if analysis. And that’s just the start – SAP are building out analytic apps for HANA for things like Trade Performance Effectiveness and will allow the Buiness Suite and its cloud based ERP offering, byDesign to run on HANA.

At that point, SAP customers won’t need Oracle at all, and can run everythign on HANA, or whatever they call it by then.

Final words

Taking this a step forward, there is the elephant in the room that SAP aren’t really talking about yet, because it’s premature. Forget about the tens of thousands of SAP customers that are its existing install base. HANA has a much wider appeal if it is a SQL compliant in-Memory database. It could be used for any workload and any app. And that, Bob, is why Larry Ellison should be scared.

Social Networks in 2011 – it’s all about contextual networks

It happens from time to time; I send a Facebook request to someone I know through work and I get a reply by email. It says something like “Hi John, I hope you don’t mind, but I don’t add people from work to Facebook – it’s for my personal friends only”. Each to his own, but I think that it’s missing the point.

Business and personal networks in 2011

One of the biggest problems is that these networks are really blurred these days. I have quite a lot of people that I’ve done work with that I’d consider a friend – and if you’re reading this blog you may well fall into that category. What’s more, I’ve employed or done business with quite a few friends.

There is an old adage that says you shouldn’t mix business and pleasure, and there is some truth to this. It is certainly true that it’s bad to mix business and pleasure in the same sentence.

Creating boundaries

I’m a strong believer in downtime from work and this is the biggest problem if you mix business and pleasure. If you go out with someone that you do some work with, do they know that it’s not cool to bring up some nasty business problem at 10pm in your favourite restaurant? For me, anecdotes about work are fine after hours, but getting into the depths of some unpleasant HR problem can be quite stressful on a Friday night.

But I don’t believe that separating business and work is possible any more – and it’s becoming less and less possible as the years tick by. Social networking means that the personal and work networks are blurrier as time goes by, whether you like it or not. What you can do is decide how you behave and in what network context.

Behavioural boundaries

A year or so back, when I started to add work people to Facebook, it became clear to me that this was how to behave. I interact on some 5 social networks and they all have their place. It looks something like this:

LinkedIn: purely for work and promotional networking purposes. I’ll add anyone to LinkedIn that I have met and remember, but I don’t see the point with networking with people I don’t know.

Facebook: purely for recreational purposes and I don’t promote my work on FB. Actually I hate it when people do, especially when they link Twitter to FB. Because it’s recreational, some of my content requires some context and therefore I only add people to Facebook that I’d stop and have a drink with in an airport. It’s my barometer for how well I know someone.

Twitter: starting to blur the lines here – Twitter is a predominate work focus for me but I have friends on it too. Anyone can follow me on Twitter so I am careful about the content I produce, whilst I try to be “me” and to give a sense of my personality.

Bluefin Blog: this is purely work focussed and an outlet for my thoughts on the SAP marketplace and products. Clearly anyone can read and comment on it and I only screen comments for spam – bring on the criticism.

This blog: my People, Process & Technology blog might have a work bias but it has a very specific purpose: to be an outlet for structured thoughts where my work blog would be inappropriate. It’s only ever written in my own time – evenings and weekends (and on the way into work in this case).

What does this mean to social networks in 2011

I think it’s pretty simple – it’s about authenticity and context and not about trying to create some artificial boundary between home and work – that simply doesn’t exist any more, and fighting it is futile. It’s true that we are likely to have slightly different personas at home and at work but if you segment your behaviour between the different channels, you will find things much easier.

And the other thing you need to remember is that nothing is private on social networks. Facebook, for example keeps changing its Terms of Service and Privacy Settings – last year it put all your photos public and this month it added facial recognition for you.

So if you’re doing things you don’t want the world to know about – throwing up in a bush at dawn or partying with your mistress – then don’t put them on a social network in the first place.

I just got influenced – the changing face of Industry Analysts

I was going to respond to Phil Fersht’s blog “Will the industry analyst business be dead in five years?“, but Dennis Howlett got there first with “Analyst, anal-yst, who cares?“. But it’s a matter close to my heart so I thought what the hell, I’ll put my 2 cents in too.

Both these blogs nail some really interesting points – and I also think they miss a few things too.

First, what’s happening to Gartner is also happening all over the world, for example the Enterprise IT consulting business that I work in. We are re-inventing ourselves all the time and we won’t be the same in 5 years time either. We have to get closer to out customers’ real needs and become much more relevant to them.

That said, I have some touch points within Gartner’s consulting group and these guys are switched on, restlessly curious about their market segment and with good knowledge of their customers’ businesses. Of course, that’s a far cry away from producing big thick research reports that no one reads. If Gartner et al are smart, they will change how they operate in the market like the rest of us. Probably some of the analyst firms won’t continue to re-invent themselves and will die out – just like elsewhere in the global market.

Then there’s the changing face of influence. I suspect I fall into the category that Dennis describes as “influencers”, although we don’t really know what it means or who is really in the group. I work for a consulting firm that sells SAP implementations and presumably the real world knowledge that exists in my consulting group means I can offer a different perspective. I also happen to believe that transparency in what we do makes the market a better place.

And like Dennis’, my perspective appears to be of interest to the Financial Analysts, customers and SAP alike. The problem with the model Dennis describes is that there’s two ends of the spectrum. On the one end is the monolithic analyst company which offers a single point of contact, and on the other is hundreds of subject matter experts offering a single area of expertise.

It’s possible that the hundreds of people might turn into a co-op – the Enterprise Irregulars are part way there (Phil is an Irregulars, and Dennis was), but I don’t think this would address the underlying issue of how that industry scales because it just creates a random group of people with some common ground – but without, for example, a shared commercial model.

I’m also certain that some traditional Analyst firms like Gartner will continue to be around at least for the medium term, because that $100k per year contract with Gartner buys the CIO a priceless commodity: a scapegoat. “But Gartner told me that XXX vendor was in the magic quadrant, it’s not my fault that it doesn’t work”.

What’s less clear is whether the “influencers” will be able to come together with some mechanism that allows a commercial means of purchasing services/information, a single point of contact and a lack of infighting.

Or even if that’s the right approach.

What are we looking for in the graduate intake?

Our graduate intake days start apace tomorrow. It’s been months in the coming and our recruitment have been working hard – in the words of our head of HR: there’s steam coming off the keyboards.

In any case, in the morning, I will be interviewing 6 of the best of the 2000 candidates that have come through our graduate process. It’s one of the highlights of the year because the consultants of tomorrow are born through this process – or at least some of them, for we’re obviously not the only source of talent.

With this in mind, I thought I’d write a blog about what I’m looking for in a graduate.

1) Restless Curiosity

We’re looking for people for whom the status quo isn’t good enough. You don’t have to know it all but you do have to know that you want more – and gently investigate your way into knowing more. Showing this is a key part of consultancy because we don’t want people who will just accept customer requirements – we want people who will gently challenge our customers to run their businesses in a better way.

2) Ability to Research

You need to show the ability to research – and this is easily demonstrated by the ability to research the company and the individuals that will be interviewing you. Just reading this blog might give you a competitive advantage over your peers.

Knowing the company you are interested in is a key research interest, because we want to employ people who want to work for us.

3) Technical Qualities

You need to have an interest in technology (why apply for a job at an Enterprise IT company otherwise?) but it’s not a question about the detail of your technical knowledge just now. My questions will be tailored towards your specific knowledge and how you can apply that.

4) Bigger picture of detail

Great consultants can zoom into the minutiae of detail and then back out to 30,000ft within the blink of an eyelid – can you show the ability to balance the two? Showing the ability to apply the right level of detail to a situation is key.

5) Personal Brand

Your personal brand will be incredibly important to you as your career grows but it might be important right now. Do you know how to work your social network on Facebook? Do you have a LinkedIn page yet and do you tweet? If you do then you might know what your business brand is starting to be, and this will be key in years to come. If not, then there’s still time.

Final words

I’m penning this blog for some fun before the graduate programme starts, and to see if today’s graduate intake is on the ball in terms of online presence. In the end, we’re looking for great people and the process outcome won’t be determined by this blog. I’m looking forward to the next 2 days. See you there.

Is it still relevant to control equipment purchasing in Enterprise IT?

When I first started working with Bluefin in late 2003, pretty much the first thing that I worked on was internal IT policy, with founder Mike Curl. They had been buying equipment here and there at the lowest price, and it felt very much like the acquisition policy of a small company.

We had aspirations of being a serious Enterprise player and there was a decision to try to act like one. We shifted to a policy of purchasing standard equipment – the then excellent Dell D600 laptop – and built a standard laptop image that was tailored to the modern consultant.

In the 8 intervening years not much has changed – the laptop image from early 2004 was still in use until recently – and we progressed through the Dell laptops available at that time – D610, D620, D630 and lately the E6410. This standardised on laptop docks and brought benefits of a lowered cost of support and a professional look and feel.

There are some major downsides to this approach though – mostly that the mainstream laptop that these models represent is jack of all trades and master of none. The more technical people would prefer a bigger screen and more power, and those who travel a lot – particularly women – would prefer something lighter.

These days I’m much more a consumer of IT policy within Bluefin rather than a setter, but it strikes me that we may have come to a point of inflection. There are a few of us, for example, that use MacBooks, and others who have a larger screened laptop as a special order.

There are some other trends which are important – Windows 7 is so much more reliable and laptops needs fixing less often, and support costs are much lower than they were. In addition, whilst Bluefin’s roots were in technical SAP consultancy (needing developer tools) and we have now got a growing number of less technical consultants, who only need a small number of tools.

There is some precedent here for us, because in 2008 we started to move those phone users who have large usage over to a corporate contract: there are major tax savings to be had. Most people chose an iPhone but we aren’t prescriptive and some have Windows Phones or Blackberries.

To add to this, Dell have just released a new range – the Dell Latitude E5420m, and it is divisive. It doesn’t look too professional and it has a smaller screen, whilst is no lighter. And this appears to be making our IT department wonder if we should stick with Dell.

But more to the point: is it still relevant to tell people what laptop they should have? Should people just get a budget to spend and buy what they want? And how does this balance against the need to keep IT support costs down? In any case, keeping employees happy and feeling valued is really important, and making sure that they have the right tools to do their job should be at the top of the agenda.

I suspect the answer is to give people a choice of systems – and to allow them to make an informed decision about their choice. But will everyone choose the MacBook anyway and then become a support overhead because the stuff they need doesn’t run on it? Perhaps there has to be some governance around that to make sure that the right people get the right machine.

However it turns out – it seems that we need more choice around equipment purchase – but without losing the governance for procurement. It will be interesting to see if we can keep the balance and make people happier by providing them with better tools to do their job.

Apple iPad 2 – what’s it actually good for and why are Time Magazine such idiots?

I was a pretty early adopter of Apple’s iPad in April of 2010 and I picked up an AT&T one in the USA when it first came out. That one was stolen from me in September but I remember clearly how useful I thought it was. Looking back on it, I’m not actually sure that I remember why.

And so I bought an iPad 2 last month in time for SAP’s SAPPHIRE conference, thinking that it would be the perfect tool to carry around the huge conference floor and I could avoid carrying a laptop.

It’s true in the context of a conference that the iPad is a pretty good tool. It’s lightweight and great to look at schedules, book meetings and record some material. Friend and SAP Mentor Martin Gillet snapped me at the conference:

John Appleby

But a month on and I’ve found that the iPad is just something that adds weight to my bag. Most of the time my iPhone is enough to keep me with information, and if I need to write something then the iPad is just too cumbersome. Instead, I pull out my MacBook Air and pen detailed documents, project plans or blogs on that.

iPad as a news machine

I went on a tourist trip with some friends this weekend to another city and picked up a copy of Time Magazine at the train station. It struck me how much of a waste it was in this day and age to be buying paper when we have such a great format as the iPad to read it on.

So when I got home I went to look into what publications were available on the iPad and what their digital subscription price models were.

Both the Economist and the Wall Street Journal have great plans. For the Economist it’s $30 a quarter for full digital rights to the magazine and it reads so well on the iPad. The WSJ is $3.99 a week for full digital rights and it reads as well as a newspaper with the added benefits of being able to move around content much more quickly.

In both cases the real benefit is that you don’t have to mess around picking up magazines, carrying them around etc. This is a much easier way to consume content, especially for someone like me that travels a lot – and I don’t begrudge the price.

What of Time Magazine?

Time Magazine only allows in-app purchases of $5 an edition. Sorry but that’s just plain insulting. They have none of the print, production and distribution costs of the magazine and they want the same price? Are they kidding me?

What’s even more retarded is that for US subscribers they offer $30 a year for 56 editions, for the print edition. And if you buy the print edition, you get inclusive access to the digital version. So, I subscribed a friend in the USA to Time Magazine, and I’ll have the digital rights.

But seriously, Time: if you don’t want to go out of business in this time of the decline of traditional print media, stop insulting your customers and sort out your price structure.

MacBook Air – the debacle continues with a two-tier support system

A month ago I wrote about the woes I’ve been having with my MacBook Air.

I’m now on 12 visits to the Apple Genius (should it be Dumbass) Bar and 5 separate repairs. On the latest repair they “fixed” the wireless but now the machine crashes at will, corrupted my Outlook email during one of those crashes. Because my email takes 3 days to download, the machine can’t stay alive for long enough to get it back.

So this time when I contacted Apple I made my request clear – I want a replacement machine. 5 repairs is 4 repairs too many and it’s time for them to see me right.

I was put through to a senior support person called “John” who told me he would be the last person I’d need to speak to. And then told me they were going to try to repair it again. I called back a day later and now I’m dealing with “Thomas” who tells me much the same.

They claim that because the machine was out of warranty when they did the first repair (which I paid for), they can’t replace it. Apparently if I had AppleCare then that would be fine. Only I do have AppleCare, but (mea culpa) I forgot to register it.

And now, unless I can prove when and where I bought it, they won’t register it to the machine. Of course I don’t have the receipt from 2 years ago when I bought the AppleCare – and of course, Apple don’t track when they sell stock… it wouldn’t be in their interests to do so, right?

Which really comes to my simple conclusion. Apple have a two-tier support system which is somewhat like health insurance in the US. Pay for AppleCare and they will see you right. If you don’t and you have problems, look forward to substandard support and hours on the phone.

What Apple don’t seem to see is the bigger picture: it will cost them nothing to accept the AppleCare and then they can replace the machine. But why they can’t just get on and do this, I really don’t know.