Oracle's Big Data Appliance taps growing enterprise need, analysts say

It will give companies a way to handle large volumes of unstructured data

SAN FRANCISCIO -- Oracle's new Big Data Appliance, officially introduced this morning at the Oracle OpenWorld2011 conference here, should appeal to enterprises looking for more efficient ways to capture, organize and analyze vast amounts of unstructured data.

The technology, like other recent products from Oracle, is a tightly bundled hardware, software and storage appliance running an open source distribution of Apache Hadoop software, a new Oracle NoSQL database and an open source distribution of R for statistical analysis. The product is designed to work alongside Oracle Database 11g, its Exadata appliance and its new Exalytics appliance for business intelligence applications.

The Big Data Appliance represents Oracle's attempt to tap growing enterprise interest in tools for performing complex analytics on unstructured text data, weblogs, video files and social media.

Analysts believe that companies can gain significant tactical and strategic benefits from analyzing the data. But traditional database management systems, analytic products and storage mechanisms that are designed for more structured data have been hard-pressed to handle the new data types.

Over the past two years, several vendors have begun offering NoSQL and Hadoop alternatives that are optimized to handle large volumes of unstructured data. Many of the products integrate new database and storage management technologies to enable more efficient management and retrieval of the data.

"Big Data is something that Oracle had to address," said Jean Bozman, an analyst with IDC. "It is a really exciting trend" that enterprises are beginning to embrace in a big way.

Bozman said that Oracle's new appliance will give enterprises a way to capture and analyze unstructured data and eventually integrate it with the structured data in their traditional relational database management system environments.

Today's announcement was "very important" for Oracle, said James Kobielus, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Hadoop and NoSQL are of huge interest to Oracle's customers in their Big Data plans. If Oracle had not made the announcements that it did today in these areas, it would have been seen as missing the boat on these hot emerging markets."

Today's announcement is likely to put pressure on rivals such as Teradata, IBM, SAP, Microsoft and EMC to ramp up their own offerings. The onus is on them to "match and surpass Oracle in their roadmaps, offerings and partnerships," Kobielus said. "Forrester expects M&A activity in these arenas to ramp up now that Oracle has made these aggressive moves."

Oracle's big data appliance builds on the company's relatively recent strategy to deliver tightly bundled hardware and software to address a variety of customer needs. The company's hugely successful Exadata appliance, for instance, is an integrated database engine that gives companies a way to consolidate multiple smaller database systems into one big box.

The company also has a similar appliance, called Exalogic, for running Java, C and C++ applications. And just this week, Oracle announced Exalytics, a bundled box for powering business intelligence applications.

According to Bozman, Oracle's appliance strategy is aimed at both existing customers and potential new ones. The appliances, which are highly optimized for specific tasks, give enterprises a way to reduce much of the complexity previously involved in tuning optimizing Oracle databases and applications, she said.

"Years ago, database administrators would use their IT skills set to tune and optimize an Oracle database," Bozman said. The new appliances reduce the need for that because they are already optimized for a specific task right out of the box.

To grow its revenues in a competitive market and to fend off competition from other data warehouse appliance vendors, Oracle needs to continue growing its analytic appliance product portfolio, Kobielus said. Most of the appliances primarily involve tighter integration with Oracle's vast range of enterprise apps. That's clearly one of Oracle's top priorities going forward, he said.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at  @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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