When Gartner Inc. placed Aster Data Systems Inc. firmly in the "Visionaries" section of its data warehousing "Magic Quadrant" last month, it seemed like faint praise.
Although Aster has gained attention for the size and speed of rollouts such as the more-than-200TB data warehouse run by MySpace, Gartner says that its flagship nCluster database lacks some basic features in the area of stored procedures, views and some types of database schemas.
By dinging Aster on its "ability to execute" scale, Gartner seemed to be saying that it is unconvinced that the five-year-old start-up has proved that it can walk the walk.
"As the newest entrant to the DBMS data warehouse world, Aster Data carries more risk than the larger DBMS vendors," wrote Gartner analysts Donald Feinberg and Mark Beyer. "We recommend a thorough POC [proof of concept] with Aster Data and a minimum of two other vendors."
With Version 4.5 of nCluster, Aster hopes to alleviate those concerns, and more.
The latest release, Aster said, improves nCluster in three key areas: performance, ease of development and management.
Aster is certifying optional flash memory storage from Fusion I/O connected via fast PCI Express (PCIe) cards. This follows closely on the heels of similar moves by ParAccel Inc., which released a Fusion I/O-based data warehousing appliance earlier this month, and Oracle Corp., whose Exadata Version 2 Database Appliance also uses PCIe-based cards. (For its part, Teradata Inc. has announced, but not yet released, an appliance using flash SSDs.)
Apart from letting users choose flash-enabled servers to be central ones in the cluster, Aster hasn't optimized Version 4.5 for flash by, for example, treating it as a different storage tier. Because of the high cost today of flash, customers will likely use it in small amounts, said Sharmila Shahani-Mulligan, Aster's executive vice president of worldwide marketing.
Besides adding flash, Aster says it improved data-loading performance in nCluster 4.5 up to 4TB per hour.
Ease of development
Version 4.5 of nCluster lets developers create applications using a point-and-click SQL-based interface, said Aster's director of product marketing, Jon Bock. This free development environment, called Aster Data Developer Express, works with the popular Eclipse IDE, and makes it possible to build and test apps quickly, without the need to buy an nCluster license upfront. Aster hopes that move will attract the attention of potential independent software vendor partners.
The Aster development framework can also be used to build MapReduce apps. Those MapReduce applications run inside nCluster, giving Aster a key patent-pending advantage over competitors who "treat MapReduce as a UDF [user-defined function] or stored procedure," says Bock.
Aster is also offering a suite of prebuilt analytics functions for developers.
Aster is enhancing its management console with new dashboards to monitor both queries and server performance.
"I'm very impressed with Aster's products, direction, partnerships, architecture, and customer adoption," said Forrester Research Inc. analyst James Kobielus. "For starters, the new integrated SQL and MapReduce visual development environment fills the last missing piece in their platform/tool portfolio, addressing developers' needs for simplified, graphical, wizard-driven MapReduce development tools. Likewise, the DW workload management dashboard supports very fine-grained optimization and administration of these MapReduce jobs across distributed nCluster grids and clouds."
Kobielus said the data loader puts Aster "solidly in the pack with Greenplum, Oracle, and others," while the pre-built Aster analytic functions "should speed ISV and customer adoption of MapReduce for core analytics."
Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericylai or subscribe to Eric's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.