Actian Means Big Data Action, Must Pursue Big Data Execution

Actian Corporation ("Actian"), with backing from Garnett & Helfrich Capital, stands alone as the big data vendor with the bravado to charge down the acquisition path towards big data critical mass. Between start-up business intelligence ("BI")/analytics vendors, and Not Only SQL ("NoSQL") database vendors, other venture capital firms have invested roughly $1.5 billion in early stage big data related vendors. While large, established vendors playing in big data have made major acquisitions and investments down through the years, such as Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP, SAS, and Teradata, not even these major players have placed, proportionally speaking, such a big bet on big data as Actian.

The capstone to Actian's big data buying blitz happened last week with the announcement of the immediate acquisition of ParAccel, a leading MPP NoSQL database/advanced analytics solution. A mere month ago in a report I authored on the BI/analytics platforms, I wrote the following excerpt regarding ParAccel:

"The other remaining independent major MPP analytics vendor, ParAccel, a relative newcomer from 2005, has emerged as an alternative to the larger vendors, making it attractive as an OEM and as a partner. This was underscored recently when ParAccel was chosen as the OEM for Amazon Redshift. ESG considers ParAccel a leading candidate for potential acquisition not just because of its unique position among the MPP Analytics vendors, but more so because organizations serious about big data-class advanced analytics find that ParAccel is competitive with the more well-known brand names. ParAccel offers one of the richest analytics libraries on the market and is growing the library through its own R&D and by collaborating with customers and partners. It also has made usability improvements over the past year. On the go-to-market front, it has been successful coexisting with several larger vendors offerings, and has expanded ingest and integration features."

In ParAccel, Actian has gained a rising star in terms a big data platforms with not just the ability to ingest large quantities and many types of data at various velocities, but also to the ability to apply advanced analytics to all that data. Yet, ParAccel is only the latest in the astonishing string of purchases by Actian, the last being consummated by Actian and Pervasive Software a few weeks ago. Actian now wields world-class integration and B2B exchange offerings via Pervasive, for both on-premises and cloud, plus some additional advanced performance optimization and analytics capabilities.

I had previously giving-thanks-for-versant-and-actian/index.html" target="_blank">opined positively on Actian's acquisition of Versant late last year, and the Actian Vectorwise database takes direct advantage of the CPU to burn through analytics cycles in an architecturally similar manner to IBM's recently announced BLU—but Vectorwise was two years earlier. Suffice it to say that in terms of big data, Actian now offers a leading object database with robust JPA support (Versant), a leading MPP BI/analytics platform (ParAccel), a leading integration suite (Pervasive), and a blazing database performance-wise designed for analytics (Vectorwise).

After the six month buying spree, however, CEO Steve Shine and his team need to switch to execution mode, and there is no shortage of challenges:

  • Positioning: Carefully and clearly positioning the three big data databases (we are not worrying about the elderly Ingres relational database in this context, it doesn't apply other than as a data source) will prevent confusing prospects and existing customers, and in the near-term empowering Actian's own sales team and indirect channel partners. While all of the databases had a future on their own, it isn't clear that any of them individually were going to be wildly successful. Thus, some cross-selling and up-selling must be part of the plan.
  • Product Integration: Adding some cross-product value counts as an imperative, and it would seem that Pervasive would offer the best glue for this effort in the near-term, yielding some inter-solution "connectors." Given Actian's focus on big data, optimized ingest cross-database seems like a natural early step.
  • Common Data Management Layer: Develop a cohesive approach regarding virtualization, Hadoop, and storage over the longer-term will be required. We see some of the major database vendors moving towards a single virtual database supporting multiple data models—Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle all seem headed down this road. In the long-run, therefore, if Actian doesn't come up with a shared data management layer, it will increasingly look like a parts dealer.
  • Community Development: Over the course of the last six months, Actian has added fresh internal expertise from the acquisitions, plus the external communities connected to that expertise. Bringing these communities together, as part of an overall integrated marketing approach will strategically drive cross-product opportunity and idea development.

The other strategic approach Actian and Garnett & Helfrich Capital could take, however, is simply to improve margins through internal systems integration, expunging duplication across management and functional personnel, and decreasing R&D; wrapping Actian tightly with a pretty bow for resale. ESG does not see that working, however, in the current big data market—competition is too fierce and Actian faces that competition from many angles. The determining factor as to whether Actian's buying blitz will payoff for investors and customers ultimately is that further investment, in terms of execution, is required. While Actian has taken the express lane to being a big big data player, there is no short cut to big data success.

Topics: Data Platforms, Analytics, & AI