Throwing your Hat in the Ring

In the 19th century, boxing was a rough sport where anyone could challenge the current champion.  Standing in a big circle, amid all the shouting and hollering, the newest challenger would throw his hat in the circle to bid for the next fight.

It seems like every month there is a vendor throwing a hat in the database analytics ‘ring’ to challenge Teradata.  It makes marketing sense to take this approach:  Why challenge #2 or #5 in the market?  The marketing folks from these startups know they will get press and attention if they can make a big claim against the world champion.  North of 98% of the time, the challenge is hype — but that was the vendor’s goal.  Most of them really don’t want a fight, they want press, buzz, controversy and of course sales leads.

Consequently, many vendors with a new data access approach or ‘analytic trick’ challenge Teradata.   Some of these are called a “one trick ponies” because while they offer some narrow but cool function or feat, they are missing thousands of features, capabilities, and the technological maturity needed for a production-class data warehouse.   With due respect, often that one trick is noteworthy and later may be absorbed into Teradata’s products.  Established vendor claims are much more than one trick ponies but still far less capable than Teradata’s uniquely comprehensive approach.

So, looking around the market, who has challenged Teradata?  Kendall Square Research, Convex, Hypercube, SGI, DB2 Parallel Query Server, Metapa, RedBrick, Informix XPS, Datallegro, Greenplum, SAP BW, HP NeoView, Sybase IQ, Oracle Parallel Server, Paraccel, DB2, Hadoop, Hive,  NonStop SQL, and more.   Many of these products made an initial splash and got buzz, but have faded from history, some live on in niche markets, and others are still trying to prove themselves.

The Invisible Armor — Product Maturity [i]

Taking literary license with a famous von Moltke quote: “No product plan survives contact with the customer.”  Until each feature and function survives a couple dozen late night phone calls, the product is just a research prototype, a box of barely usable hacks.  The excitement of the one-trick pony crashes and burns moments after that emotional 2 am phone call saying “It’s not working, come into the office.”

Unlike boxers, software gets incrementally better and more capable with age.  But like boxers,   software gets beat up by tough customers.  It takes time and money to refine features so that they work in hundreds of circumstances.  It takes customers exercising and working the software in a thousand ways, many of them unanticipated by the original laboratory.

If the customer is the hammer, Teradata is the anvil and the product is where they meet to forge a mature product.  Furthermore, customers demand enhancements based on their vertical industry, administrative needs, business policies, security, and so on.   Software maturity comes not only with age but with thousands of earnest customer interactions, repairs, and improvements.

It’s not easy to measure product and vendor maturity, but it is a huge barrier to entry for competitors.   Depending on who the challenger may be, Teradata has a 10, 20, even 30 year head start in parallel data warehousing.   We all love to innovate, but it doesn’t fill a 10 year gap in real customer experience.

In boxing, you must beat the heavyweight champ decisively, not one round out of twelve.  Teradata’s sales executive, Frank Triolo, told me back in 1990, “Dan, you don’t get into this business by throwing your hat in the ring.  This parallel stuff is tough, really tough.”   Customers hammering products are equally tough –and invaluable.

Triolo was right: customer experience always trumps marketing claims and media buzz. The stakes are high: a company’s data is its source of economic value and true enlightenment. The buzz stops here.

Dan Graham

[i] Also see Curt Monash, DBMS development and other subjects, March 18, 2013

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