It’s a numbers game (of two halves)

Monday June 28th, 2010

ZurichThe world centre of football is… Zurich! South Africa may be getting all of the attention at the moment, but it is here in Switzerland’s largest city that most of the important decisions are made. Zurich is, of course, home to world governing body FIFA and it is here that decisions are taken about how the rules of the game should be enforced, what price broadcasters should pay to secure TV rights to the World Cup – and how that Kings Ransom should then be distributed.


This year’s tournament will probably earn FIFA a record $2B; by comparison, the 2002 tournament earned it only a paltry £636M (or $958M at current exchange rates). The cost to South Africa of staging the 2010 World Cup is estimated at $3.5B; a price that some commentators consider far too great for a country blighted by want on such a large scale to bear; especially as the lucrative – and predictable – marketing rights are FIFA’s to sell, whilst only the unpredictable revenues from local ticket sales are returned to the host nation. FIFA, it should be said, has made a $500M contribution towards the infrastructure costs incurred by South African organizing committee. And it will earn no substantial additional revenues until the 2014 World Cup, despite the fact that it will incur significant costs in organizing less glamorous competitions and in promoting the game at grass-roots across the world between now-and-then.


Rather harder to defend, perhaps, are players’ incomes, which have grown even more spectacularly than has FIFA’s revenues. According to one respected review, the average annual salary of footballers in England’s top league broke through the £1m ceiling in 2007, which means that even the journeymen in the current England team now earn near enough the national average annual salary in just one week. England’s World Cup winning team of 1966 were also relatively well-paid – but earned 6 times more than the average annual salary, not 52 times more.


In the last 30 years, meanwhile, processor performance has increased by five million times, whilst storage performance has increased by a factor of only five. This yawning performance gap – bigger even than the gap between the performance of the England team and the expection of the English media and fans – is clearly unsustainable, particular for I/O intensive workloads such as data warehousing. And this is the reason for our excitement about solid-state storage (SSD) technology; as Teradata technology supremo Stephen Brobst has been explaining on our tour of the region, SSD technology improves random I/O performance by two orders of magnitude and will transform the database industry.


Though revolutionary, SSD technology remains more expensive than magnetic storage technology – and that disparity will continue to endure, even if, as Stephen predicts, the cost of SSD technology continues to decrease 40% year-on-year on a compound annual basis. Not only that, but the industry faces an explosion in data volumes.


Total stored data volumes are increasing exponentially. Stephen makes the point that the Petabyte (1015 Bytes) age is already upon us – and that the Zettabyte (1021 Bytes) age is in the line-of-sight. One of the current high-profile drivers of this growth – Web 2.0 and its myriad micro-conversations, mediated by Facebook & Co. – is in fact less important than the revolution in sensor technology and the Tsunami of senor data that will follow. As Stephen says of Social Networking: “in the end, there are only so many monkeys and so many typewriters – but there will be trillions of interconnected sensors.” Those interconnected sensors will re-define the meaning of “detailed data”, as we move from collecting transaction data in the data warehouse to capturing interaction data.


(Stephen, by the way, is an avid social networker himself and is paraphrasing the old adage that given enough monkeys and enough typewriters the Complete Works of Shakespere could be re-produced, not making pejorative judgements about the value of social networks and those that spend their time sharing online! At least I don’t think he is calling me a monkey.)


Teradata was, of course, the first vendor to announce an all solid-state storage data warehouse appliance, an achievement that we are justifiably proud of. But not even in our wildest dreams do we envisage that it will make sense for most of our customers to put most of their data on SSDs. And trust me, my wildest dreams are pretty wild…


That’s not just because solid-state storage is relatively expensive (though it is), and not just because the unit price of magnetic storage also continues to fall (which it does, albeit less spectacularly than the price of solid-state storage). It’s because the Paretto rule also applies to storage access: 80% or more of access requests address 20% or less of the data managed by the average analytical database. It follows that no sane CFO will approve a request to store most or all of an organization’s – exponentially increasing, remember – data on the most expensive, high-performance storage devices. Not when he or she could get roughly the same benefit for 20% of the outlay. And insane CFOs are as rare as England hat tricks at the World Cup (another iPod Shuffle to the first reader who can correctly identify the player who last accomplished this feat and the match and tournament concerned).


All of which is why Teradata’s all solid-state storage appliance is just the beginning of our journey with this technology – and the reason that the ultimate destination is mixed-storage products, with “hot” and “cold” data automatically and transparently migrated between the different storage devices using our industry-leading Teradata Virtual Storage software. The automated migration of data is much more than cool, geeky engineering, by the way – it’s essential to the trick of getting an 80% performance boost for a 20% investment, because today’s “hot data” is yesterday’s old news. That ball will keep on rolling…


Enough of these number games, time for the real thing. England are through to the last 16 of the World Cup – just! – and take on Germany on Sunday, a game I will be watching in the Lufthansa lounge at Frankfurt airport, en route to Madrid. Meat pie, sausage roll – come on England, give us a goal!


Martin Willcox

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