IBM’s Big Data Strategy: Will the “Big Blue” Become the “Big Data” Company?

In a recent analyst briefing with IBM, the software and hardware provider revealed the details of its continued efforts to expand its big “big data” offerings. The three major announcements revealed by IBM are key to the company's efforts to consolidate its big data offerings and become the biggest player in the so-called big data space, but having to compete for the “big”gest piece of the pie with other major software giants and important niche players such as Oracle, Cloudera, Teradata, Microsoft, and SAP, it might not be as easy as it seems…

IBM’s recent announcements

First, let’s review IBM’s big (data) announcements:

  1. The introduction of BLU acceleration, a new technology offering which will be applied within the DB2 10.5 database version, was developed by IBM specifically to optimize the execution of complex queries and increase performance for data analysis. Some important features include in-memory columnar processing, parallel vector processing capabilities, data compression, and data skipping to disable the processing of irrelevant data. Other features include support for SQL, and specific features for hardware optimization such as memory management and CPU processing optimization.

  2. A series of enhancements to IBM’s existing big data platform, including a new version of IBM Infosphere Streams, and a new version (2.1) of Big SQL, IBM’s end-user interface for BigInsights, its Hadoop distribution.

  3. The introduction of a new PureData System for Hadoop—this data appliance will include IBM’s existing IBM Big Data Stack and will enrich its PureData set of appliances by offering a hardware/software package that is pre-configured to ease the development of a Hadoop cluster, avoiding or minimizing technical, human, and deployment costs.

IBM’s BLU acceleration seems to be a promising technology, especially due to its “data skipping” and “actionable compression” features, enabling the optimization of data usage by avoiding the processing of irrelevant data, and, on the other hand, enabling the analysis of data without the need for decompression. But it’s maybe on the business side where IBM and the other software providers in the space will be able to make a difference and incorporate their big data initiatives into the nervous system of an organization.
While in the race for the big data market most vendors are racing for speed and power, IBM’s strategy is also centered in providing access to big data sources from different fronts and in multiple ways, such as the company’s offering of an integrated enterprise-ready Hadoop distribution, with a new architecture around Hadoop integrated within its data management products such as InfoSphere BigInsights and InfoSphere Streams. These solutions are meant to help organizations deploy big-data platforms along with already-purchased IBM products; IBM is also taking a comprehensive approach with its new PureData System for Hadoop, with pre-built configurations for quickly deploying a Hadoop-based big data platform.

Well, maybe it’s not so easy
From a monetary point of view, according to Jeff Kelly’s article on Wikibon titled “Big Data Market Size and Vendor Revenues”, in 2011 IBM held first place with regards to revenue generated from its big data business ($953 million US), a significant amount,  but still just 1% of IBM’s total revenue according to Kelly. No doubt IBM is an early bird in the space, but companies such as Intel and HP were right behind, at $765 and $513 million US respectively. The big data marketplace seems to have the potential for big growth, and other companies are following in IBM’s footsteps, such as Oracle, with new offerings especially for big data; Microsoft, with its new version of SQLServer and partnering strategies with companies such as Hortonworks; EMC, with new big data appliances; and Teradata, incorporating Aster to make a brand new big data offering.

On the other hand, purely big data players such as Splunk and Cloudera have been able to grow significantly over the last couple of years, thanks to adjustments towards making their technology increasingly accessible, and being important players in educating the IT community about the benefits of incorporating a big data initiative. So, despite the hype, many IT providers are still evolving, growing and adapting to the new marketplace. Perhaps IBM has not yet experienced a full competition scenario.

The takeaway
The attractiveness of IBM’s offerings resides in its approach to infuse big data initiatives into the veins of the business by making it part of IBM’s data management ecosystem through incorporating big data into existing offerings and providing pre-built solutions. But as with many other software and hardware giants, it can be confusing and difficult to choose the best solution from among a wide number of offerings.

IBM’s future as the big leader in big data is not yet written. The next several months will be interesting to watch in the big data space.

If you have any comments about IBM and other vendors’ big data strategies, please drop me a line below and I’ll respond as soon as I can.
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