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About 30 years ago, perhaps on this very day, I was sitting in front of an Apple II working on a VisiCalc spreadsheet. At the time, I don’t think I even knew who Steve Jobs was. I wasn’t in the software industry yet. I was working for a public accounting firm. The Apple II sat in a corner of the office “typing pool.” For those of you who don’t know what a typing pool was, there was no swimming involved – it was a group of full-time employees with dedicated equipment who did all the typing and word processing tasks of the office.

We all have heard by now that Steve Jobs died this week. When I think about the influence he had on the technology market and business in general, I realize that although I never met the man, his influence has had a huge impact on my career and on all of us who work with business intelligence techniques and tools. The fact that an Apple II was in the office of a public accounting firm in 1981 was a remarkable accomplishment. I probably wouldn’t be in the software industry today if it wasn’t for that Apple II and VisiCalc. Our office used “electronic” spreadsheets to develop planning and allocation models. Now there are hundreds of millions of spreadsheet users whose activities can be traced back to Steve Jobs in some way.

You can argue whether the spreadsheet or the Apple II or the combination brought IBM into the personal computer market, but Jobs had an influence here, too. The advent of the PC was the original “self-service BI” movement. Sure, spreadsheets have plenty of problems when applied to business intelligence, as identified in our business analytics benchmark research, but they also have many virtues that we have been trying to capture in other forms of business intelligence software ever since.

Jobs and Apple always maintained twin focuses on design and innovation. The design of the physical product was part of the Apple experience, but the design of the user interface was even more important. Our whole way of interacting with information systems, including BI, has been shaped by the graphical user interface (GUI) in part because of the Mac OS. It may not have been the first one, but Apple put a GUI into the hands of end users who saw the possibilities and clamored for more. Ironically, Microsoft Word and Excel first appeared in GUI form on the Mac while the PC versions were still on DOS character-based applications. Spurred by the Mac’s graphical environment, Microsoft took the Windows path that resulted in its own GUI-based operating system. While Microsoft Windows may have enjoyed more commercial success than Mac OS, many still consider Apple’s offering superior in terms of the end-user experience. Regardless of your choice of operating system, BI users wanted and vendors were able to deliver improved GUIs, which now enable users to navigate and visualize large amounts of information more easily than they might have otherwise.

And Jobs has left an indelible mark on the mobile computing market. With that same focus on design and innovation, the iPhone and iPad transformed and invigorated the mobile BI market. They fundamentally changed the value of mobile devices, taking them beyond just reading and responding to email. Offered a rich user experience, employees were willing to buy their own devices and bring them along to work. Eventually iPads started showing up in executives’ hands. IT organizations were forced to incorporate these devices into their corporate networks. Users wanted mobile BI, and BI vendors were forced to adapt their products to these new form factors. Our research also shows that 70 percent of organizations either have deployed some type of mobile business intelligence or would like to in the near future.

Without stretching much, we can attribute partly to the legacy of Steve Jobs our desire to be connected 24 hours a day and to connect socially via our smartphones and tablets. His influence on these devices made the experience fun and enjoyable. Now collaboration via social media is a regular form of communication. The full impact of these changes is still being borne out in the market, but we are beginning to see an impact on BI.

So while Steve Jobs is gone and will be missed, his influence on the BI market will live on. Let’s hope the seeds of innovation that he planted will continue to grow and benefit our lives.

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

Last week I attended the IBM Big Data Symposium at the Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. The event was held in the auditorium where the recent Jeopardy shows featuring the computer called Watson took place and which still features the set used for the show – a fitting environment for IBM to put on another sort of “show” involving fast processing of lots of data. The same technology featured prominently in IBM’s big-data message, and the event was an orchestrated presentation more like a TV show than a news conference. Although it announced very little news at the event, IBM did make one very important statement: The company will not produce its own distribution of Hadoop, the open source distributed computing technology that enables organizations to process very large amounts of data quickly. Instead it will rely on and throw its weight behind the Apache Hadoop project – a stark contrast to EMC’s decision to do exactly that, announced earlier in the week. As an indication of IBM’s approach, Anant Jhingran, vice president and CTO for information management, commented, “We have got to avoid forking. It’s a death knell for emerging capabilities.”

The event brought together organizations presenting interesting and diverse use cases ranging from traditional big-data stories from Web businesses such as Yahoo to less well known scenarios such as informatics in life sciences and healthcare, by Illumina and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), respectively, low-latency financial services by eZly and customer demographic data by Axciom.

Eric Baldeschwieler, vice president of Hadoop development at Yahoo, shared some impressive statistics about its Hadoop usage, one of the largest in the world with over 40,000 servers. Yahoo manages 170 petabytes of data with Hadoop and runs more than 5 million Hadoop jobs every month. The models it uses to help prevent spam and others that do ad-targeting are in some cases retrained every five minutes to ensure they are based on up-to-date content. As a point of reference CPU utilization on Yahoo’s Hadoop computing resources averages greater than 30% and at its best is greater than 80%. It appears from these figures that the Hadoop clusters are configured with enough spare capacity to handle spikes in demand.

During the discussions, I detected a bit of a debate about who is the driving force behind Hadoop. According to Baldeschwieler, Yahoo has contributed 70% of the Apache Hadoop project code, but on April 12, Cloudera claimed in a press release, “Cloudera leads or is among the top three code contributors on the most important Apache Hadoop and Hadoop-related projects in the world, including Hadoop, HDFS, MapReduce, HBase, Zookeeper, Oozie, Hive, Sqoop, Flume, and Hue, among others.” Perhaps Yahoo wants to reestablish its credentials as it mulls whether to spin out its Hadoop software unit. If such a spinoff were to occur, it could further fracture the Hadoop market.

I found it interesting that the customers IBM brought to the event, while having interesting use cases, were not necessarily leveraging IBM products in their applications. This fact led me to the initial conclusion that the event was more of a show than a news conference. Reflecting further on IBM’s stated direction of supporting the Apache Hadoop distribution, I wondered what IBM Hadoop-related products they would use. IBM will be announcing version 1.1 of InfoSphere BigInsights in both a free basic edition and an enterprise edition. The product includes Big Sheets, which can integrate large amounts of unstructured Web data. InfoSphere Streams 2.0, announced in April, adds Netezza TwinFin, Microsoft SQLServer and MySQL support to other SQL sources already supported. But this event was not about those products. It was about IBM’s presence in and knowledge of the big-data marketplace. Executives did say that the IBM product portfolio will be extended “in all the places you would expect” to support big data but offered few specifics.

IBM emphasized the combination of streaming data, via InfoSphere Streams, and big data more than other big-data vendors do. The company painted a context of “three V’s” (volume, velocity and variety) of data, which attendees, Twitter followers and eventually the IBM presenters expanded to include a fourth V, validity. To illustrate the potential value of combining streaming data and big data, Dr. Carolyn McGregor, chair in health informatics at UOIT, shared how the institute is literally saving lives in neonatal intensive care units by monitoring and analyzing neonatal data in real time.

Rob Thomas, IBM vice president of business development for information management explained the role of partners in the IBM big data ecosystem. As stated above, IBM will rely on Apache Hadoop as the foundation of its work, but will partner with vendors further up the stack. Datameer, Digital Resaoning,  and  Karmasphere all participated in the event as examples of the types of partnerships IBM will seek.

IBM has already demonstrated, via Watson, that it knows how to deal with large-scale data and Hadoop, but to date, if you want those same capabilities from IBM, it will have to come mostly in the form of services. The event made it clear that IBM backs the Apache Hadoop effort but not in the form of new products. In effect, IBM used its bully pulpit (not to mention its size and presence in the market) to discourage others from fragmenting the market. The announcements may also have been intended to buy time for further product developments. I look for more definition from IBM on its product roadmap. If it wants to remain competitive in the big-data market, IBM needs to articulate how its products will interact with and support Hadoop. In my soon to be released Hadoop and Information Management benchmark research that I am completing will provide some facts on whether or not IBM is making the right bet on Hadoop.

Regards,

David Menninger – VP & Research Director

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