The technologies that fly under the banner of “big data” may be new, but the business strategies have a familiar look.
A prime example is the announcement on Wednesday from Pivotal, the big data and cloud computing company, a joint venture of EMC and VMware, in which General Electric has a stake.
Pivotal is introducing its “Big Data Suite,” a bundle of big data products with simplified pricing for its cloud-style software, as well as support and maintenance. The offerings range from Pivotal’s version of the big data storage layer — the bedrock of the open-source project Hadoop — up to specialized software programs for data analysis.
Paul Maritz, chief executive of Pivotal. Mr. Maritz joined Microsoft in 1986, and during his years there, he was often called the de facto third in command.
A bundle of products with aggressive pricing. Can you say Microsoft? That was the giant software maker’s lucrative playbook in the personal computer business. It supplied the underlying technology platform — the Windows operating system — and crucial applications that ran on top of Windows for word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software, the venerable Microsoft Office Suite.
In an interview, Paul Maritz, the chief executive of Pivotal, described his company’s new offering as “an easy way to buy not only Hadoop, but all the important layers on top of it.”
How well the strategy will work is unclear, but Pivotal has a leader who knows the formula well. Mr. Maritz joined Microsoft in 1986 and left in 2000, the company’s glory years. In his later years at Microsoft, Mr. Maritz was often called the de facto third in command, after Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.
Mr. Maritz left Microsoft a rich man by any standard, as a sizable landholder in his native Zimbabwe, and someone with interests beyond technology. He is a former chairman and remains an adviser to the Grameen Foundation, which supports microlending institutions in the developing world.
But Mr. Maritz has returned to the technology industry in recent years and is leading Pivotal in its effort to capitalize on what he called “a once in a generation change in the data fabric.” After the mainframe era, he explained, came client-server computing with PC’s tethered to server computers. The client-server model fueled the rise of relational databases, with Oracle becoming the industry leader.
The big data wave, pioneered by Google and quickly adopted by other Internet companies, is a highly distributed model, relying on “lots of cheap storage and lots of cheap machines,” Mr. Maritz said.
But it is early days for big data technology in the corporate mainstream. Gartner, the research firm, estimates that Hadoop has only about 1,000 paying customers worldwide. The top Hadoop suppliers, who charge for support, maintenance and training, and sometimes for additional software, are three start-ups, Cloudera, Hortonworks and MapR Technologies, according to Gartner.
By contrast, Oracle has about 400,000 customers, Gartner estimates.
Gartner recently surveyed more than 700 corporations, and found that only 8 percent had so far used Hadoop in production, meaning beyond pilot projects. But many companies are planning to push big data projects. “We’re at the beginning of a very large run-up,” observed Merv Adrian, an analyst at Gartner.
Intel certainly believes that big data technology is set to take off. Last week, the big chip maker announced that it was making a strategic investment in Cloudera, the front-runner among Hadoop distributors. This week, Intel disclosed the price tag on that investment — $740 million, valuing the start-up at $4.1 billion.
It remains to be seen how profitable the Hadoop start-ups will prove to be. Others are betting that the real money is to be made higher up the big data food chain, in smart software and services. IBM, analysts say, is making the broadest bet. And SAS Institute, a pioneer in data analysis software, for another, is adapting its offerings quickly to work with big data tools like Hadoop.
Pivotal is making its bid with the bundling strategy. “It is offering a broader platform than the Hadoop players like Cloudera and Hortonworks, positioning itself as a one-stop shop,” said Nik Rouda, an analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group.