- SMB Spotlight
Existing data management tools are ill equipped to cope with the Internet of Things and the data deluge it will generate, according to executives at Actian, the firm formerly known as Ingres.
Speaking at an event in London attended by V3, Actian executives said companies are changing the way they look at data and asking questions that call for new tools and services as well as new approaches to analysing the data itself.
Chief executive Steve Shine said this was what has driven Actian's transformation from a traditional database vendor over the past few years, as it acquired firms such as ParAccel, Pervasive Software and Versant Corporation for their technologies.
However, the current crop of tools for handling big data and extracting useful insights are still "shockingly bad" and require too many esoteric skills to make them work, according to Actian chief technology officer Mike Hoskins.
"MapReduce is not just dragging us back to how things in IT were in the 1980s, it's dragging us back to like it was in the 1950s," he said.
In fact, Hoskins predicted that the current crop of data management software vendors will not be able to adapt to the new world of big data, and would be eclipsed by smaller newcomers.
"If you consider the Internet of Things (IoT), you're going to see data constantly streaming in from sensors and other sources. This is going to break the big software companies you know now," he said.
"They are already struggling with the volume of today's business transactions, and IoT brings a new scale of complexity that will swamp and overwhelm the software we have today."
As part of its own effort to meet these needs, Actian unveiled its next-generation Actian Analytics Platform last month. This is the second version of its integrated platform since it first began offering its analytics and data integration tools last year.
More data, new questions
One of the biggest issues that organisations are facing with this new world of masses of unstructured data is not just whether they have the resources to analyse it all, but knowing which questions they should be asking in the first place, said Clive Longbottom, service director at analyst Quocirca, also at the event.
"Analytics now is mostly about putting in figures to see some possible future outcome, like whether you are going to be in profit next year, then adjusting the inputs to see if you get a different outcome, and repeating it. What businesses need is a system that's intelligent enough to tell you what you need to do," he said.
Hoskins conceded that there is a real need for software tools that can raise the level of abstraction to something closer to the language that business users can understand in order to frame the right questions.
"But we're years away from that," he added, saying that analytics is still at the stage where users largely have to build the solution they want for themselves starting with basic tools such as Hadoop.
In the absence of such technology, a step in the right direction may be to have tools that are geared towards specific domains that speak the same language as the users, according to Hoskins. This means having point solutions of analytic software created for specific industries or users with a narrow range of known requirements, such as chief finance officers.
Naturally, Actian is trying to position itself as one of the firms able to offer a solution for customers who are unsure about how to even get started with an analytics platform.
Shine claimed that with Actian's Data Cloud available online, much of the building blocks are already in place, and that customers can make use of these or use Actian as a kind of specialist consultancy to deliver the tools they require.
"Customers have been coming to us with what they want to get out of the data, and they want us to deal with the complexity for them," he said.
The firm said that too many business decisions today are made on the basis of perception and driven by the opinion of managers, rather than from what the data tells them they should do.
This was backed up by Actian partner Atheon Analytics. Managing director Guy Cuthbert said that we do not see many data-driven businesses yet and there is a need to teach businesses to be more analytical.
"A lot of our work is moving customers from an opinion-driven world to looking at what the data actually tells them," he said.
Meanwhile, Actian sees a growing market for practical analytics tools, as a broader range of companies begin to see the potential benefits.
"More and more organisations with much smaller budgets are now looking to adopt these kinds of solutions, and what we call Big Data 2.0 is about giving those small companies, like game developers, the ability to do it quickly and cost effectively," said Shine.
Actian has a roadmap towards delivering everything that customers will need, Shine added.
"You need to be able to manage everything from connecting to the data right through to visualisation, and there's a shift towards using cloud services for this. But it's a hybrid world, not all on-premise or cloud. It's about the optimum platform for the job," he said.