Data is becoming the lifeblood of organisations as they realise the benefits that can be derived from analysing and understanding what the data shows and how it can enhance their operations.
This is becoming commonplace now, but it was not always so.
One company that has seen this rise first hand is in-memory data analytics specialist Exasol. The firm was formed in 2000, but had secured only two paying customers by 2008 and faced a battle to even get a look in with other organisations.
“It was a hard sell. In-memory was seen as expensive, exotic almost, and the need for rapid data analytics was not seen as crucial,” CEO Aaron Auld (pictured) told V3.
However, Exasol was selected in 2008 as one of 13 companies to be invited to a database proof-of-concept test by Xing, the German LinkedIn.
“We won everything hands down,” said Auld.
This was a huge turning point for the company as it provided a reference customer that others could use to assure themselves it was worth going with an unknown company, rather than one of the traditional big boys such as SAP, Oracle or SAS.
Since then customers such as Sony, Adidas, Olympus and Allianz, to name but a few, have come on board, all helping to give confidence to new customers considering Exasol’s offerings that, if other firms are satisfied, they can be too.
The firm has also put its service into the cloud on Amazon Web Services and Azure, in another example of how mainstream in-memory big data analytics is becoming.
This upturn in customers coincided with the rising awareness that analysis of data can have huge benefits for an organisation’s operations.
Auld believes that Exasol is well placed to capitalise on this. “We’ve been quite fortuitous as the market has really moved towards us, with the need for analytics and complex queries becoming necessary in more and more businesses,” he said.
The need for speed
Of course, there are many vendors pushing their wares in this space, as well as competing technology types, which means that Exasol has its work cut out in getting its message heard.
The big selling point for Exasol, which Auld admits can still leave some sceptical of its claims, is speed and the extent to which it can reduce query times.
“We can say to people we can reduce times by a factor of 100 or even 200, from hours to seconds, and they just say it’s 'impossible’ because they’re used to investing in new kit for maybe a five per cent performance hike,” he said.
One customer happy to back up Exasol’s claims is Andy Done, head of data analytics at game firm King, who has seen the improvement first hand.
“Since we put Exasol in place, the amount of data being generated has more than doubled and Exasol has easily scaled to meet the challenge,” he said.
“Having the right data available at the right time is vital for our users. Jobs that previously ran late into the afternoon are now finished and ready before anyone is even in the office.
“That's made a huge difference for our users and freed my team to tackle even harder problems, handle more requests, and to be more responsive to the business.”
451 Research analyst Jim Curtis also backed this up in a report last year noting that this is the company's core strength. “Exasol has zeroed in on speed as its overriding feature and has avoided getting distracted with other products,” he wrote.
This trend for faster and easy to run analytics queries will only increase with the Internet of Things (IoT) as huge volumes of data are generated by sensors in all areas of life, from city street furniture to manufacturing facilities.
Auld sees this having huge potential for Exasol. “This whole [IoT] process is unstoppable and there is also going to be a huge disruption from AI. And it’s all based on data that needs to be captured and analysed,” he said.
“It’s not enough to just put sensors everywhere. You then have to put the data they gather somewhere and be able to analyse it, and that requires complex queries on huge datasets. And often you want to be able to do that at speed, so we think we are perfectly positioned.”
However, Auld is aware that the firm is not seen as an IoT company and can’t very well market itself as being able to offer IoT services. Exasol is therefore exploring partnerships with IoT device sellers to offer organisations a complete IoT solution using “best of breed” components.
“We are talking to IoT partners who have the know-how to help build the capabilities firms need using the various components for IoT: the sensors, the database, the network and so on. We can be part of those conversations,” he said.
So, Exasol has a growing customer base, the demand for data analytics is rising in all industries, and the IoT will drive this even further. Happy times? Well, not quite. There’s the small matter of Brexit, which poses some hefty questions for a German company with a presence in the UK and looking to grow.
Auld is adamant that leaving the EU is a huge mistake for the UK. “I watched this whole process with disbelief,” he said.
“I think it’s one of the biggest acts of self-harm I’ve ever seen, and the fact that we decided to exit the EU and apparently had zero plans for what was going to happen next is unbelievable mismanagement.
“So there is no plan, we don’t know what is going to happen, we don’t know what the effect is going to be so there is no way of planning for it. So for a lot of companies it’s a question of what do we do next? Where do we invest?
“You never used to have to think about having people here [London], or in Germany, and moving between the two and so on, and we’re establishing entities in France, the Nordics and so on. So what will that mean? Will they be allowed to travel between the countries?”
Auld does at least remain positive that, given the importance of data analytics in organisations of all types, any changes in spending priorities should not affect this as it is too important for the future.
“We have gone through major economic crises and when these things happen there are certain areas where businesses stop spending, but there are certain programmes and projects that you have to carry on with and it’s almost always business-critical processes that can’t be stopped,” he said.
His optimism may be well founded. Data volumes are growing all the time, and the need to analyse this information in a timely way should make Exasol well placed for the future.
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