Hybrid vigour - Actian’s new, unified vision

David Reed, director of research and editor-in-chief, DataIQ

If your business handles high volumes of transactions, chances are you have a dedicated database system to support them. If you have adopted the internet of things with sensors embedded into sensors, you will likely have a specific data management architecture for those data flows. When you need to run some analytics, your organisations has probably invested in the fastest solution it can find.

Having different solutions sitting behind business-critical processes is not unusual, especially because of the way those processes arise and evolve over time. What might surprise you is that each of those applications might come from the same developer. Actian has spent the last few years acquiring specialised vendors, like Ingres, Versant, ParAccel, Vector, to cover off the demands for hybrid data management, integration and analytics. But it had spent no time integrating those disparate acquisitions into a coherent, integrated business. 

Rohit de Souza, Actian“What I saw when I accepted the offer to join last October was a company that had acquired a lot of very interesting data management and analytics integration assets, as well as a high quality database technology for next generation internet of things,” CEO Rohit de Souza told DataIQ in an interview. “It is an extension of the strategic vision and ambition for the company to be something comprehensive. Whether right or not, that is what we found ourselves owning. What was missing was that it was not structured into a common framework.”

Said de Souza: “Until now, each unit has been left running on its own with different people responsible for Ingres, Versant and so on. They were all operating as separate businesses with Actian as the holding company. I am changing that focus so that each customer gets a view of us as one company, not as separate businesses covering integration, analytics, etc. What was missing was that it was not structured into a common framework.”

His solution is to wrap all of those technology assets up as One Actian, with a consistent company approach, but also an underpinning technology that is capable of supporting the multiple demands which clients have, from running the reservations system at Lufthansa to using columnar analytics to support French retailer Kiabi. 

The Irish Revenue’s CIO, John Barroner, joked that, “Actian helps to run Ireland” because the entire Irish Government - revenue, tax, customers, border - is on Ingres. Disney has embedded it into its cash registers and point of sale across its parks. 

IoT will bring another layer of data management and integration challenges. “As medical devices collect more information, it becomes necessary to have databases in edge devices so they are not storing crazy amounts of information. You need decision-making capabilities in edge devices - that is the next generation of our technology which will run on ARM chips so any device can have high-end databases embedded that allow you to make decisions,” he said.

The first evidence of this new business strategy is Actian X, which brings together the transactional database strengths of Ingres and the analytical power of Vector. De Souza said he was clear from the outset that this new solution would mark a new stage in the company’s development. “We are not calling it Ingres v11. It combines the best of what Ingres has to offer in relational databases and the best of Vector in columnar analytics. That is giving us the hybrid data management and analytics engine which means clients can look at all of their data sets, do analytics and feed their business processes in one place,” he said.

A key reason for creating this type of hybrid solution is the way clients are rapidly migrating out of legacy systems into the cloud and are also looking for alternatives to analytics applications which, although cutting-edge until recently, are looking increasingly expensive. Being able to pitch against this installed base is part of de Souza’s business development plans.

“CIOs and the data management community are currently struggling with an estate made up of Teradata, IBM Netezza, Oracle Exadata and that is expensive. We have seen how FedEx is trying to reduce its expenditure on Oracle. We have done a head-to-head trade-off against Teradata for Xerox and they didn’t discount us - we were able to run 20-times faster out of the box on a test set of about four million records,” said de Souza.

Alongside the company re-organisation, Actian has been busy with product development, launching three new products in Q1 and a further nine by the end of Q2 as part of its re-energised engineering base. By the end of the year, it will also have introduced its next generation graph solution. De Souza explained: “The problem with most graph analytics is that you have to take the information out of its existing form and reformat it to allow it to be analysed by most graph engines. Then you have to re-enter it. If you could point a graph analytics tool at a relational source with the back end doing the heavy lifting, that is hybrid data management.”

Actian is a private company with revenues of $110 million. Its solutions are case-hardened and support many far better-known brands - Par Accel v4 provides the underpinning for Amazon Redshift and AWS is looking to buy out the latest version.

For de Souza, this is evidence that the path to growth lies in helping clients to be successful by solving their data management and analytics problems. He said: “Unlike many companies our size, we are very profitable and we are not reliant on venture capital. We achieve a good margin with EBITDA in the mid-30s. Our vision is to create a long-term successful business, rather than to grow at all costs.”

Knowledge and strategy director, DataIQ
David is developing the framework for soft skills and career development among data and analytics practitioners. He continues to be editor-in-chief and research director for DataIQ.