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Can Teradata avoid being grounded by on-prem legacy? Actually it helps in avoiding nasty cloud costs, says CEO



Interview As Teradata CEO for a little less than nine months, Steve McMillan has outlasted his predecessor, Oliver Ratzesberger, who took over in January 2019 after a period of bumpy financials.

Yet McMillan’s tenure so far has not exactly been an easy ride.

While the data warehousing company put out reassuring Q4 financials, the technology market and investors have been focused on the cloud, where rival Snowflake made headlines with a $33bn IPO.

Meanwhile, Teradata’s approach has been distinctly muted. It did not hold its Universe events, not even transferring them online because of COVID as many vendors had. Likewise, its customer event Teradata Partners was not hosted online.

Technology announcements were limited to an update to its query grid technology, its Vantage platform becoming available on Google Cloud Platform, and a few new features for data scientists.


Teradata’s strong cloud growth holds Snowflake avalanche at bay – for now


The overwhelming market assumption was that cloud-native data warehouses like Snowflake, but also including AWS Redshift and Azure Synapse, had beaten Teradata to a cloud-first strategy of separating storage and compute.

But McMillan told The Register that customers were “kicking the tyres” of these cloud-native systems then coming back to Teradata to transition their enterprise data warehouse to the cloud.

“They see that the capabilities that were provided by cloud-native solutions were either locking them into a particular cloud provider,” he said. “They were much more expensive to run than the Teradata solution, the migration was much more complex and prone to risk than they initially anticipated.”

Of the well-known cloud-native data warehouses, GCP’s BigQuery was first to launch in 2010, Snowflake launched in 2012, and Redshift in 2013. Microsoft’s Azure SQL Data Warehouse (now Synapse) came along in 2015.

Teradata, however, did not introduce its cloud-native system, Vantage, until 2018, although users have been able to lift and shift its on-prem system to AWS since 2013.

It’s arguable then that Teradata was late to separate storage and compute, the key differentiator in this cloud-native architecture.

Unsurprisingly, McMillan tried to frame it differently. “We have a 40-year heritage. Our vision is that we can take that expertise and provide it in a really seamless way [as customers] enter cloud environments that really differentiate so as from some of the cloud-native competition that we have.”

He is right in that Teradata still counts some of the world’s largest corporations – Lloyds Banking Group, Bank of America, British Airways, Coca-Cola, Dell – among its customers.

Teradata built a name for itself in building technology to optimise queries to run more efficiently, while supporting thousands of users querying the same data. It developed these techniques to overcome the limits of historic on-prem hardware. The plan is to deploy them to keep costs down in the cloud, something users are increasingly aware of.

“Being born on-prem is a significant advantage for Teradata in the cloud,” McMillan claimed. “We had to squeeze every single ounce of performance and capability, out of every piece of storage, every piece of compute power. When we take that to the cloud, we’re much more cost-effective: if we look at cloud-native competitors, the way that they address performance at scale is to spin up new compute and spin up new storage. We make sure that you get the absolute best and predictable results, from both a query perspective and a cost perspective, that customers want to have in the cloud. We give a lot of control over the performance, functionality and cost, organisations experience in the cloud.”

To this end, Teradata has been parading a new customer, global car rental firm Hertz, which is taking Teradata’s Vantage data platform as a service on AWS. Hertz has also been an Oracle data warehouse customer on-prem.

Another shift in the Teradata approach has been away from a single-version-of-the-truth data warehousing – the idea that all valuable business data would coalesce in one place to be analysed and reported on ad infinitum. With the launch of Teradata QueryGrid connecting Teradata analysts to a range of other sources, including rival data warehouses, that vision has changed.

snow shovel

Hey Presto! Teradata admits its vision is dead by hooking QueryGrid analytics platform up to rival data warehouses


“We provide the ability to integrate data from multiple sources to enable analysis but also to proof-check that data is accurate… that it is going to be verified with multiple data points,” McMillan said.

Although data might be stored all over the place, the objective was to “provide a query fabric across multiple data sources” so the customer feels it is in one place, he said.

Philip Howard, research director at analyst firm Bloor Research, said it was true that users and the supplier market had all but abandoned the idea that all historic business data would be stored in one place, though many larger organisations were still looking for a business data store.

“It may not be a single version of the truth but there is a place where the vast majority of critical information is going to be held – a serious data warehouse. While you may have other data in AWS S3 or MongoDB, there is still going to be a core data warehouse,” he said. Howard added that despite the growth of Snowflake and other cloud data warehouses, it did not always follow that they would be trusted to run these core workloads.

“Teradata’s argument – and to a certain extent I would agree with them – is that Snowflake is not grown up enough if you’re a big bank or insurance company. It’s a bit analogous to the four or five thousand companies still running OLTP on mainframes,” Howard said.

Among those customers, there were many Teradata could help move to its cloud system without much disruption. At the same time, businesses expecting to build data warehouses on newer, cloud-native systems had been disappointed.

“We’ve heard that a number of people have…bought into the idea of Snowflake and actually found that it’s actually more expensive than they expected,” Howard said. “It isn’t as sophisticated as perhaps they would like. While they might have thought it was going to be a major data warehouse for them, it’s ended up actually being more of a data lake.”

With no major technology upgrades on the horizon, at least for this year, Teradata’s challenge lies in getting its message to the market that it is a contender in cloud data warehousing.

Howard said there was a perception that Teradata was tied to hardware, which is no longer the case. “Those marketing messages need to be tightened up,” he said.

Meanwhile, the early movers in cloud data warehousing have the “market momentum” at least in how investors see cloud data warehousing developing, he added.

McMillan spent nearly 25 years at IBM and Oracle, ending up as veep for customer success and cloud services. He was then executive veep for global services at F5 Networks. His predecessor, on the other hand, had a more technical background serving as an analytics leader with Sears and eBay, the online marketplace no longer using Teradata as its main data warehouse.

Lack of hands-on technical knowhow may have shown in some of McMillan’s replies, but there are plenty at Teradata to offer that depth. The test will be whether he can turn around the perception of a business with a 40-year history in appliance hardware. ®

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Snowflake agrees it’s good to share… on its platform, while Databricks opts for a more vendor-neutral approach



Among the blizzard of new language support for Snowflake’s data warehouse this week was a plan to beef up its data marketplace, which promises users somewhere to buy, sell, and otherwise share data on the platform. The problem is that it is far from the only game in town.

SAP, by sheer coincidence, also launched a data market plan this week, a few weeks after Databricks announced its open standard for data sharing, hoping to get a more vendor-neutral approach to the thorny problem off the ground. The application giant and the data lake poster child join other tools for cracking the nut, including those peddled by long-time data integration specialist Informatica.

The point of Snowflake’s Data Marketplace is to make it easier to ingest third-party data, into the analytics environment, as it is all in Snowflake’s architecture. Last November, it announced third-party service providers would have the option to enrich data by running risk assessments, augmenting a data set with behavioural scoring, or “simply outsourcing the more advanced analysis” without having to move the data, Snowflake said at the time.

Now the marketplace has hit general availability and the $33bn-IPO company has released new features including a try-before-you-buy option to allow users to access and evaluate sample data. It also talks up new usage-based purchase options to let companies buy and sell data entirely on the Snowflake Data Marketplace, which the vendor says would streamline the process of purchasing third-party data.

Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman last week told us the marketplace was “very important to our overall strategy.”

Meanwhile, senior veep for product Christian Kleinerman explained that data providers once had to transact outside the platform when selling their wares. “Now with monetization options in the platform, they will be able to implement one of a number of business models: usage-based, query-based, compute time, or time-based. Customers are going to be able to browse the marketplace and assess the different data and purchase through the platform.”

Though Snowflake has made an impact among investors, it is relatively new to the enterprise market. Here, SAP has more than a 40-year history, with considerable chunks of business data stuff inside its enterprise applications. The German vendor is now promising to make business data more sharable via the SAP Data Warehouse Cloud, the public cloud system.

Due to go live later this year, the plan is that customers will be able to access external data assets “in a matter of clicks that could take weeks or months today when integrating themselves,” SAP said.

Jan Gilg, president SAP S/4HANA, told us this week that the move would also allow partners to offer “pre-built content” for data-driven applications for their customer. “[T]he new data marketplace for data is a game-changer for partners because it’s so easy, it’s like the Spotify for data sharing.”

Coming at the data-sharing problem from a different angle again earlier this month, Databricks launched an open-source project called Delta Sharing, which will be donated to the Linux Foundation. Databricks said the open protocol would support secure sharing of data across organisations in real time, crucially independent of the platform on which the data resides. The initiative is supported by AWS, Google Cloud, and BI and visualisation firm Tableau.

At the time, Databricks CEO Ali Ghodsi told The Register that financial data providers such as FactSet, the New York Stock Exchange, and S&P Global had agreed to be part of the open sharing project, as had other data system providers like Starburst. “For the first time, you could produce a data set in Databricks, and you can share it with another company, which might not have Databricks, they might have Starburst. They can access the data securely, it gets tracked and audited.

“The problem with Snowflake is everybody has to buy Snowflake for [its marketplace] to work. The truth is a very small fraction of the data in the world is in Snowflake. Even in the cloud, they have a very small fraction of the data.”

But Doug Henschen, veep and principal analyst with Constellation Research, told The Reg data sharing was more than a simple matter of having an open data format. “What I like about the Snowflake Marketplace is that it’s clearly addressing the challenge of facilitating the exchange and monetisation of data. There’s real value in managing the marketplace, facilitating transactions and handling the invoicing, billing and payments for both parties.”

But another senior analyst, who asked not to be named, was much more sceptical about Snowflake’s promise. “The idea that everyone’s going to put everything into Snowflake is a nice aspiration for them to have. But it is one Amazon, Google, and Microsoft share with their various data platforms.”

The Databricks approach is more likely to appeal to data providers who are hoping to avoid lock-in to a specific vendor, he said. “The danger is you can make yourself dependent on a supply of data, and then you also have to use a particular vendor. People will want the choice; they don’t want to have to come through a particular product or channel.”

At the same time, Snowflake’s lack of maturity in the enterprise market might hold it back as the de facto data-sharing platform, he said.

“Snowflake is a hot product at the moment, and if it can get over the threshold where a network effect kicks in, then it might work, but it is not obvious. Snowflake is not that big a company; it is an order of magnitude smaller than AWS, for example, which has its own data sharing products. Meanwhile, SAP has the advantage that so many businesses are already using its applications.”

Snowflake might be hot on the stock market, but cool heads should take a look at its enterprise track record before committing to its data-sharing platform. ®

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Indian Finance Minister throws Infosys under the bus as new e-tax portal fails on first day



India’s new tax e-filing portal went live Monday night, and was down less than 24 hours later, leading union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to jump onto Twitter with some pointed questions for the site’s developer, Indian services giant Infosys.

Infosys won a contract to build the tax portal in 2019. The new tech was promised to reduce the wait for refunds from 63 days to one day, and to improve the user experience.

After the new portal went live, Sitharaman sent a celebratory tweet. But after many would-be users reported difficulty accessing the site, she was inspired to throw some blame at Infosys and its co-founder, Nandan Nilekani.

Nilekani managed to take it on the chin, responding that day one indeed had technical glitches Infosys was working to resolve.

Income Tax India isn’t the first government service to have its debut bungled and certainly won’t be the last. The US website famously suffered software and capacity issues when it debuted in 2013 to register people for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The UK NHS has also seen its share of troubles. Last month it was discovered that the vaccine-booking website exposed individual vaccine status without authentication.

As for Infosys, the company has been down this road before and survived the journey. A 2015 contract to build and maintain India’s GST system endured technical glitches, some of which went unresolved for almost two years. Infosys Chief Operating Officer U.B. Pravin Rao told in-country news outlet BusinessLine the problems were mostly due to backend network management.

Infosys has gone from strength to strength since.

The tax portal remains inaccessible at the time of writing, as the outage nears 24 hours. ®

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SK Hynix admits to DRAM defects, smacks down rumour it botched big batches



The FBI has revealed how it managed to hoodwink the criminal underworld with its secretly backdoored AN0M encrypted chat app, leading to hundreds of arrests, the seizure of 32 tons of drugs, 250 firearms, 55 luxury cars, more than $148M, and even cocaine-filled pineapples.

About 12,000 smartphones with AN0M installed were sold into organized crime rings: the devices were touted as pure encrypted messaging tools — no GPS, email or web browsing, and certainly no voice calls, cameras, and microphones. They were “designed by criminals, for criminals exclusively,” one defendant told investigators, Randy Grossman, Acting US Attorney for the Southern District of California, told a press conference on Tuesday.

However, AN0M was forged in a joint operation by Australian and US federal law enforcement, and was deliberately and surreptitiously engineered so that agents could peer into the encrypted conversations and read crooks’ messages. After Australia’s police broke the news that the messaging app had recorded everything from drug deals to murder plots — leading to hundreds of arrests — now the FBI has spilled its side of the story, revealing a complex sting dubbed Operation Trojan Shield.

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Snowflake targets Java and Scala devs, will soon slither after Pythonistas too



Snowflake Summit Cloudy data-wrangling outfit Snowflake has opened itself up to Java and Scala developers.

At the company’s annual event, Summit, the firm talked up Snowpark, which will allow developers to use the abovementioned languages to manage its platform. Until now, Snowflake has focused on SQL-centric developers. Java user-defined functions will also be permitted on the platform, allowing both code and business logic to be applied to Snowflake.

Peter O’Connor, Snowflake’s veep for sales in Asia Pacific, told The Register it was recognition the company needs to be more accommodating to developers if it is to continue its growth.

Python support is also on the company’s roadmap, but without a delivery date. Snowpark is currently in private preview, Snowflake’s jargon for a closed beta. A public preview is “coming soon.”

Snowflake has also vowed to improve its unstructured data-handling prowess, and create a new SQL API that lets applications call its services using REST.

Another private preview picks personally identifiable information out of data stored by Snowflake and then applies policies to ensure it is not used inappropriately. Or used at all. A new anonymized view of data allows the same outcomes.

Storage has also been tweaked, with improved compression said to reduce consumption and therefore costs, while scaling independently of compute usage.

Snowflake introduced the new functions to The Register at an event featuring customers, one of which – data-science-as-a-service outfit Quantium – explained that Snowflake has replaced Hadoop for many of its analytics chores.

Quantium’s executive for engineering, product and technology, Florian Pasquier, said capital expenditure costs for Hadoop were worryingly high, and run times for analytics jobs unsustainably long. Pasquier said exceptional engineers could address such problems, but would require around two weeks to do so. Cue cost/benefit calculations that saw Hadoop heaved overboard. The organisation still uses Apache Spark for some analytics jobs.

O’Connor said Snowflake has just started to win deals in which it displaced Cloudera and Teradata in Asia-Pacific. He expressed hope the new features detailed above will accelerate that process. ®

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