Microsoft and HP recently firmed up their commitment to the data warehouse and BI space by announcing a portfolio of appliances that pull together the infrastructure of HP with the information management and BI tools of Microsoft. At first glance this announcement might seem like Microsoft and HP are playing catch-up with others in the market; however on closer inspection it’s worth calling out a couple of subtle differences. Of particular note is that the appliances are focused on a broader range of company sizes from entry level BI and data warehousing deployments and workloads, to larger scale enterprise customers. Secondly, in contrast to some of its nearest competitors, Microsoft and HP have chosen to leverage both direct and indirect sales channels to further the market and industry reach of its appliances.
Microsoft and HP have announced four new appliances for data management and BI as part of their three-year $250 million ‘Frontline’ partnership launched last year. It is an extensive partnership covering joint research and development, services, sales and marketing between both companies. Two of these appliances are due out later this year and the remaining are available now.
The first is the HP Business Decision Appliance. It packages SQL Server 2008 R2, Sharepoint Server 2010 together with the PivotPoint feature of SharePoint. The focus here is on providing self-service BI capabilities enabling end users to share, refresh and collaborate around workbooks built with PowerPivot add-in for Excel—Microsoft’s authoring environment for its in-memory data analysis tool. The appliance also comes with management capabilities that enable IT to centrally audit, monitor and manage the BI environment. With pricing starting at $28,000 plus the cost of licenses, the appliance provides an attractive price point for small to mid-sized organisations as well as departments within enterprises. Clearly by including PowerPivot capabilities (accessed from the ever-popular Excel) this provides a compelling and familiar environment in which users can get up and running with a BI solution very quickly. Similarly these features, together with its competitive pricing, are helping both HP and Microsoft drive appliance technology deeper into the SMB sector. This is in contrast to other larger appliance vendors such as Teradata, Oracle and IBM whose data warehousing appliance are primarily targeted at enterprises.
The HP Enterprise Data Warehouse Appliance however is targeted at the higher end of the market and leverages a pre-tuned version of SQL Server 2008 R2 Parallel Data Warehouse—Microsoft’s share-nothing, massively parallel processing database—on HP hardware. Introduced in November, this appliance is designed for the higher-end workloads and data scalability (up to the 509 terabyte range) where there is a need to support a consolidated enterprise view of the business. While Microsoft and HP can’t claim to compete in the top end of the large scale data warehousing where petabyte range implementation occasionally occur, this appliance is targeted towards larger enterprises (or those with significant data volumes) and places it in the same competitive field as the aforementioned vendors. Pricing for the appliance, including support and services, starts at ‘less than’ $2 million, excluding licenses for the Parallel Data Warehouse version of SQL Server 2008 R2.
In addition to these appliances, two others are due to be released later this year: the HP Business Data Warehouse Appliance, due for release in June, is designed for midsize businesses and is aimed more squarely at data mart and departmental installations. Similarly, it can also complement the Enterprise Data Warehouse appliance, by acting as a downstream data mart for more localised lines of business analysis needs. And finally the HP Database Consolidation appliance is optimised for SQL Server 2008 R2 and Hyper-V and is designed to facilitate database server consolidation as well as help customers build their own private cloud. It is planned to be available in the second half of 2011.
As part of the announcement Microsoft and HP were also keen to emphasis the role that channel partners play in their go-to-market strategy. While this may appear as a no-brainer in the SMB sector, where Microsoft has always been very effective at recruiting and engaging leading ISVs to build solutions on its software platform, this approach is less foolproof in the large enterprise market. It therefore will be interesting to see how both companies circumnavigate any channel conflict issues that inevitably arise in larger enterprise deals, especially where HP can also bring its enterprise expertise to bear.
This announcement also coincides with a busy time in the data warehousing market. EMC Greenplum, Oracle, Teradata and IBM continue to increase their investments around appliances by marrying their own hardware and software in optimised offerings. Equally Microsoft isn’t the only company expanding into the BI appliance space, SAP only last year announced its ‘HANA’ appliance that brings together its in-memory business analytic engine combined with optimised hardware from partner HP to support operational ERP querying and reporting. Similarly other data warehousing vendors such as Vertica, Aster Data and Kognitio also offer the option of deploying their software as an appliance. We also believe it’s no coincidence that Microsoft and HP made this announcement just before HP officially pulled the plug on its Neoview appliance, providing evidence that HP still intends to be a player in the BI and data warehousing market but is now adopting a different route to market.
Overall we believe this is a necessary and inevitable move by HP and Microsoft especially if they don’t want to be perceived as late to market. These announcements will of course be of interest to any customers considering SQL Server 2008 for the first time or equally those who want to upgrade to release 2. In particular they are likely to appeal to organisations who want the ability to plug and play BI and data warehousing technology without having to waste time and effort on assembling the hardware and software infrastructure separately.