Actian

Last Updated: 20th June, 2014
Analyst Coverage: Philip Howard, David Norfolk

Introduction


Actian Corporation is wholly owned by Garnett & Helfrich Capital, which describes itself as a venture buyout firm. Previous companies in its portfolio have included Wyse and Blade, sold to Dell and IBM respectively.

Actian recently launched the Actian Analytics Platform, which includes IP from what was previously known as Ingres Corporation, Versant Corporation, ParAccel Inc. and Pervasive Software.

Actian was previously Ingres Corporation, which was spun-off from Computer Associates, in conjunction with Garnett & Helfrich Capital in 2005 (the latter acquired the remaining shares in 2010). Computer Associates, in turn, had acquired ASK Corporation in 1994, which had acquired the original Ingres Corporation in 1990. Originally, that company had been known as Relational Technology Inc. (RTI), which was founded (in 1980) by the developers of the original Ingres database technology starting in the early 1970s.

When the latest incarnation of Ingres Corporation was formed the company was focused on Ingres and associated products (notably OpenROAD, an integrated development environment for Ingres) and, in particular, it made Ingres open source. However, in 2010, the company introduced VectorWise (a spin-off from the MonetDB project at the Dutch National Research Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science) as an analytics platform. Subsequently, after re-branding itself as Actian Corporation, the company has acquired Versant Corporation, which provides object-oriented database technology, in 2012; and both Pervasive Software and ParAccel Inc. in 2013. ParAccel, like VectorWise, is/was an analytics platform but offers a massively parallel processing platform, whereas VectorWise offers a non-clustered solution (until June 2014 when VectorWise was extended to run natively in Hadoop on HDFS via YARN). Notably, ParAccel technology underpins Amazon RedShift.

The acquisition of Pervasive Software, on the other hand, was much closer to being a merger of equals. Pervasive Software itself has a history that is almost as complex as that of Actian, having been originally founded in 1982. Most recently it had merged with Data Junction Corporation (founded in 1983) in 2003. Pervasive has brought a number of product lines to the party, including the PSQL database (previously Btrieve), data integration and data quality products originally developed at Data Junction, and DataRush, which is a high speed parallel data flow engine.

The company, in effect, has two distinct sets of products and marketing strategies. In the first case there are long-lived operational database products (and associated tools) such as Versant, Ingres and PSQL, which are substantial cash cows for the corporation and which primarily focus on updates targeting the existing installed base. Secondly, there is big data and analytics. This is where the company is focused and it is heavily marketing the Actian Analytics Platform as the answer to “big data 2.0”.   

Actian now offers two editions of their platform. The Extreme Performance Edition of the platform consists of Actian DataConnect (previously Data Integrator), Actian DataFlow (previously DataRush), Actian Vector (previously VectorWise), and Actian Matrix (previously ParAccel). The Hadoop SQL Edition of the platform consists of Actian DataConnect (limited to bringing data into Hadoop), Actian DataFlow for data preparation, enrichment, visual discovery analytics and data science natively in Hadoop, and  Actian Vector in Hadoop (a release code-named “Vortex” which extends Vector to run natively on top of the Hadoop Data File System (HDFS) via YARN). Both of the Actian platform editions include hundreds of parallelised data processing and analytic functions to handle a full range of discovery and time-sensitive analytic processing. We should also highlight that DataConnect is also marketed in its own right as a SaaS application, especially as a means to provide cloud-based integrations.

According to Forbes.com the company had revenues of $138m in 2013. In addition to the United States, the company has offices in the UK, France, the Netherlands, Germany, India, Australia and Brazil. It also has an extensive partner community, especially with respect to its historic database products.

Actian Analytics Platform

Last Updated: 18th December, 2014

The Actian Analytics Platform consists of a number of components designed to provide an environment suitable for supporting big data analytics. In such an environment you need to:

  1. Be able to ingest all sorts of data—whether structured, unstructured or machine generated—and from whatever source is appropriate, whether inside or outside the organisation.
  2. Be able to prepare data for analysis efficiently. This is particularly important where a discovery process (the sort of thing that data scientists do) is required, because data preparation can take as much as 80% of this time.
  3. Have a platform for the initial discovery process and data science analytics. 
  4. Be able to then conduct low latency analytics that are time-sensitive using results from the discovery process. Requirements 3 and 4 may or may not be in the same place.
  5. Once you have performed your analytics you need to be able to distribute the results to users and applications that require the information produced by your analyses.

Actian delivers capabilities for requirements 1 and 2 through the DataConnect offering, it provides 1, 2, and 3 via Actian DataFlow, and for 4 it has three offerings, which may be used separately or in conjunction. Most commonly, you would use either Vector or Matrix for low latency analytics depending on the sophistication of the analytics workload and scalability requirements. Or, if you have a combination of traditional and complex analytics workloads, then you might want to deploy both, depending on the scale at which you are operating. And, last but not least, Vector in Hadoop would be used to provide high performance SQL access natively in Hadoop to data and analytic results stored in HDFS.

Actian has both an extensive channel marketing program (primarily for its historic database products) and a significant direct sales force. The company is not limited to any particular vertical sector or geography. DataConnect has a particular emphasis on integration with cloud-based (SaaS) applications but this is by no means uncommon today.

We doubt whether even Actian knows exactly how many companies are using its technologies. This is because Ingres and PSQL in particular are widely embedded by OEM partners and ISVs. The total number of users (many of which are no doubt unaware that they are using these products) will certainly run into tens of thousands and could easily be in six figures.

There are three elements to the Actian Analytics Platform: data integration, data preparation and what is sometimes referred to as the Extended Data Warehouse (XDW). 

A traditional data warehousing environment has been considered to consist of a conventional data warehouse plus data marts. The key element that has changed with big data and The Internet of Things is the requirement for a discovery platform where large amounts of data can be explored for interesting insights but in a relatively inexpensive manner. In the case of the Actian Analytics Platform this would be its new Hadoop SQL edition offering, which is a combination of DataConnect for high performance connectivity, DataFlow for visual data science and analytics, and the implementation of Vector on HDFS (the storage system for Hadoop) via YARN. Vector is a column-based analytic database for single server implementations that owes its performance advantages (it currently holds the TPC-H benchmark record for the fastest non-clustered database solution) to the fact that it uses vector processing that exploits CPU parallelism. What Actian has now done is to implement this on top of HDFS so that it will run on low cost Hadoop clustered hardware. Initial benchmarks suggest that Vector in Hadoop is better than an order of magnitude faster than Impala running on Hadoop.

Once interesting nuggets of information are discovered the typical process is that relevant data will be loaded into a high performance analytics database for low latency analytic processing and operational business intelligence. Here Actian offers Vector, Matrix and SPARQLverse. Vector we have already discussed. Matrix (formerly ParAccel) is an MPP (massively parallel processing) column-based database. In technical terms the product’s biggest strength is its optimiser, which has a number of advanced capabilities (for example, for processing correlated sub-queries). It is worth noting that Matrix is what powers Amazon Redshift. SPARQLverse is an MPP-based graph database running on top of HDFS developed by SPARQL City (of which Actian is a major shareholder).

For data preparation, blending and enrichment, and visual discovery analytics and data science, the company offers Actian DataFlow (previously Pervasive DataRush), which is a massively parallel engine (it is extremely fast) that allows you to profile, cleanse and run other data preparation tasks, and/or execute data mining algorithms on the fly: that is, while loading data. It is worth commenting that the market for data preparation and analysing data while in motion is burgeoning and rapidly evolving into a sub-market of its own (several new and existing vendors are introducing markets in this area) but Actian got here first.

Finally, Actian DataConnect not only includes the data profiling and data quality capabilities that may be instantiated on Actian DataFlow but it also provides the data integration (ETL: extract, transform and load) requirements necessary to ingest and output data from and to both external and internal sources and targets. It is noteworthy that Pervasive, prior to its acquisition, had a history of developing connectors to a very wide range of sources and targets and, over the last few years in particular, it has focused on developing adapters to connect to cloud-based and SaaS (software as a service) providers. It has a particularly close relationship with Salesforce.com.

Actian provides conventional training, consulting and support services. Some of its partners also offer consulting services.



Solutions

The company offers the following solutions:


Further Information (Icon) Further Information

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