Weird blue dot
Weird blue dot (Photo credit: awshots)

As I noted here, I think that the IBM BLU Accelerator is a very nice piece of work. Readers of this blog are in the software business where any feature developed by any vendor can be developed in a relatively short period of time by any other vendor… and BLU certainly moves DB2 forward in the in-memory database space led by HANA… it narrowed the gap. But let’s look at the gap that remains.

First, IBM is touting the fact that BLU requires no proprietary hardware and suggests that HANA does. I do not really understand this positioning? HANA runs on servers from a long list of vendors and each vendor spins the HANA reference architecture a little differently. I suppose that the fact that there is a HANA reference architecture could be considered limiting… and I guess that there is no reference for BLU… maybe it runs anywhere… but let’s think about that.

If you decide to run BLU and put some data in-memory then certainly you need some free memory to store it. Assuming that you are not running on a server with excess memory this means that you need to buy more. If you are running on a blade that only supports 128GB of DRAM or less, then this is problematic. If you upgrade to a 256GB server then you might get a bit of free memory for a little data. If you upgrade to a fat server that supports 512GB of DRAM or more, then you would likely be within the HANA reference architecture set. There is no magic here.

One of the gaps is related: you cannot cluster BLU so the amount of data you can support in-memory is limited to a single node per the paragraphs above. HANA supports shared-nothing clustering and will scale out to support petabytes of data in-memory.

This limit is not so terribly bad if you store some of your data in the conventional DB2 row store… or in a columnar format on-disk. This is why BLU is an accelerator, not a full-fledged in-memory DBMS. But if the limit means that you can get only a small amount of data resident in-memory it may preclude you from putting the sort of medium-to-large fact tables in BLU that would benefit most from the acceleration.

You might consider putting smaller dimension tables in BLU…. but when you join to the conventional DB2 row store the column store tables are materialized as rows and the row database engine executes the join. You can store the facts in BLU in columnar format… but they may not reside in-memory if there is limited availability… and only those joins that do not use row store will use the BLU level 3 columnar features (see here for a description of the levels of columnar maturity). So many queries will require I/O to fetch data.

When you pull this all together: limited available memory on a single node, with large fact tables projecting in and out of disk storage, and joins pushed to the row store you can imagine the severe constraint for a real-world data warehouse workload. BLU will accelerate some stuff… but the application has to be limited to the DRAM dedicated to BLU.

It is only software… IBM will surely add BLU clustering (see here)… and customers will figure out that they need to buy the same big-memory servers that make up the HANA reference architecture to realize the benefits…  For analytics, BLU features will converge over the next 2-3 years to make it ever more competitive with HANA. But in this first BLU release the use of in-memory marketing slogans and of tests that might not reflect a real-world workload are a little misleading.

Right now it seems that HANA might retain two architectural advantages:

  1. HANA real-time support for OLTP and analytics against a single table instance; and
  2. the performance of the HANA platform: where more application logic runs next to the DBMS, in the same address space, across a lightweight thread boundary.

It is only software… so even these advantages will not remain… and the changing landscape will provide fodder for bloggers for years to come.


  • Here is a great series of blogs on BLU that shows how joins with the row store materializes columns as rows…

Some Unaudited HANA Performance Numbers

Fast (Photo credit: Allie’s.Dad)

The following performance numbers are being reported publicly for HANA:

  • HANA scans data at 3MB/msec/core
    • On a high-end 80-core server this translates to 240GB/sec per node
  • HANA inserts rows at 1.5M records/sec/core
    • Or 120M records/sec per node…
  • Aggregates 12M records/sec/core
    • Or 960M records per node…

These numbers seem reasonable:

  • A 100X improvement over disk-based scan (The recent EMC DCA announcement claimed 2.4GB/sec per node for Greenplum)…
  • Sort of standard OLTP insert speeds for a big server…
  • Huge performance gains for in-memory aggregation using columnar orientation and SIMD HPC instructions…

Note that these numbers are the basis for suggesting that there is a new low-TCO approach to BI that eliminates aggregate tables, materialized views, cubes, and indexes… and eliminates the operational overhead of computing these artifacts… and still provides a sub-second response for all queries.

Real-time Analytics and BI: Part 1 – Singing for my Dinner

Several months ago I was invited to a dinner attached to a data science summit… with the price being that I had to deliver a 5 minute talk… I had to sing for my dinner. The result was this thinking on real-time analytics and the Toyota Prius.

Real-time analytics implies two things:
  1. Changes in the data are evaluated continuously; and
  2. The results of the analysis are used or displayed continuously.
In a Toyota Prius we can see two examples of real-time analytics.
The first is in the anti-lock braking system. There data reflecting the pressure on the brake pedal and on rotation of each wheel is sent to a computer that analyzes the results and adjusts the brake pressure on each wheel so that all four wheels turn at the same rate and the car stops in a straight line.
Note that the analytics are real-time and the results are used immediately without human intervention. This is important. It makes little sense to spend the money to capture and analyze data in real-time if the results are not actionable in near-real-time.
Think for a moment about the BI systems built over the last 20 years. First we captured and analyzed monthly data… and acted on that data within a 30-day window. Then we increased the granularity of the data to weekly and slightly adjusted the reports to reflect the finer granularity… and acted on the data within 7 days. Then we adjusted the data to daily and acted on the results each day. Then we adjusted the data to hourly and reacted even more quickly. These changes often did not fundamentally change the business processes driven by the data… they just made the processes more sensitive to the fine-grained information.
But if the data-driven business process takes ten minutes to complete… for example it takes ten minutes for staff to pick inventory, package the results, and load a delivery truck; could there be a return on the investment expense of developing a continuous, real-time analytic? I think not. There may, however, be ROI associated with a new robotic pick, package, and load process…
There is another possibility… If sometimes the pick, package, and load takes ten minutes and sometimes it takes fifteen minutes then the best solution is to perform the analytics on the current state on-demand… when there are resources to support the process. This maximizes the use of the resources without changing the business process.
The point here is that real-time requires a re-think… or at least a deep-think. The business process may have to change significantly to support real-time analytics.
The second real-time system in the Prius illustrates the problem. On the dashboard the Prius displays, in real-time, the state of the hybrid gas-electric system. It shows whether the battery is charging or discharging… it shows whether the car is being driven using the electric or the internal-combustion engine. It is one of the most beautiful dashboard displays you have ever seen… and executives everywhere must look at it and wonder why they cannot get such a beautiful display of the state of their business… after-all…  BI dashboards are “the thing”.
But the Prius display is useless. There is no action you would take while driving based on this real-time display.From a decision-making view it represents useless and expensive flash (that helps to sell the Prius…).
So… approach real-time analytics with a deep-think. Look for opportunities like the anti-lock braking system where real-time analytics can be embedded into automatic business processes. Avoid flashy dashboards that do not present actionable data.
In-memory databases (IMDB) such as SAP HANA, Oracle TimesTen, and VMWare SQLFire promise to enable real-time analytics… and this promise is real… the opportunities can and will revolutionize the enterprise over time…  but a revolution is not the same old BI at a finer granularity… it is much more significant than that. Heads will roll.