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The Application Impetus

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Although database growth is dependent on application deployments to a certain extent, the database market is also undergoing a focal shift and is laced with activity and innovation. By Mehak Chawla

A database is to an enterprise what the spinal cord is to the human body. It is the backbone, the support system and the lifeline that has to be up and running. That is why, the infrastructure applications segment remains a crucial focus area for both vendors and enterprises. Over the years, databases have established themselves as being both embedded and indispensable to an organization to the point where one almost takes them for granted.

It’s only when you take a closer look that you realize that this is a constantly evolving space. Evolution here, thankfully, also spells growth. As per Microsoft, the database market in India for the current year is estimated to be $456 million. Growth is pegged at 17.6% annually. Much of this growth is coming from the expansion of existing databases while some is indeed coming from fresh deployments.

With both structured and unstructured data growing rapidly, enterprises are continuously deploying new databases, while a few smaller businesses, embarking on their automation drives, are tasting their first database deployments.

Interestingly, while the fundamental technology of databases have remained much the same over the years, databases themselves have undergone a tectonic shift in the way that they have been operated and perceived over the years. Many innovations have occurred on top of them and these systems have taken the load of ever evolving applications over the years. 2011 saw some interesting changes in the database market.

Constant flux

If there is one thing around databases, it is that the perceptions around them and the expectations from them are in a constant state of flux, despite their basic premise being the same. Databases have meant to serve only one thing since their creation, which is to store and manage an enterprise’s data. That storage and management can mean very different things for every organization is something that database vendors have had to cope with.

The year gone by proved to be a good one for vendors as the database market, which was near static for last two years, was again on the growth track in 2011. This happened primarily because most vendors repositioned their RDBMS offerings in order to gain market share and increase their reach into new segments.

The big reason behind this restructuring of the database market has been the constant evolution in customer expectations. With the huge growth in organizational data, a database has been expected to perform the roles of a storehouse, an organizer, a record and backup keeper and an analyst all at once. Also, as IT environments are becoming increasingly complex, the demands of security and privacy on a database have also risen manifold.

Explained Rajesh Uppal, CIO , Maruti Suzuki India Ltd., “The first thing that any CIO expects from a database is to ensure high availability.” Uppal added that, thankfully, both the technology and vendor offerings have matured in the database segment and since databases have become highly commoditized over the years, they are no longer a big pain point for IT heads.

In an era where downtime is no longer acceptable, the robustness and reliability of databases has also come into play. In a performance obsessed world, there are obvious questions being raised about the efficiency, speed and availability of databases.

In such a scenario, database vendors have had little choice but to evolve as per their customers’ demands. As a result, the database as an entity has seen huge R&D work going on over and above its basic skeleton, which has remain unchanged. Consequently, the databases of today are a much evolved form of their counterparts of the last half a decade. Explained Sudesh Prabhu, Senior Director, Sybase Practice, SAP India, “Databases have not changed fundamentally, but newer elements in applications are giving rise to newer databases.”

Prabhu was of the view that databases had never been about features. They had always been about dependence and their ability to fetch data as and when required. However, the current IT environment and good growth in the other application segments is driving changes in the database market and breaking preset norms.

No longer storage engines

The biggest evolution in the database market place, that became a settled view in 2011, is the fact that databases aren’t viewed as simple storage engines any longer. Their role in an organization has moved beyond simply storing structured data.

They are fast becoming not only analytical tools but also decision making tools for the top management. Srikanth Karnakota, Director, Server and Cloud Business, Microsoft India, said, “Databases have moved from being mere storage engines to complete data management suites, which transform stored data into decisions.”

Vikas Pradhan, Country Director, Commvault India, traced the maturing role of databases for an enterprise. “Earlier the typical activity over database was archival and backup. Later deduplication became a necessity. Then came archiving and analyzing. So the demands over databases have been multiplying.”

In lieu of the ever increasing demands on databases, there is also a clear convergence angle to this tale. Integrated databases providing capabilities such as business intelligence, data warehousing as well as data recovery and analysis capabilities in the same box are the norm today. Elaborated Karnakota, “The clear lines between BI, DW, analytics etc., which earlier used to be separate solutions that were expensive and hard to implement have today metamorphosed into a larger entity such as Microsoft SQL Server which provides an integrated single suite bringing all of these capabilities together.”

Database consolidation is the next big trend that is visible in the database market in India. The high popularity of virtualization has made it a viable option to consolidate smaller databases on to a larger appliance such as the HP-Microsoft Database Consolidation appliance. There is a lot of database consolidation happening in bigger enterprises for whom managing multiple databases is a complex task.

According to Sheshagiri Anegondi, SVP, Technology Business Unit, Oracle, “The scale of databases have changed substantially. Growing data gives rise to several issues like the need for bigger,better storage and much faster compute. The focus of the database industry is now on managing scale and it’s the era of connected and consolidated databases.”

Jaskiran Bhatia, Country Manager, Information Management Software Group, IBM India and South Asia, said, “Database consolidation and virtualization are frequently talked about. In order to optimize storage and other database costs, customers are looking to shift to a single database.”

Over and above consolidation, there were many new technologies and innovations seen in the last year. For one, compression techniques have advanced with columnar compression gaining acceptance and vendors promising over 10x levels of compression.

Database UIs also received some attention from vendors who focused on improving the interfaces and making the overall reportage more attractive.

In-memory databases, though they have been around for a couple of years, also became an industry buzzword in the past year. Even though in-memory is expensive stuff, it has seen some deployments in large enterprises, particularly for real time reporting. In Uppal’s view, in-memory should be applied selectively on apps from which a CIO needs real time information. Uppal is using in-memory for his shop floor application.

Whether in-memory databases will be able to garner sufficient numbers is still to be seen but with the launch of SAP HANA in 2011, awareness around the technology is building up. According to Bhatia of IBM, in-memory is something that is being propelled by the need for speed. However, questions remain with regard to how information RAM can hold and at what cost, she observed.

Prabhu believed that in-memory was a path breaking innovation in databases and its promise lay in its transformational powers. “It has the potential to be applied in real time computing where you need to eliminate latency,” he explained.

Application thrust

The packaged applications market has grown substantially over the past couple of years and that is one of the major factors that is accelerating the growth of the underlying database category. CRM and BI projects were initiated in large numbers in 2011 and these fueled the demand for relational databases. Mentioned Bhatia, “The moment your existing applications grow, your underlying database will grow too. That is why, for relational databases, the need is consistent, while others like in-memory and OLAP are growing as per business needs.”

Business intelligence elicited a lot of interest across Indian enterprises and it helped the cause of databases with some massive BI projects being flagged off by telcos as well as by government organizations. Moreover, since there is a trend of implementing applications in parallel rather than in a phased manner, the sudden spike in demand of databases is not unusual for database vendors.

Oracle that reigns supreme in the database market had a lot to gain from this development and consequently revved up its activities in the database domain. A key focus area for Oracle in 2011 remained its database appliance Exadata. Its business was bolstered by the launch of 11g R2 in India.

Other players also focused on their converged database offerings in order to cater to the market demands and saw some good growth in the database space. SAP’s database line grew at about 20% in India in 2011.

This growth trajectory for databases was charted out primarily by three verticals—BFSI, telecom and government. While education, healthcare and infrastructure have also gained momentum in terms of database investments, the big projects that are underway particularly in the banking and government verticals sent the cash registers ringing.

Needless to say, all government projects entail data collection and maintenance on a gigantic scale and therefore database demand got mileage from projects like UID, NREGA, ESIC and initiatives around financial inclusion. Banking and telecom majors such as PNB, SBI and BSNL also invested significantly in database capacity building.

The differentiating factor about most of these projects is that few of them actually involved fresh, vanilla database deployments. That brings us to another important junction in the database journey namely management woes.

Amalgamation with hardware
There is a lot of hype around converged hardware for databases. Database appliances have generated a lot of interest in the Indian market in the last year or so. These appliances are basically converged database infrastructure and stitch together things like storage, business intelligence and data warehousing in a unified box. In-memory appliances have been the latest pieces to grab market attention.

All the major database players are increasingly focusing on their database appliances to drive growth. Oracle with Exadata, SAP with HANA, Microsoft with SQL Server and IBM with Netezza and smart analytics are all betting on this trend.

Experts believe that appliances are here to stay but they won’t be the only option for CIOs. Hardware appliances are expected to co-exist with traditional, vanilla databases. A certain segment of customers will always need a conventional, vanilla database solution that they can run over any hardware and do data warehousing over it.

From deployment to management

Although there is no stopping the vanilla deployments for organizations beginning to embark on their automaton journey, what caught attention in the year gone by was the management of databases. Now that a lot of companies have already deployed databases, which are running into thousands for some biggies, unified management is becoming a huge challenge for CIOs.

That is the main reasons, as per Anegondi, as to why, “From deployment to management, the customer’s requirements have undergone a sea change in terms of databases. The ability of databases to meet complex requirements is a key consideration today.”

Anegondi explained that in today’s atmosphere a lot of database challenges like migration from one database to another, automatically eliminating a SQL error, disk management tools and element management existed. The focus has shifted to optimizing databases and a lot of organizations are seeking consultation services on these complexities.

Apart from these, security management within the database is also something that organizations have started looking at. Explained Bhatia, “Security used to be restricted to passwords and firewalls but now people have started valuing data as an asset. So database management from a security perspective is also gaining traction.”

Also, no one is buying a database as a vanilla product anymore. Even SMBs that are just beginning to deploy their first database are looking for add-ons including compression techniques and enhanced visuals as a part of the database stack. Yadavendra Kumar, who handles IT for Shyam Prakash Jewelers, a silver jewelry merchant in Delhi, is just on the verge of finalizing his database solution. He explained that he insisted on database management as a part of the purchase because he doesn’t have the expertise to do it in-house.

Anegondi confirmed the trend when he revealed that Oracle was providing these services for SMBs. “For very high data, you need people on premise. For SMBs we do remote database management. For us, a database is an exact science,” he said. Apart from database vendors, this management trend is encouraging a whole new breed of IT entrepreneurs who are developing niche database management solutions specially for nightmare instances such as database corruption and crashes.

2012 Expectations
Data visualization Users today don’t want reports in plain two dimensional tables and standard graphs. They demand visualization of data in different formats, the ability to self service themselves from the backend data stores and this had led to database systems integrating such visualization technologies directly into the main product itself
Columnar Storage and Compression This is now the new technology which is being rapidly adopted by many vendors. This technique of data storage by columns and compressing it, leads to massive reduction in storage, improves performance many fold and also drastically reduces storage space on SANs
Up- time/ reliability improvements There are many new technologies adopted by vendors to ensure they deliver higher uptime, a typical example is the one adopted by Microsoft in what is called ‘AlwaysOn’, where it provides 99.9999% availability from SQL Server 2012
Greater development on x64 based hardware Given the economic climate worldwide and the declining RISC-Unix shipments across the world, most customers are demanding that their database vendors optimize their systems on x64 hardware, which is cost effective and has a good price-performance ratio
Data Warehousing It is the new workload that has become quite pervasive across verticals and is being embedded in databases, with banks and telcos embarking on large projects

Changing avatars

Over the years, the database has changed attire many times and is even more likely to assume newer avatars over the next few years. With performance becoming the core focus and the Cloud becoming the answer to every problem, we expect to see databases moving onto the Cloud in a big way in the near future.

Trends around unified management are also mushrooming and we can expect some more offerings to spring up in that domain. Database consolidation and security could be the other big trend in 2012. As Prabhu mentioned, “Business requirements won’t endure old databases in silos, so consolidation will become a norm.”

The movement around big data could also spark some innovation in the database space as more organizations look to analyze their unstructured data.

As far as the question of specialist, converged devices and in-memory databases eating into the pie of conventional databases goes, experts believed that the market is going to accommodate all database variants and coexistence is the only way forward. Hence, new infrastructure in databases will coexist with existing infrastructure.

Cloud management tools for databases could also be something that can catch up in the Indian market in the near future. However, on the whole, growth for databases will happen riding on the back of advance analytics and applications.

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