In November of last year, NCR announced (with appropriate fanfare) that the combination of its Teradata RDBMS and WorldMark 5150 server set a new TPC-D benchmark at the one "terriblebyte" level along with a low-low price/performance ratio of $2,100. These figures are substantially better than those published by other competitors, and they were achieved by running five concurrent streams, a multi-use capability that only Teradata has accomplished in any published TPC-D.

Of course, all us savants know (wink, wink) that benchmarks s--k and have no relation to the real world of computing, but those are really impressive numbers. Must be a pony in there somewhere.

Given the hype we've all seen about warehouse performance by RISC machines running "open" (I really hate that word) software, NCR's performance figures ought to surprise many readers. This is also a company that has a reputation for selling big, expensive, proprietary systems, almost exclusively to the well- heeled; namely, Wal-Mart and AT&T.

For those of you who haven't noticed, NCR is in the process of transforming itself into a data warehouse/decision support solutions company. Sure they still sell hardware, but software and services are becoming increasingly dominant. Who woulda thunk it? A 114-year old company, that made its mark peddling ornate cash registers, and later MICR systems and POS terminals, is now shooting for the stars based on a relatively obscure acquisition (Teradata) it made several years ago while flush with cash and visions of conquering new frontiers.

Today NCR has three primary product lines. In descending order they are Teradata, Teradata and Teradata. That obscure acquisition is now the dog, leaving the rest of the stuff NCR sells to the nether end of the pooch. Teradata, once the epitome of a proprietary RDBMS, now runs on UNIX!! Even more horrifying, it interfaces with Microsoft's SQL! Doesn't matter to NCR whether you favor Gates or McNealy, its got 'em covered. Some might even call Teradata "open," heaven forbid.

In all seriousness, NCR has staked the future of the company on decision support and related applications. No other company of its size (roughly $7 billion annual revenues) has made as big a commitment to that business as has NCR. If IBM, Sun, Compaq/Tandem or Digital fail to make it in the decision support arena, the impact will be minimal. If NCR doesn't make it, the consequences for the company and its shareholders will be devastating.

Up until recently, NCR has had most of its success in major accounts requiring very large databases. Now the company is taking an across-the-board approach and has recently announced a series of products and programs aimed at the small user or the big user who wants to start small. Its success in this endeavor will be critical. Most of the users I've interviewed over the past few years are willing to grant NCR primacy in the terabyte range. The typical response has been "expensive, but it works." Nevertheless, in today's world, successful companies need to offer a range of product to fit every application requirement and budget. Issues of entry price, ease of implementation and scalability must be more than adequately addressed if one is to survive in this increasingly competitive market.

In 1997, NCR began to pay serious attention to small data marts, including accommodation to the Windows NT environment. For as little as $30,000 (their number), one can buy into a "dependent data mart" solution which enables one to use NT Server and SQL Server running on an NT NCR box as a front end to a Teradata database running on a bigger UNIX server. The idea is to let departments stock up on these little guys, but give them all the macho benefits of a real Teradata database. These systems can be bought bundled with services as an essentially turnkey solution. In addition, NCR has ported "Teradata Manager," a GUI used to monitor Teradata performance and resource utilization, to NT.

NCR has also conceived something called the "RightSTART" program which purports to offer "a data warehouse in 90 days for $450K." It's bundled with industry-specific vertical applications software for the retail, financial and telecom industries where NCR has its greatest strength.

So far, so good. However, we think that NCR's greatest weakness is that it relies primarily on direct sales channels and has yet to develop the alternate channels and alliances that it needs to compete across the board. The company appears to be aware of this situation and is taking steps to change its distribution structure. If it is successful, NCR will undoubtedly maintain and perhaps enhance its position as a decision support leader. Stay tuned . . . .

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