Large-scale deployments of data that are to be used across both the enterprise and the Internet require effective information management to be successful. This is an area of business technology focus that has seen much turmoil over the last year, with good reason – the management of data, from both a storage and access perspective, has been a challenge for organizations and is an important resurgent trend in information technology. In this arena, the key players are well known: the big, long-established databases from IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Teradata have year by year grown larger and more all-encompassing. But they also have become more cumbersome for many who are trying to address the specific needs of their organization. As the larger databases have become more rigid, a new market has emerged for specific databases that can handle large volumes of data for analytics and information retrieval.

One of the vendors in this market is a newer provider called Aster Data, which offers an interesting new approach that combines massively parallel processing (MPP) and MapReduce to handle large volumes of data requests and computations to satisfy specific application requirements. This is a capability that is increasingly important in light of the dramatically growing volumes of data that must be processed and assessed to satisfy business needs and ensure effective results. In 2009, Aster Data released nCluster 4.0, which can satisfy a mixed-workload set of requirements and access data across a distributed array of commodity-based storage that was a building block to its latest release.

Aster Data more recently released nCluster 4.5 , which introduces a Visual Development Environment, an advance that means it can be used in application development and also can be applied across development, test and production environments. Using an Eclipse-based integrated development environment along with prebuilt analytics functions and wizards to generate SQL-MapReduce code, Aster Data has produced a tightly coupled platform, an approach different from other database offerings in the market that helps built uniform data logic while leaving the business logic to be handled at the level of specific business specific tools and applications. One of the examples the company provides of the value of applying this approach is market basket analysis to assess customer behavior and its implications for inventories.

With the advancement of solid-state storage nCluster can function even faster, potentially delivering up to 10 times better performance than when physical disks are used. As well, Aster Data has improved the data loader to get data more quickly into the nCluster environment. It also has improved administration with the introduction of a new management dashboard to help monitor the product’s operations and underlying processes and operations nodes. Built-in analysis capabilities to examine sessions and nodes and query timelines can be instrumental in delivering the performance needed without having to add costly servers and memory.

Aster Data has been grabbing the attention of large software vendors in the BI market like MicroStrategy and SAS who have built and tested integration to the platform. In addition, providers like Dell are incorporating this capability as part of its cloud efforts as well as other channel partners like Carahsoft and Terremark. Most importantly, companies are seeing the value this technology offers through the examples of customers like comScore, Intuit, myspace and Verizon. Aster Data also is working to support this market sector with its investments into to help build a community and educational environment around analytics using MapReduce. In addition, it has released a cloud version of its technology to make it easier to use the platform for private and public cloud computing environments. Strategically partnering with Dell on this platform is helping to align Aster Data with that vendor to ensure it leverages its worldwide presence and competitive approach to HP, IBM and Oracle. A very strategic move by both Aster Data and Dell working to provide an alternative choice to examine for its big data needs.

Aster Data is only as good as the applications it offers and businesses’ need for bigger and faster data management. Playing in this market space puts it in direct competition with providers like HP, Oracle and Teradata. I’ve assessed these providers in the earlier blogs I’ve linked to. What’s notable here is that Aster Data is not making the same assumption these vendors are that the pre-integrated appliance is the best path to managing the operations and storage of data but does provide that option through Dell partnership. This focus on big data is not unique to Aster Data; others like Greenplum and Netezza are aggressively positioned to meet this market need as well. Nonetheless, Aster Data is well positioned to continue to disrupt this market with its technology and approach to the data market.

I have known this company for the many years since I attended its launch party and have seen it begin to evolve into a serious enterprise provider that can challenge the likes of Teradata and others. This is why in 2009 our firm initiated research coverage and recommendation of its technology to the market as part of our information management research category. Recall that Oracle for many years tried to hinder Teradata in the market but has not stopped them from continuing to grow in customer and revenue. Now Aster Data has an opportunity to become more than just another player as it approaches the data platform in a different architectural way while focusing on the needs of business. I do believe Aster Data will need to explore further the value of its platform for a range of analytics-related applications across the lines of business – an undertaking it has begun – and also will need to focus on the need for information availability in what I call Information Applications. Doing so will help Aster Data position itself as more than just a bigger, faster and more cost-effective data management or just a data warehouse platform.

Aster Data is clearly one of the data vendors to watch in the data market and could become a significant player for the larger vendors like Teradata and others to reckon with sooner or later.

Mark also blogs at