NCR sails calm waters

NCR Corp. proved it is in synch with its user community at this year’s NCR Partners User Conference, held recently in Orlando, Fla.

The theme of the conference, “charting the course of data warehousing,” proved to be an apt description of NCR’s corporate strategy: stay true and steady and make no sudden moves or course deviations. There were no major announcements or big surprises. NCR chairman and CEO Lars Nyberg admitted that the company just needed to focus more on what it does best: data warehousing.

“Data warehousing is a unique opportunity to get real and significant growth. We will be one of the top three players in the overall data warehousing market…[but now] there are too many people out there who don’t know about NCR. We’ve been poor about communicating our message.”

The closest news to a major announcement was word of the deal struck between MicroStrategy Inc. and NCR. The US$27.5 million agreement has NCR licensing MicroStrategy’s Intelligent E-Business product line, which includes MicroStrategy Intelligence Server, MicroStrategy Telecaster and MicroStrategy InfoCenter, in order to round out its relationship management capabilities.

For its part, MicroStrategy has agreed to take over ownership for NCR’s TeraCube, and shoulder the responsibility for NCR’s future OLAP technology. In return, NCR receives US$14 million of MicroStrategy stock. MicroStrategy’s COO and executive vice-president Sanju Bansal promised that over the next six months the NCR technology will find its way into MicroStrategy 6.0 and will be fully integrated by the 7.0 release

In addition, NCR’s Teradata will become the foundation for, MicroStrategy’s Personal Intelligence Network which the company bills as “a new form of media that proactively delivers personalized, relevant and timely information to individuals via e-mail, pager, fax, phone, the Internet and PDAs.” Content will include stock quotes, sports scores, weather and traffic updates and news headlines.

Besides the MicroStrategy news, NCR also announced that Teradata for NT has grown from its SMP beginnings and has been certified for up to 1 terabyte in MPP environments, thanks to the inclusion of the company’s scaleable, interconnect BYNET technology and an ESCON Channel Connection. As a demonstration, a 300GB warehouse was set up using Teradata TDMPP and four non-NCR servers: a Compaq 6000, a Dell PowerEdge 6100/200, an IBM Netfinity 5500 M20 and a Hewlett-Packard NetServer LX Pro connected via Ethernet.

Still, for one attendee, it was the NT MPP demo on various platforms that stood out as the most important announcement.

Norman Rille, an analyst and systems integrator with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in Los Angeles, said that the demonstration represents an important shift in NCR’s business model.

“I think the emerging willingness of NCR of leave being a box company and to become a technology company with Teradata on non-NCR hardware is an important step.

“Teradata on NT doesn’t depend on the scalability of NT, that is provided by BYNET. NT scales well to four CPUs, but BYNET takes that and scales horizontally to link up an arbitrarily large number of processors. That will help NCR in attempts to become a non-proprietary company. It will be the key to jumping the chasm. It has lowered a lot of barriers for guys like us to add NCR to our advocated solutions list.”

While Rille is just now getting comfortable with the idea of adding NCR to its mid-range solutions list, two other analyst firms enthusiastically ranked NCR and Teradata as high-end warehousing leaders.

An Aug. 23 research note from the Gartner Group evaluated 11 hardware and software data warehousing combinations and gave Teradata on WorldMark MP/RAS a first place score, ahead of DB2 on RS/6000 AIX. Over at the Giga Information Group, a brief note whose purpose was to answer “Who has the number-one data warehousing database?” listed NCR as the top choice.

Lou Agosta, senior industry analyst and author of the briefing note, liked what he heard at the conference. In particular he was impressed by the MicroStrategy deal.

“Both MicroStrategy and NCR kind of innovated the high end of the data warehouse market. The purchase gives MicroStrategy a medium-sized tool for the OLAP market, and it becomes a way for NCR to make an investment in MicroStrategy. It’s a win/win thing.”

Agosta was also pleased that NCR specified Dec. 15 as the release date for the oft-discussed object-relational (OR) version of Teradata. “It was about time,” he said.

According to Agosta, the current release, V2R3, has a few OR features, including triggers, some OLAP features and data mining extensions.

NCR’s Schrader said the NT-based Teradata Object Relational database is gaining more and more OR features as its development progresses, including the ability to incorporate dynamic, system-defined types based on existing formats such as image or video. He added that NCR has stuck up a deal with Excalibur Technologies Corp. to incorporate its RetrievalWare (for text and image searching and management) and Screening Room (for video indexing) products into the database.

“We’re bringing down the barriers to what you can put in a database,” Schrader said.


Sidebar #1

HEAD: Privacy profile

Kicker (if any): NCR studies international customers

Even though NCR knows the protection of personal information is an important issue – and takes every opportunity to mention the topic – the company decided to poll an assortment of international customers in order to assess their true feelings on the subject.

Two hundred customers in each of Canada, the United States, Britain, France and Germany were asked about their on-line habits and concerns. The following is a brief summary of NCR’s findings.

    Canadians were the most comfortable paying bills on-line, as 11 per cent of respondents indicated they preferred this method of payment. Germans were the most likely to pay in person, with 80 per cent selecting this response. A total of 56 per cent of all respondents reported that personal touch was their favourite for settling accounts.People still like to shop for everyday goods in person, as 97 per cent of all respondents proved; however less are so adamant about purchasing books and CDs, as approximately 75 per cent indicated they still make those purchases in person.Americans (42 per cent) and Canadians (41 per cent) had the highest degrees of dislike for revealing their personal information to corporations. Americans also were the most likely (74 per cent) to have refused to furnish the requested information. The French were the least concerned about who had their personal data – only 10 per cent rated themselves “very concerned.”

Sidebar #2

HEAD: Customers direct Teradata’s evolution

Kicker (if any): Changes to core database functionality predicated by users’ requests

In an unusual move, the next release of Teradata – Version 2 Release 4 (V2R4) – was downplayed at the Partners User Conference. Instead of loudly hailing new features during the general sessions, those interested in the upgrades squeezed into a seminar room to hear NCR’s CTO Todd Walter detail the changes.

For starters, it will be the same database code on both Unix and NT, and stored procedures are finally being included in Teradata.

“In a purely DSS environment, stored procedures aren’t that relevant, but as we move more into Internet and e-commerce applications, we are going to have to take on some additional features,” Walter said. He added that administrators will be able to fire SQL statements from within those stored procedures. The stored procedure language (SPL) will be ANSI SQL 99 compliant, and there will be support for large SPL code sizes.

OLAP capability is being extended and support for Group Count (GCOUNT) and Group Sum (GSUM) are being included, which will allow calculations like contribution percentage without nested aggregates and joins. The Random function has also been improved.

In order to make the statistical analysis simpler for non math and statistics grads, NCR is now incorporating statistical equations into the Teradata database. That way all an administrator will have to do is indicate that standard deviation or variance or kurtosis is required.

Also, new tables can be created by copying existing tables and their attributes through the use of the As/Like function. This, Walter explained, will be particularly useful for the creation of temporary tables.

Previous operating limits are also being blown our of the water in the upcoming release. The limit of 32,000 users in versions 2.1.2 and 3.0.1 has been upped to four billion. The 64KB query size limit increases to 1MB (except for MLoad). The limit on the size of the explain statement which went from 32 characters to 64 characters in V2R3 has been entirely removed.

Other limits that have changed include the number of spools per query (which has gone from 512 to 2,048), the query level nesting (which has increased from 10 to 64) and the character string constant length which grew to 32,000 from 255.

Performance issues have also been addressed, as the database earns an Aggregate Index and extensions to the Join/Covered Index. Improvements have also been made to the Recovery Tools and the Log.

V2R4 should be out by mid-summer next year. V2R5 is expected by the end of 2001.