Oracle Acquires TimesTen for Real-Time Database
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Database maker Oracle last week acquired privately held TimesTen, a database specialist that has carved out a niche for itself selling real-time, in-memory databases. Oracle did not disclose the financial details of the acquisition. TimesTen was founded in 1996 by Marie-Anne Neimat, who was a researcher at HP Labs who managed various memory management projects for Hewlett-Packard and who worked at two other startups before founding TimesTen.
The company, which is based in Mountain View, California, has 90 employees and James Groff, the company's CEO, said in a conference call with Wall Street analysts on Thursday morning that TimesTen is growing and profitable, but declined to give any specifics. Andrew Mendelsohn, senior vice president of Oracle's database server technologies unit, said that Oracle intended to offer employment to most of the employees at TimesTen and that he expected the deal to close by the end of July.
The name TimesTen reflects what it does: boost the performance of database-dependent applications by putting real-time databases that run in memory in the application layer of multi-tiered applications where talking all the way back to the back-end databases--such as those provided by Oracle on Unix, Windows, and other systems--would take too long and impede performance or, in some cases, not be possible because the real-time data needs of the application. While Oracle, DB2, Sybase, SQL Server, and other relational databases can hold large volumes of data, they are not necessarily very fast at chewing through this data, particularly when they amass hundreds of gigabytes to tens of terabytes of information. In telephone networks, financial trading systems, or military applications, certain systems need much faster access to a key subset of information--perhaps only a 2 to 5 gigabyte subset of data to open up a cell phone call, initiate a stock trade, or acquire fire a weapon.
While such database caching sounds simple, it is fairly complex, which is why Oracle, which already has many of the 1,500 end user customers who buy TimesTen's products in common, hasn't created the products itself. In addition to the database caching software, called Times/Ten/Cache (which comes in a flavor just for Oracle databases), the company has also created its own in-memory relational database management system, called TimesTen/DataServer, and a real-time transaction processing system, called TimesTen/Transact. These will also be useful to Oracle as it beefs up the distributed computing capabilities of its database, application server, and applications.
Now that Oracle has acquired TimesTen, Mendelsohn said that Oracle could even more tightly integrate its eponymous databases and application development tools with the TimesTen products, which include a special real-time database cache for Oracle databases. Gross says that more than half of the TimesTen installed base is using Oracle databases on their backend systems, which is why it has not created database caches for DB2, Sybase, or SQL Server databases. But Mendelsohn didn't preclude this from happening, pointing out that Oracle's application server supports databases from other vendors, and that if the market started demanding tighter integration with other databases, Oracle would consider supplying it. But clearly the intent is to use TimesTen to muscle in on more business with embedded system suppliers, such as those who make telecom equipment, military systems, or any real-time systems where, as Groff put it, "milliseconds matter." TimesTen is seeing an uptick in the financial services markets, where hot-shot programmers have typically created their own in-memory databases to front-end their back-end databases to speed up transactions, and now they just want to buy something from a company like Oracle and not build it themselves. Sybase has a strong installed base among telecom and financial services companies, and Oracle needs some ammunition to attack that base.
TimesTen had some needs, too, including a 6,000-person strong, global support organization. "I have been asked many, many times, "Why does Oracle just buy you?" explained Groff. "Well, now they have." And having done it, TimesTen now can attack the market with Oracle's money and sales force, and in a way that a company with only 90 employees could never do. Which is probably a big reason why TimesTen agreed to be acquired.