SkyVault to Go Active in Early 2014, Infor Says
November 5, 2013 Alex Woodie
Infor has delayed its new hosted SkyVault business analytics offering, and now plans to launch it in early 2014, the company said last week. The offering–which combines Amazon‘s Redshift database and Infor’s own BI, dashboard, and data integration tools–is a key part of Infor’s big data analytics strategy, and Infor expects it to bolster the big data strategies of its big ERP customer base, too.
Infor originally announced SkyVault at the Inforum 2013 conference in May, when the company said it expected the hosted offering to debut by the end of the year. That original GA date has apparently been pushed back to give Infor and Amazon time to make sure everything works as promised. (In light of the www.healthcare.gov fiasco, nobody is likely to complain about extra testing.)
SkyVault has a bunch of moving pieces. On the Infor side, it involves the ION integration bus, the Infor BI business intelligence application, and various dashboards and KPIs developed for specific industries and employee roles. On the Amazon side, SkyVault involves RedShift, the extremely cheap and extremely scalable online data warehouse that’s built on a multi-node, column-oriented database.
During his keynote at Inforum, Infor CEO Charles Phillips touted the prospect of giving Infor customers access to a “massively parallel database in the cloud.” The idea, he said, would be to “trickle feed” data from Infor ERP systems, as well as other data sources, up into the RedShift environment, where it can be prepared for analysis at speeds up to 50x faster than a traditional OLAP environment. “It’s next generation technology,” Phillips said at the time. “I think it’s a game-changing product.”
SkyVault still might be game-changing, but the big data game is moving awfully fast these days. Even Infor’s primary competitors, Oracle and SAP, appear to be searching for an effective big data strategy that resonates with customers who are being bombarded with big-data hype on a daily basis.
There’s a general wariness around Oracle’s big data approach, which has users either buying big expensive Exaltyics servers to crunch massive amounts of data, or lashing an additional separate column-oriented data store next to the existing row-oriented one in its 12c RDBMs. If Oracle isn’t careful with its pricing and features, the more nimble NoSQL vendors pushing a scale-out strategy on clusters of cheap X86 servers are going to win BI contracts that Larry Ellison’s company once considered its birthright.
SAP, meanwhile, has placed big bets on HANA, an in-memory database designed to process transactional and analytical workloads. However SAP has also hedged its bet, and is partnering with Hadoop vendors to enable its customers to more easily use that data storage and analytics platform with their ERP data.
Infor is categorically against doing fancy database work, which is practical, since it doesn’t own a database. “We’re an application company,” says Lee Kilmer, a vice president of product strategy and development for enterprise performance management and business intelligence solutions. “We’re not out there trying to build an in-memory database for ERP applications. We want to leverage that kind of R&D from others, and not necessarily provide that low-level database infrastructure ourselves.”
Hooking up with Amazon on RedShift looks to be a solid bet for Infor in that regard. RedShift gives users access to ridiculously inexpensive storage capacity–it cost just 85 cents per 2 TB of storage earlier this year. The big question, of course, is what do you do with all that storage capacity?
According to Kilmer, SkyVault customers will be populating their RedShift environments not only with transactional data from their ERP systems, but semi-structured data generated from all sorts of other sources in this big wide world.
“We’ll have a highly scalable, parallelized platform for not only harvesting and analyzing our own business data from our own applications, but other data sources as well,” he said in an interview with IT Jungle last week. “So we’ll be getting into much more granular data, machine-data kinds of use cases, where you need a platform like RedShift to act as a source for that data and then be able to mash that up or carve that out into analytics and dashboards on the front-end.”
While RedShift provides the data store for SkyVault, Infor will provide the visualization, data discovery, and analysis tools through its Infor BI offering (also called Decision Ware). That software, if you’re not familiar, is based on the MIS product formerly sold by Systems Union, a German software company that Infor acquired in 2006 for about $200 million. The days of Infor re-selling BI software from Microsoft or IBM are largely over as it seeks to monetize the big data opportunity for its own benefit.
The Infor BI tool, along with the dashboards, KPIs, and industry micro-vertical “content” for manufacturing, automotive, food and beverage, and clothing industries is where Infor is going to try and differentiate itself and make its money. It’s going to have to respond at some point to customers who may want to use other BI tools, such as Tableau or QlikTech, against their SkyVault data. Infor will need to make the whole process and integration smoother when using its tool to dissuade customers from trying to bring in outside tools.
Infor senses an opportunity in helping its customers access other data sources, such as machine data or customer sentiment data, and mixing that up with transactional data to make a big old pot of Big Data soup. “Big data can help provide additional detail, if you will, and help derive more precision in decision making,” Kilmer said. “You need a multi-faceted approach to business analytics. Big data is certainly part of that.”
There could be other parts of Infor’s big data strategy in the near future. Amazon also provides a hosted version of Hadoop called Elastic MapReduce (EMR) that it offers to customers needing a place to store and analyze massive amounts of data.
Is EMR in Infor’s future? “We’re not making any announcement about that right now,” Kilmer says. “But certainly the architecture of the business vault and the way we’re integrating with Redshift for certain kinds of data, we definitely foresee the ability to support multiple kinds of data platforms beyond just traditional relational or columnar kinds of database structures.
“We’re certainly talking with them [Amazon],” Kilmer continues. “They have a few other services as well. They have DynamoDB, which is a key data store. They have EMR and RedShift. They have a portfolio of offerings around data and big data. It’s certainly something that’s of interest to us. We’re starting with RedShift, but we believe, architecturally and just even in terms of the company interest, we’ll look to entertain some of those other capabilities as well.”
None of this big data stuff will be available for use by any of Infor’s customers that aren’t running a current 10x release of the ERP system and using the ION integration bus. Those are the bare-bone investments that Infor absolutely requires its customers to make before getting involved in any of the additional services.
The good news is that Infor has released 10x versions of many of its offerings, including most of the IBM i-based ERP systems used by its 15,000 or so IBM i customers. For those BPCS, MAPICS, PRMS, Daly.Commerce, M3, and System21 customers, an upgrade to a 10x product has to be seen as a strategic investment not only in their core ERP systems, but in their capability to get started with big data at an affordable price.