Interview Stephanie McReynolds Director Product Marketing, AsterData

Here is an interview with Stephanie McReynolds who works as as Director of Product Marketing with AsterData. I asked her a couple of questions about the new product releases from AsterData in analytics and MapReduce.

Ajay – How does the new Eclipse Plugin help people who are already working with huge datasets but are new to AsterData’s platform?

Stephanie- Aster Data Developer Express, our new SQL-MapReduce development plug-in for Eclipse, makes MapReduce applications easy to develop. With Aster Data Developer Express, developers can develop, test and deploy a complete SQL-MapReduce application in under an hour. This is a significant increase in productivity over the traditional analytic application development process for Big Data applications, which requires significant time coding applications in low-level code and testing applications on sample data.

Ajay – What are the various analytical functions that are introduced by you recently- list say the top 10.

Stephanie- At Aster Data, we have an intense focus on making the development process easier for SQL-MapReduce applications. Aster Developer Express is a part of this initiative, as is the release of pre-defined analytic functions. We recently launched both a suite of analytic modules and a partnership program dedicated to delivering pre-defined analytic functions for the Aster Data nCluster platform. Pre-defined analytic functions delivered by Aster Data’s engineering team are delivered as modules within the Aster Data Analytic Foundation offering and include analytics in the areas of pattern matching, clustering, statistics, and text analysis– just to name a few areas. Partners like Fuzzy Logix and Cobi Systems are extending this library by delivering industry-focused analytics like Monte Carlo Simulations for Financial Services and geospatial analytics for Public Sector– to give you a few examples.

Ajay – So okay I want to do a K Means Cluster on say a million rows (and say 200 columns) using the Aster method. How do I go about it using the new plug-in as well as your product.

Stephanie- The power of the Aster Data environment for analytic application development is in SQL-MapReduce. SQL is a powerful analytic query standard because it is a declarative language. MapReduce is a powerful programming framework because it can support high performance parallel processing of Big Data and extreme expressiveness, by supporting a wide variety of programming languages, including Java, C/C#/C++, .Net, Python, etc. Aster Data has taken the performance and expressiveness of MapReduce and combined it with the familiar declarativeness of SQL. This unique combination ensures that anyone who knows standard SQL can access advanced analytic functions programmed for Big Data analysis using MapReduce techniques.

kMeans is a good example of an analytic function that we pre-package for developers as part of the Aster Data Analytic Foundation. What does that mean? It means that the MapReduce portion of the development cycle has been completed for you. Each pre-packaged Aster Data function can be called using standard SQL, and executes the defined analytic in a fully parallelized manner in the Aster Data database using MapReduce techniques. The result? High performance analytics with the expressiveness of low-level languages accessed through declarative SQL.

Ajay – I see an an increasing focus on Analytics. Is this part of your product strategy and how do you see yourself competing with pure analytics vendors.

Stephanie – Aster Data is an infrastructure provider. Our core product is a massively parallel processing database called nCluster that performs at or beyond the capabilities of any other analytic database in the market today. We developed our analytics strategy as a response to demand from our customers who were looking beyond the price/performance wars being fought today and wanted support for richer analytics from their database provider. Aster Data analytics are delivered in nCluster to enable analytic applications that are not possible in more traditional database architectures.

Ajay – Name some recent case studies in Analytics of implementation of MR-SQL with Analytical functions

Stephanie – There are three new classes of applications that Aster Data Express and Aster Analytic Foundation support: iterative analytics, prediction and optimization, and ad hoc analysis.

Aster Data customers are uncovering critical business patterns in Big Data by performing hypothesis-driven, iterative analytics. They are exploring interactively massive volumes of data—terabytes to petabytes—in a top-down deductive manner. ComScore, an Aster Data customer that performs website experience analysis is a good example of an Aster Data customer performing this type of analysis.

Other Aster Data customers are building applications for prediction and optimization that discover trends, patterns, and outliers in data sets. Examples of these types of applications are propensity to churn in telecommunications, proactive product and service recommendations in retail, and pricing and retention strategies in financial services. Full Tilt Poker, who is using Aster Data for fraud prevention is a good example of a customer in this space.

The final class of application that I would like to highlight is ad hoc analysis. Examples of ad hoc analysis that can be performed includes social network analysis, advanced click stream analysis, graph analysis, cluster analysis and a wide variety of mathematical, trigonometry, and statistical functions. LinkedIn, whose analysts and data scientists have access to all of their customer data in Aster Data are a good example of a customer using the system in this manner.

While Aster Data customers are using nCluster in a number of other ways, these three new classes of applications are areas in which we are seeing particularly innovative application development.

Biography-

Stephanie McReynolds is Director of Product Marketing at Aster Data, where she is an evangelist for Aster Data’s massively parallel data-analytics server product. Stephanie has over a decade of experience in product management and marketing for business intelligence, data warehouse, and complex event processing products at companies such as Oracle, Peoplesoft, and Business Objects. She holds both a master’s and undergraduate degree from Stanford University.

Business Analytics Analyst Relations /Ethics/White Papers

Curt Monash, whom I respect and have tried to interview (unsuccessfully) points out suitable ethical dilemmas and gray areas in Analyst Relations in Business Intelligence here at http://www.dbms2.com/2010/07/30/advice-for-some-non-clients/

If you dont know what Analyst Relations are, well it’s like credit rating agencies for BI software. Read Curt and his landscaping of the field here ( I am quoting a summary) at http://www.strategicmessaging.com/the-ethics-of-white-papers/2010/08/01/

Vendors typically pay for

  1. They want to connect with sales prospects.
  2. They want general endorsement from the analyst.
  3. They specifically want endorsement from the analyst for their marketing claims.
  4. They want the analyst to do a better job of explaining something than they think they could do themselves.
  5. They want to give the analyst some money to enhance the relationship,

Merv Adrian (I interviewed Merv here at http://www.dudeofdata.com/?p=2505) has responded well here at http://www.enterpriseirregulars.com/23040/white-paper-sponsorship-and-labeling/

None of the sites I checked clearly identify the work as having been sponsored in any way I found obvious in my (admittefly) quick scan. So this is an issue, but it’s not confined to Oracle.

My 2 cents (not being so well paid 😉 are-

I think Curt was calling out Oracle (which didnt respond) and not Merv ( whose subsequent blog post does much to clarify).

As a comparative new /younger blogger in this field,
I applaud both Curt to try and bell the cat ( or point out what everyone in AR winks at) and for Merv for standing by him.

In the long run, it would strengthen analyst relations as a channel if they separate financial payment of content from bias. An example is credit rating agencies who forgot to do so in BFSI and see what happened.

Customers invest millions of dollars in BI systems trusting marketing collateral/white papers/webinars/tests etc. Perhaps it’s time for an industry association for analysts so that individual analysts don’t knuckle down under vendor pressure.

It is easier for someone of Curt, Merv’s stature to declare editing policy and disclosures before they write a white paper.It is much harder for everyone else who is not so well established.

White papers can take as much as 25,000$ to produce- and I know people who in Business Analytics (as opposed to Business Intelligence) slog on cents per hour cranking books on R, SAS , webinars, trainings but there are almost no white papers in BA. Are there any analytics independent analysts who are not biased by R or SAS or SPSS or etc etc. I am not sure but this looks like a good line to  pursue 😉 – provided ethical checks and balances are established.

Personally I know of many so called analytics communities go all out to please their sponsors so bias in writing does exist (you cant praise SAS on a R Blogging Forum or R USers Meet and you cant write on WPS at SAS Community.org )

– at the same time someone once told me- It is tough to make a living as a writer, and that choice between easy money and credible writing needs to be respected.

Most sponsored white papers I read are pure advertisements, directed at CEOs rather than the techie community at large.

Almost every BI vendor claims to have the fastest database with 5X speed- and benchmarking in technical terms could be something they could do too.

Just like Gadget sites benchmark products, you can not benchmark BI or even BA products as it is written not to do so  in many licensing terms.

Probably that is the reason Billions are spent in BI and the positive claims are doubtful ( except by the sellers). Similarly in Analytics, many vendors would have difficulty justifying their claims or prices if they are subjected to a side by side comparison. Unfortunately the resulting confusion results in shoddy technology coming stronger due to more aggressive marketing.

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Open Source and Software Strategy

Curt Monash at Monash Research pointed out some ongoing open source GPL issues for WordPress and the Thesis issue (Also see http://ma.tt/2009/04/oracle-and-open-source/ and  http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/switching-things-around/).

As a user of both going upwards of 2 years- I believe open source and GPL license enforcement are general parts of software strategy of most software companies nowadays. Some thoughts on  open source and software strategy-Thesis remains a very very popular theme and has earned upwards of 100,000 $ for its creator (estimate based on 20k plus installs and 60$ avg price)

  • Little guys like to give away code to get some satisfaction/ recognition, big guys give away free code only when its necessary or when they are not making money in that product segment anyway.
  • As Ethan Hunt said, ” Every Hero needs a Villian”. Every software (market share) war between players needs One Big Company Holding more market share and Open Source Strategy between other player who is not able to create in house code, so effectively out sources by creating open source project. But same open source propent rarely gives away the secret to its own money making project.
    • Examples- Google creates open source Android, but wont reveal its secret algorithm for search which drives its main profits,
    • Google again puts a paper for MapReduce but it’s Yahoo that champions Hadoop,
    • Apple creates open source projects (http://www.apple.com/opensource/) but wont give away its Operating Source codes (why?) which help people buys its more expensive hardware,
    • IBM who helped kickstart the whole proprietary code thing (remember MS DOS) is the new champion of open source (http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/opensource/) and
    • Microsoft continues to spark open source debate but read http://blogs.technet.com/b/microsoft_blog/archive/2010/07/02/a-perspective-on-openness.aspx and  also http://www.microsoft.com/opensource/
    • SAS gives away a lot of open source code (Read Jim Davis , CMO SAS here , but will stick to Base SAS code (even though it seems to be making more money by verticals focus and data mining).
    • SPSS was the first big analytics company that helps supports R (open source stats software) but will cling to its own code on its softwares.
    • WordPress.org gives away its software (and I like Akismet just as well as blogging) for open source, but hey as anyone who is on WordPress.com knows how locked in you can get by its (pricy) platform.
    • Vendor Lock-in (wink wink price escalation) is the elephant in the room for Big Software Proprietary Companies.
    • SLA Quality, Maintenance and IP safety is the uh-oh for going in for open source software mostly.
  • Lack of IP protection for revenue models for open source code is the big bottleneck  for a lot of companies- as very few software users know what to do with source code if you give it to them anyways.
    • If companies were confident that they would still be earning same revenue and there would be less leakage or theft, they would gladly give away the source code.
    • Derivative softwares or extensions help popularize the original softwares.
      • Half Way Steps like Facebook Applications  the original big company to create a platform for third party creators),
      • IPhone Apps and Android Applications show success of creating APIs to help protect IP and software control while still giving some freedom to developers or alternate
      • User Interfaces to R in both SAS/IML and JMP is a similar example
  • Basically open source is mostly done by under dog while top dog mostly rakes in money ( and envy)
  • There is yet to a big commercial success in open source software, though they are very good open source softwares. Just as Google’s success helped establish advertising as an alternate ( and now dominant) revenue source for online companies , Open Source needs a big example of a company that made billions while giving source code away and still retaining control and direction of software strategy.
  • Open source people love to hate proprietary packages, yet there are more shades of grey (than black and white) and hypocrisy (read lies) within  the open source software movement than the regulated world of big software. People will be still people. Software is just a piece of code.  😉

(Art citation-http://gapingvoid.com/about/ and http://gapingvoidgallery.com/

For beginners interested in software

1) For web development , get  into http://www.wordpress.org and its a pretty easy software to start making websites on.

You can maybe spend say 10 $ a month so that you can buy some server space on http://www.bluehost.com and tinker with his own website /blog in the meantime.

For learning language CSS ,PhP and HTML are the way to go.

2) If you knows some languages already, try  to make a Facebook application , and then play with Google’s open social API,or game, as that will get his interest besides giving him a skill thats useful. Ipod developer’s kit is another hot area to experiment.

3)For designing software solutions I would recommend the Microsoft Certification program. Try  to learn 1 language like Visual Basic or into .Net programming.These platforms will still be useful in coming years.

4) For statistical/business software try  to learn a language called R, which is good for data mining (www.r-project.org) . its quite easy to learn and has a good graphical user interface too.

5)For software careers it is best to learn multiple types of softwares to hedge your bets.

For sustaining interest, you  can join and network with fellow programmers using bulletin boards especially boards on http://www.google.com for google code and microsoft developers area..

6) You can also download Ubuntu linux (www.ubuntu.com) , which is a free Linux based Operation System (like Windows) and  be more familiar in it. Also add openoffice from http://www.openoffice.org This gives you perspectives on open source software.

7)I recommend him getting summer internship in a software startup (especially any software company in Silicon valley or Bangalore) ,and with established companies (like http://www.google.com , http://www.facebook.com,www.infosys.com

Software developers are the un-sung heroes of today’s modern world!!!

All the best !