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Microsoft opens trenchcoat, reveals 'in-memory' Big Data column

Just the (100 billion) facts, man

By Gavin Clarke, 12 Apr 2012

If there’s one thing scarier than the big data tsunami, tech vendors tell us, then it’s tech vendors getting left out of the big-data conversation.

Microsoft is the latest software maker to crowbar itself into the debate on big data, this time claiming a place at the table on in-memory databases.

According to a blog here and flagged here, in-memory database technologies are reaching a tipping point and will become common during the next 5-10 years.

And guess what? Microsoft is poised to exploit this. SQL Server Technical Fellow Dave Campbell writes:

"Microsoft has been investing in, and shipping, in-memory database technologies for some time."

Campbell identified “in-memory” in the Microsoft world as a column-based storage engine in Word and Excel. This has now shipped with the newly released SQL Server 2012 as the xVelocity in-memory analytics engine that's part of SQL Server Analysis Services.

Campbell claimed a 200 times performance gain for one SQL Server 2012 customer “through the use of this new in-memory optimized columnstore index type.”

Microsoft’s man promised more from Redmond’s labs.

“Microsoft is also investing in other in-memory database technologies which will ship as the technology and opportunities mature,” he said. He didn’t reveal details but said that this includes an in-memory database solution in the company’s lab “and building our real-world scenarios to demonstrate the potential.”

“One such scenario, based upon one of Microsoft’s online services businesses, contains a fact table of 100 billion rows. In this scenario we can perform three calculations per fact – 300 billion calculations in total, with a query response time of 1/3 of a second. There are no user defined aggregations in this implementation; we actually scan over the compressed column store in real time,” he said.

When it comes to in-memory, database giant Oracle at least has some legitimacy. Years before Big Data was a blob on the horizon, Larry Ellison’s database beast swallowed tiny TimesTen in 2005. TimesTen uses replication and access techniques to keep data in the memory of a system rather than write to disk cache.

Last week, Ellison’s great white whale SAP revived its own HANA in-memory platform, announcing a $337m data base adoption program and $155m SAP HANA Real-Time Fund for startups and entrepreneurs to develop real-time apps.

SAP Ventures, the ERP giant’s venture-capital wing, has also joined Toshiba, Juniper Network and others putting $50m into flash array start-up Violin Memory.

This might account for Microsoft's claims.

While Oracle might be the in-memory leader, though, it isn't above a little shameless bandwagon-jumping when it needs to. The database giant in January 2011 was laying some tenuous claims of its own this time on NoSQL.

"Is Berkeley DB a 'NoSQL' solution today?" Oracle asked here of the embedded database it bought in 2006.

"Nope. Could Berkeley DB grow into a NoSQL solution? Absolutely" - given the right changes. ®