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Thought Leaders in Big Data: Interview with Steve Shine, CEO of Actian (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, Nov 7th 2013

Steve Shine is the chief executive officer of Actian, which provides a reliable platform for customers to meet their real-time big data analytics needs. Steve studied at the University of Manchester and has more than 17 years of experience in the software industry. In this interview he talks about Actian and its unique value proposition, and he gives us interesting use cases on how big data analytics influences different industries and how it can be leveraged by young entrepreneurs for future projects.

Sramana Mitra: Steve, let´s start with setting some context for our audience. Tell us about Actian and you.

Steve Shine: I am a British citizen. In theory I live in London, but I spend a lot of time on an airplane. I have no physical office, and once you start to understand the scale of Actian, you will see that this is quite unusual. I am a fan of technology to keep the physical load very light; therefore, I have no physical office and no physical filing cabinets. Everything is on my phone, my laptop and the cloud.

I have a fairly significant pedigree in the technology space. I have a physics degree. But my first work experience was on oil rigs, drilling for oil in places around the world. I moved very quickly into the technology sector, spent a lot of time with Accenture, Dun & Bradstreet Software and then a Canadian company called Geac – that is in ERP applications. After 2000 I moved to Sybase’s operations in Europe, and in 2007 I joined a company called Ingres that in 2011 was re-branded as Actian.

SM: Is this the old database company Ingres?

SS: Yes, Ingres the relational database company. There are actually over 13,000 customers using that database. We are investing a significant amount in it. It has a terrific customer base that uses the technology to run the backbone of their businesses. It is a really high-end and mission-critical OLTP [online transaction processing] database. That was the start of our path that led us to where we are today.

SM: Tell us about the Actian in big data.

SS: The best way to describe the Actian in big data is to describe how we got there, because most people would acknowledge that the OLTP relational database space is not big data. Back in 2006 and 2007 we saw more of our customers do more reporting, whereas they had used Ingres for more transactional stuff before. This is a very important thing, because the transition from the workload being transactional to more reporting and analytics is a big thing and a significant trend as we move forwards. It was great, but whilst they were doing that, the pressure on engineering grew a lot because the demands were so different.

So this was the first step that took us into the big data market. This was before anyone called it big data. We acquired a technology out of an academic research center out of Amsterdam and brought to market a technology called Vectorwise. It is an extremely high-performing analytical database for low latency analytics and reporting. We brought it to market in 2010. How good is that?

The easiest way to look at it is if you are Cisco, Dell or HP, or anyone with a new shiny server that you want to tell the market is the fastest out there, you will run a TPC-H [Transaction Processing Performance Council] benchmark. It is one of the industry recognized benchmarks. They all run using the Vectorwise software, because what their team had done is really leverage the real raw compute power of modern-day chips. It is more than in-memory. It actually uses the memory of the chip as opposed to RAM, and it is very parallelized and leverages the chip architectures.

That was our first step. At that stage we were really a very fast database, but we were starting to see customers who were at the start of real big data projects had a Hadoop project right next door, and they were doing very large processing in Hadoop, and then moving that cleansed and aggregated data into Vectorwise to serve up their reporting and analytics business users. The questions we were asked in that process were: “How do we move that data into Hadoop and into Vectorwise, and between Hadoop and Vectorwise?”

We started to see that the challenges of big data were much broader than just a database. This really took us into the Actian phase of our life, when in September 2011 we re-branded from Ingres to Actian. The reason for that is that the brand for Ingres is extremely strong, but it is focused on the product. Actian was broadening its portfolio to move into the big data space. We also recognized that we had an opportunity to build more than just a database, so we had the early concepts of a platform vision, which really lured us into what has been an incredible two years.

In the last two years we have acquired three companies and brought them into the Actian family, we have more than doubled the size of the company in the last year, both in terms of people in the company and the revenue size of the company. What we were really looking for were certain types of technology assets that we believed were incredibly important to what we think is a really big and significant change in terms of what people are looking for in data management infrastructure. The market would now say: “Yes, it has definitely gone in that direction.”

This segment is part 1 in the series : Thought Leaders in Big Data: Interview with Steve Shine, CEO of Actian
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