Chris Lalonde is a founder and the CEO of ObjectRocket, now a Rackspace company. He has held several senior technology roles during his career including eBay, Meraki Networks and Apptera. Enterprise Times spent some time discussing both the recent announcement by ObjectRocket supporting Elasticsearch and also how CIO’s might approach analytics in the cloud.
For some IT Leaders the idea of using open source technology or even working out how the technology is relevant is a large step into the unknown. We asked Chris how he would convince a CIO to go down the Open Source route to investigate their data.
“I think there is a great article by Matt Asay in Infoworld. He talks about how the database market is changing. The database market is a $40 billion market if you believe what IDC says, heading towards $50 billion by 2017. If you look at the growth of traditional (what I call relational databases) the two biggest players there being Oracle and Microsoft SQL server, their growth is about 5% annualised and the growth of non relational databases or the other database segment is something like 30%, The market is shifting and the reason that it is shifting is that there are a bunch of reasons.”
The article in question is entitled “Open source threatens to eat the database market” and is worth a look. Chris then explained where Rackspace and specifically ObjectRocket have helped IT leaders.
“These modern solutions like Elasticsearch, like MongoDB, like Redis have a very specific set of features and use cases that makes them very very powerful and I think that it allows companies to manage, deal and pull information out of data in ways that they haven’t been able to before
“I think if you want to be ahead of that curve you had best start understanding how those work now, so that you can get all of the value out of those as you move forward. We have customers that have tens of terabytes of data on us today using some of these platforms, and scaling is not a problem if you know the right things to do. Which is where our expertise comes in.
“There is a huge amount of value to be gained by using non-traditional data stores and analysing, manipulating, managing data and if you are a business you should figure that out today. It’s going to happen. All the data suggests that we are headed towards a new place where there are multiple types of data stores and you can get a huge amount of value out of those things.”
Change is happening, but according to Chris, it isn’t just change that is important but “velocity“.
There is a saying, “The only constant is change”, that has been applied to business more and more in recent times. It was Heraclitus of Ephesus that is first believed to have used the phrase or the equivalent: “Everything changes and nothing stands still”. This is certainly the case for technology and Chris is an advocate of this. Lalonde moved to Rackspace when ObjectRocket was bought in 2013 and is still driving the platform forward. The latest announcement around Elasticsearch is yet another example of his desire never to stand still.
Business needs to evolve, technology is often a fundamental component of assisting change. Chris uses the term velocity and explained his understanding of it and how Rackspace ensures that it can support its clients. We asked Chris to give us his definition of the term.
“The world has changed dramatically in terms of its velocity in general, So I’ll date myself in general I think. How long do you think that AOL took to get to its few customers?...”
After a pregnant pause Chris continued:
“It took them about 5 years. I worked at ebay for a number of years and it took ebay about 3 years to get to its first million customers. Instagram took about 8 weeks to get to its first million customers. So the velocity of change and adoption of change and adoption of customers and their patience with products, performance has shrunk dramatically.
“You just have less time to do what are frankly very complicated things. I have talked to customers that went from having five signups a day to having 20,000 sign ups a day. They are coming over the walls at them.”
Chris later summarised velocity and explained why it is so important to business today:
“The velocity of change is getting faster, there is a huge business advantage in being able to understand it and being able to discern the direction that things are headed.”
In others words it is no longer that IT leaders needs to “Do more with less”, but they need to “Do more with less and faster”. Chris has faced this challenge and dealt with it before, as he explains:
“…I’ve been a CIO of small companies, the trick is about the velocity, it really is one of the main weapons that businesses have. I use that term specifically (weapon). Is that your ability to absorb, to take, and understand change coming in and utilise that for the right business purposes is one of the biggest advantages that companies can have .
“In this case we are talking [about] the data, the underlying fundamental lifeblood of the business. If you can understand something faster than your competitors and react to that there is an advantage to that.”
Velocity and the data analytics challenge
ObjectRocket was set up to help companies deal with this velocity within the scope of data analytics and Chris explained this as.
“..being able to have a platform that scales and grows and does all that stuff for you and being able to call up and sit down with somebody who has decades worth experience managing, dealing, scaling data I think is – there is a huge opportunity there.”
There is no doubt that Rackspace has a data platform and one that can help perform data analysis, as Chris likes to describe it that meets most enterprises requirements.
“If you look at our service offering today, we have a suite of what I would call of data stores. So we have My SQL offering a relational database, Mongo which is non-relational, we have Redis, which is an in-memory solution and Hadoop which is an analytics solution.
“If you start looking at modern applications they tend to have a set of services, data stores very specifically and if you look at the ones you have picked out those are the ones that are the most popular, they are open source and they are the functions that people, developers most specifically that need to use the most. A lot of applications have a set of these services in combination with one another.
“So for example you will see if you start looking how applications are architected they often have an in memory data store like Redis for caching credentials or for quick hits of stuff. They often have a non-relational database either as their primary data store or as one of the secondary data stores because it is nice to work with. They often have a relational database or analytics solution in order to be just a regular database or to provide some kind of insight into the system.”
Chris wouldn’t be drawn on whether Rackspace would take this offering a step further. That step is offering expertise on setting up the technology to help companies with their data but he believes that there is an opportunity for someone to help companies actually understand their data. It will be interesting to see if ObjectRocket or Rackspace seek to fulfil this space with some kind of consultancy arm, possibly even through acquisition.
Who is interested in Elasticsearch
With Rackspace rolling out Elasticsearch in the US initially, before spreading it out to other countries we wondered whether Chris felt that some countries were ahead of others in the analytics space.
“I think like that in all cases there are early adopters in different places and we have seen a strong demand specifically in the UK. I think that in a lot of cases with these technologies the US is the earliest of early adopters and I think that the UK and Europe tend to follow in most cases, not by a significant amount, a year at tops. Then the rest of the world tends to follow a little more slowly or they have a focus on slightly different technologies. For example, REACT is more popular in Japan in different pockets than it is in North America. “
While there are some companies leading the charge towards analytics Chris feels that it is often led by the more modern platforms, and specifically the newer developers that tend to be more focused on it. We asked him if there were any specific verticals that are ahead of others?
“I don’t think there is anything too surprising, the verticals …[that are]… the earliest adopters tend to be more mobile apps and social apps. I am not sure that’s because that’s where the developers come from but I can tell you that they tend to be the earliest adopters of the newest latest and greatest stuff.
“Enterprises tend to lag and I think that part of that is because of their size and for them to ‘wait and see’. As an enterprise business you don’t want to invest in something that is going to be a flash in the pan. So enterprises tend to wait. So they tend to lag behind some of the newer start up’s.”
We then asked Chris how CIO’s and CMO’s should approach the challenge or whether they already are.
“I think that everybody is starting to figure it out, but they are starting to figure it out at a larger or lesser degree. If I was trying to convince you to use one. My suggestion would be to pick a set data that is particularly challenging for you in a specific direction and look at one of these solutions to see if you could do it and gain value from it in some way shape or form.”
“The real trick, it’s like any new tool. I’ve only ever had a hammer, so what’s this screwdriver thing all about? Well probably you should figure out the drill or the saw if you want to be a carpenter. So people need to start learning those, and I think they are and I think we have seen more and more enterprise adoption of these technologies.
“We have a number of fairly large enterprise customers because they are starting to see the value. I think that is the real trick if you are approaching this from a business perspective At the end of the day there is advantage to be gained by using these new technologies and you can just go and see the adoption that is happening in places. “
Chris went onto explain how he sees Elasticsearch’s status as one of these newer tools.
“Mongo talks about Fortune 5 companies that are running MongoDB and storing very, very large amounts of data. Mongo very specifically have very wide adoption across enterprise and start-ups, that’s very clear. Elasticsearch has a very similar footprint, but not quite as old but I think where they are headed is in that same direction.”
The future of ObjectRocket platform
Having implemented Elasticsearch on the Rackspace ObjectRocket platform we asked Chris what would be next?
“I think that Rackspace in general supports a plethora of technologies. You can always come here and Rackspace will help you out, full stop, absolutely. On the managed database platform if you are asking whether we going to introduce new technologies on the platform, absolutely we will. What they are I can’t tell you. But we do have a number of things in the works.”
Chris then shared his vision for the ObjectRocket platform:
“If you look at where we are today, we are really working towards developing what I call a data platform. There are some companies that will allow you to spin up Elasticsearch and some will let you spin up Mongo and some will let you spin up Redis or something else, but there is virtually no place that will allow you to spin up all of those things.
“Have it done in a way that scales from half a gigabyte to multiple terabytes of data, do it in multiple data centres globally and have it backed by people who support tens of terabytes of database. That is a pretty unique … and I think the things that differentiates our service from anything else out there is that sort of combination of very performant, highly redundant platform that is ready for enterprise data and backed by a set of experts.“
The ObjectRocket platform
There is no doubt that Chris is proud of his platform. When asked what question he wanted to be asked, he quickly replied “What makes it so awesome?” and then proceeded to elaborate:
“What makes it so awesome…We have experts, the system will deploy in seconds, you can get it up and running immediately and put data into it. Highly redundant, no single point of failure in the system. Super high performance, in the back end we use PCIe cards on our boxes, PCIe cards will do hundreds of thousands and up to millions of IOPS per second vs traditional SSD’s which do tens of thousands (IOPS).”
Chris concluded by offering a pitch for potential clients.
“My pitch if you are a CIO Look how long is it going to take you to build a team that understands all the nuances of running 10 terabytes of Elastic search. Where is the value, perhaps there is value in doing that for you, perhaps you should try and run an experiment some place else and get as much information about running it whether its value off somebody else’s platform today and by the way if you want to have other data stores to experiment with we are kind of the place to go.”
Whether or not leaders feel that they want to take a chance on Rackspace, a lot of what Chris said made sense. Every company has a set of data that it must feel there is information, a business advantage hidden inside it, that they could take advantage of if they only knew how to. It might be information relating to assets, products, customers or something entirely different. Selecting the right database to help analyse that information, and asking questions of that data to gain insights from it is the first step.
Businesses should not assume that Big Data means ALL data, in fact the first step to adding value may be using a much smaller set of data and to use Chris’s analogy work out how to use the best tool for the job. Taking the example of the screwdriver and hammer; If you have a screw to fix something, a hammer might work but it is not the best solution.
Picking the right screwdriver means that the tip fits the screw perfectly and then it’s easy to turn. It’s a lot easier if you hire an electric screwdriver with the right components to do most of the job for you. Perhaps Elasticsearch is that screwdriver and ObjectRocket the electric version.