PDW is based on technology from the company's acquisition of DATAllegro two and a half years ago. Microsoft announced plans to start shipping the product earlier this month at its Professional Association for SQL Server Summit event.
PDW is designed to run on massive parallel processing systems and is targeted at large multi-terabyte data warehouse applications. It will be offered as an integrated data warehouse appliance running, initially at least, only on Hewlett-Packard servers. In the future, Microsoft plans to release similar PDW appliances based on hardware from other partners, including IBM, Dell and Bull.
According to Microsoft, a typical SQL Server 2008 R2 PDW appliance will feature up to 22 processors per rack and cost upwards of $841,000, or more than $38,000 per processor.
That kind of configuration and pricing for a single system is unusual for Microsoft and puts it in the same high-end territory as IBM, Oracle and Teradata in the market for massively parallel data warehouse technologies. But whether it will make any big impression is an open question.
"PDW is late to market," said Merv Adrian, principal at IT Market strategy. "Microsoft is behind in functionality compared to some of [the other vendors]." The fact that the technology will only be available at first on HP servers is also disappointing, he said, especially considering Microsoft's delay in getting PDW out the door.
Another factor is that Microsoft doesn't own the entire platform, unlike its competitors, Adrian said. "So keeping it current will be a challenge as its partners change their hardware."
According to details provided by Microsoft, PDW will scale from tens to hundreds of terabytes and will come integrated with Microsoft Business Intelligence tools as well as tools for data management and for streaming data. Despite the high price for a 22-process system rack, PDW will offer enterprises a low cost of ownership, with prices starting at around $13,000 per terabyte, including hardware, according to Microsoft.
Microsoft's PDW will be one of the petabyte scalable databases on the market, said James Kobielus, an analyst with Forrester Research. "You can build out PDW to a grid or cloud of appliances that collectively operates as a single data warehouse," he said.
"Microsoft wants to sell a lot of these and they want to address larger deals" that vendors such as IBM, Oracle Teradata and Netezza have been snatching up, he said.
Microsoft's planned pricing of $13,000 per terabyte of raw data, positions PDW well for small to mid-market customers as well as large enterprises, he said. Products from most of the other vendors in the space currently start at around $20,000 per terabyte, though that price should soon start dropping, Kobielus predicted.
However, Microsoft's success in the market will hinge not merely on price, but also on the kind of analytics tools it makes available on the system and on how well it packages and supports its technologies for different industry segments, he said.
Microsoft's scheduled launch of PDW comes at a time when rivals have all been rushing to deliver tightly integrated hardware and software appliances for data warehouse applications.
Microsoft, in contrast, doesn't make any of its own hardware and will need to rely on partners to get its technology to market. And its ability to support a product of this class is also untested. That could pose a challenge in terms of marketing as well as service and support.
As it is, HP has had a hard time in the data warehouse market. Its core data warehouse technology, the NeoView appliance, has largely languished for the past few years and barely has a market presence today. That makes its partnership with Microsoft on PDW even more interesting, analysts said.
For Microsoft, the new technology will represent major changes, said Eynav Azarya, CEO of Panorama Software, a company that sold its OLAP software to Microsoft back in 1996 and is now a strategic business partner.
"Microsoft has been known for playing in the lower end of the market and not so much the mission-critical high end," Azarya said. "Putting a [product] that is close to $1 million in the market is a major change. I think Microsoft is playing a performance game that is very different for it."
Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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