Database Vendor Versant Eyes HPC Market

By John West

September 29, 2009

Object database maker Versant has done pretty well in its market niche, with a list of 1,500 customers that includes well-known names like AT&T, Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson, and British Airways. With 80 people, a market cap of $65 million USD, and revenue last year of $25 million, Versant is a small company by most any measure. But it is in a small industry: while the relational database business is valued around $10 billion a year these days, the object database market is on the order of only a couple hundred million dollars a year.

A niche product for a niche market, Versant’s core technology isn’t needed everywhere, but it is indispensable where it is needed. And the company is hoping to demonstrate that at least some HPC users need it.

Alright, first things first: what’s an object database? Object databases provide persistent storage for, well, objects. Imagine you have a backpack object, and that backpack has a flashlight object and a rope object in it. When you retrieve the backpack object out of the database you get the flashlight and the rope along with it, no extra queries required (well, actually you probably get pointers to those objects, but that’s a detail).

With a relational database, data is stored in rows and columns in (probably many) tables in your database. In our backpack example all backpacks may be listed in a specific table, with each given a unique ID. Another table may store the various camp tools, like ropes and flashlights, that campers may put in backpacks. And yet a third table would put these together, with one row holding the ID for our backpack and the flashlight, and another row holding the ID for our backpack again and the rope.

The mechanics of retrieval offer an important distinction with the relational model: unlike a relational database wherein programmers have to structure a database request (query) in a separate language called SQL, an object database works in the context of a regular programming language such as C++, C or Java. So, for the object database, a programmer calls the backpack object into memory and it comes along with (pointers to) the flashlight and rope objects. But a programmer using a relational database would constructuct a SQL query that first pulled all of the records from the third table to find all the entries that are associated with our backpack’s ID. Then he’d have to construct other queries to look in the camp tool tables to find out what kinds of tools were attached to those IDs.

Despite the apparent added headaches of working with SQL and a relational database, they can be very (very) fast in a wide variety of applications, and have been proven to scale to enormous sizes. They are ubiquitous in nearly every enterprise, and you probably have a bunch in your own HPC center for managing inventory, user tickets, and so on. On the other hand, there are well-documented situations in which object databases are not only easier for a developer to deal with, they are much faster than the alternatives.

“Complexity and concurrency are the two things that we look for in application profiles that would lend themselves well to an object-oriented database,” says David Ingersoll, Versant’s VP of sales (Americas and APAC).

Of course, in traditional high performance technical computing, the choices aren’t between relational and object databases. The choices are between using any kind of database at all and flat files. And Ingersoll acknowledges this is a key obstacle they face in talking with clients, “One challenge is just to get people to realize that they need a database and not just a filesystem.”

But he isn’t coming to HPC empty-handed. When he briefed us about Versant’s potential in the HPC space, Ingersoll talked about examples of traditional HPC users using Versant’s object databases in HPC applications today; particularly, applications with large streaming data. For example, the Air Force Weather Agency uses a Versant database to store real-time satellite imagery that is then fed into computational models for cloud forecasts. Other similar applications include the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, where Versant is the mission database, and Verizon, where real-time call data are streamed into a hierarchical set of databases that are used for near real-time fraud detection.

Exxon Mobil is also using Versant’s technology in its reservoir simulation system, EMPower. In its application, results from large-scale numerical simulations are stored in the database and then subjected to analytics routines that answer questions about where to place wells, when and where to inject fluids, and so forth.

In many of their HPC examples, Versant’s users are storing the data in a large database that itself may be hosted on a cluster. Hundreds or thousands of clients then access the database from the compute nodes of other clusters to process the data and answer mission questions. This is a basic level of parallelism supported by Versant, which also offers multi-threaded and parallel queries baked into the database engine along with a dual cache and object-locking for high concurrency support.

Object databases themselves aren’t new: work started on them in the 1980s and spiked in the early 1990s when all the cool kids were drinking the O-O Kool-Aid. As object-oriented languages have become mainstream (including C++, Java, and C#), programmers have struggled with mapping their languages to relational databases because they wanted to work with what they knew: familiar languages and familiar (relational) databases.

And this points to a key challenge in positioning an object database technology for HPC: if you aren’t using an object-oriented language, you aren’t going to see much benefit. “C and FORTRAN don’t lend themselves well [to object databases] because the domain models are very flat, very procedurally oriented, and they’re not going to have a lot of inter-relationships,” says Ingersoll. “At that point, the benefit of our system really falls down.”

Versant is targeting markets and applications where C++ and Java are already in use for intensive computing, or where the practictioners don’t have a vast store of legacy code in their toolboxes already. Areas like bioinformatics offer a lot of potential, not only because of the very modern nature of many of those codes, but also because the domain data model is inherently object-oriented. According to Ingersoll, “We are at that point where people are just coming [into HPC in these domains], so if we can get in front of that wave then that’s a benefit for us.”

Versant is looking to build partnerships as it tries to wriggle into the HPC market. Ingersoll let us know that they are talking to both Penguin Computing and Panasas about working more closely together. The Panasas opportunity seems particularly appropos given the object-based nature of Panasas’ PanFS file system. In fact, according to Ingersoll, Versant is already being used in the financial services industry on a cluster outfitted with Panasas storage.

Versant doesn’t have the object database market to itself, of course. It competes with companies like Objectivity and Intersystems in the object database market, and with Microsoft and Oracle, both of which have a growing interest in the technology. Object databases are an interesting technology, and in twenty years of development Versant has structured a robust solution. But getting databases into HPC, even into the developing segments of our community, will be a tall order. Differentiating object databases from relational databases to HPC people layers another challenge on top of that.

This is a challenge that Ingersoll feels Versant is equal to, “We are getting the market to understand that difference,” he says. “If people are investigating what steps to take today, we have a much better shot at educating them than if they are going to be moving that application from C to C++, and you’re really going to be thoughtful about how you’re modeling the application, then we provide orders of magnitude of performance benefits.”

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

SRC Spends $200M on University Research Centers

January 16, 2018

The Semiconductor Research Corporation, as part of its JUMP initiative, has awarded $200 million to fund six research centers whose areas of focus span cognitive computing, memory-centric computing, high-speed communicat Read more…

By John Russell

US Seeks to Automate Video Analysis

January 16, 2018

U.S. military and intelligence agencies continue to look for new ways to use artificial intelligence to sift through huge amounts of video imagery in hopes of freeing analysts to identify threats and otherwise put their Read more…

By George Leopold

URISC@SC17 and the #LongestLastMile

January 11, 2018

A multinational delegation recently attended the Understanding Risk in Shared CyberEcosystems workshop, or URISC@SC17, in Denver, Colorado. URISC participants and presenters from 11 countries, including eight African nations, 12 U.S. states, Canada, India and Nepal, also attended SC17, the annual international conference for high performance computing, networking, storage and analysis that drew nearly 13,000 attendees. Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake, STEM-Trek Nonprofit

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE and NREL Take Steps to Create a Sustainable, Energy-Efficient Data Center with an H2 Fuel Cell

As enterprises attempt to manage rising volumes of data, unplanned data center outages are becoming more common and more expensive. As the cost of downtime rises, enterprises lose out on productivity and valuable competitive advantage without access to their critical data. Read more…

When the Chips Are Down

January 11, 2018

In the last article, "The High Stakes Semiconductor Game that Drives HPC Diversity," I alluded to the challenges facing the semiconductor industry and how that may impact the evolution of HPC systems over the next few years. I thought I’d lift the covers a little and look at some of the commercial challenges that impact the component technology we use in HPC. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

SRC Spends $200M on University Research Centers

January 16, 2018

The Semiconductor Research Corporation, as part of its JUMP initiative, has awarded $200 million to fund six research centers whose areas of focus span cognitiv Read more…

By John Russell

When the Chips Are Down

January 11, 2018

In the last article, "The High Stakes Semiconductor Game that Drives HPC Diversity," I alluded to the challenges facing the semiconductor industry and how that may impact the evolution of HPC systems over the next few years. I thought I’d lift the covers a little and look at some of the commercial challenges that impact the component technology we use in HPC. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Momentum Builds for US Exascale

January 9, 2018

2018 looks to be a great year for the U.S. exascale program. The last several months of 2017 revealed a number of important developments that help put the U.S. Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

ANL’s Rick Stevens on CANDLE, ARM, Quantum, and More

January 8, 2018

Late last year HPCwire caught up with Rick Stevens, associate laboratory director for computing, environment and life Sciences at Argonne National Laboratory, f Read more…

By John Russell

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The @hpcnotes Predictions for HPC in 2018

January 4, 2018

I’m not averse to making predictions about the world of High Performance Computing (and Supercomputing, Cloud, etc.) in person at conferences, meetings, causa Read more…

By Andrew Jones

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Nvidia, Partners Announce Several V100 Servers

September 27, 2017

Here come the Volta 100-based servers. Nvidia today announced an impressive line-up of servers from major partners – Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Delivers 17-Qubit Quantum Chip to European Research Partner

October 10, 2017

On Tuesday, Intel delivered a 17-qubit superconducting test chip to research partner QuTech, the quantum research institute of Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. The announcement marks a major milestone in the 10-year, $50-million collaborative relationship with TU Delft and TNO, the Dutch Organization for Applied Research, to accelerate advancements in quantum computing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This