A Coming Dust Up between Oracle and MarkLogic?

November 7, 2011

Is XML the solution to enterprise data management woes? Is XML a better silver bullet than taxonomy management? Will Oracle sit on the sidelines or joust with MarkLogic?

Last week, an outfit named AtomicPR sent me a flurry of news releases. I wrote a chipper Atomic person mentioning that I sell coverage and that I thought the three news releases looked a lot like Spam to me. No answer, of course.

A couple of years ago, we did some work for MarkLogic, a company focused on Extensible Markup Language or XML. I suppose that means AtomicPR can nuke me with marketing fluff. At age 67, getting nuked is not my idea of fun via email or just by aches and pains.

Since August 2011, MarkLogic has been “messaging” me. The recent 2011 news releases explained that MarkLogic was hooking XML to the buzz word “big data.” I am not exactly sure what “big data” means, but that is neither here nor there.

In September 2011, I learned that MarkLogic had morphed into a search vendor. I was surprised. Maybe, amazed is a more appropriate word. See Information Today’s interview with Ken Bado, formerly an Autodesk employee. (Autodesk makes “proven 3D software that accelerates better design.” Autodesk was the former employer of Carol Bartz when Autodesk was an engineering and architectural design software company. I have a difficult time keeping up with information management firms’ positioning statements. I refer to this as “fancy dancing” or “floundering” even though an azure chip consultant insists I really should use the word “foundering”. I love it when azure chip consultants and self appointed experts input advice to my free blog.)

In a joust between Oracle and MarkLogic, which combatant will be on the wrong end of the pointy stick thing? When marketing goes off the rails, the horse could be killed. Is that one reason senior executives exit the field of battle? Is that one reason veterinarians haunt medieval re-enactments?

Trade Magazine Explains the New MarkLogic

I thought about MarkLogic when I read “MarkLogic Ties Its Database to Hadoop for Big Data Support.” The PCWorld story stated:

MarkLogic 5, which became generally available on Tuesday, includes a Hadoop connector that will allow customers to “aggregate data inside MarkLogic for richer analytics, while maintaining the advantages of MarkLogic indexes for performance and accuracy,” the company said.

A connector is a software widget that allows one system to access the information in another system. I know this is a vastly simplified explanation. Earlier this year, Palantir and i2 Group (now part of IBM) got into an interesting legal squabble over connectors. I believe I made the point in a private briefing that “connectors are a new battleground.” the MarkLogic story in PCWorld indicated that MarkLogic is chummy with Hadoop via connectors. I don’t think MarkLogic codes its own connectors. My recollection is that ISYS Search Software licenses some connectors to MarkLogic, but that deal may have gone south by now. And, MarkLogic is a privately held company funded, I believe, by Lehman Brothers, Sequoia Capital, and Tenaya Capital. I am not sure “open source” and these financial wizards are truly harmonized, but again I could be wrong, living in rural Kentucky and wasting my time in retirement writing blog posts.

Back to the PCWorld story. Mr. Kanaracus continued:

The Hadoop tie-in reflects the broader trend around “Big Data,” an industry buzzword that refers to the ever-increasing amount of unstructured information from sources apart from traditional enterprise applications, such as social networking sites and sensors.

Meanwhile, another new feature in MarkLogic 5 tries to make the most of the mix of storage customers might have, said CTO Ron Avnur. “We realized people have rotational drives and network-attached storage, and are starting to play more seriously with solid-state. These have different performance profiles.” System administrators will tell MarkLogic where and what the options for storage are, and the system will “do all the optimization.” In this way, more frequently used data can be kept in flash and older or less frequently accessed information held elsewhere. The new release also adds dashboards for overseeing multiple MarkLogic clusters. Customers may have development, test and production systems, and “they want to understand what’s going on across those,” Avnur said. Also new are tie-ins to the Nagios open-source monitoring framework and Hewlett-Packard’s Operations Manager software, as well as an API (application programming interface) that can be used to integrate with other management systems. In addition, MarkLogic 5 features the ability to keep a “hot copy” of the database in another data center for quick failover in the event of a disaster, as well as a journal-archiving function that allows a database to be restored to a particular point in time. The company is also rolling out a new version of its developer edition, with the chief change being that customers can now use it in production.

When I read this story, I realized that Extensible Markup Language or XML with which I once associated MarkLogic’s technology has been given what I call a “taxonomy” or Project Runway treatment. What I mean is that a narrow, somewhat esoteric method is positioned as a silver bullet for information management aches and pains.

A happy quack to http://www.geocaching.com/track/details.aspx?id=84015 for the silver bullet image.

I took another look at the PCWorld write up. Here are the terms and phrases I noted:

  • Network attached storage, including “rotational
  • Dashboards
  • Nagios open source as in “open source monitoring”
  • Application programming interface
  • Hot copy
  • Quick failover
  • Journal archiving
  • A developer edition of MarkLogic Server 5.0.

The “cloud” buzzword was missing, but I assumed the reference to Hadoop covered that concept as well.

Oracle in 2009: We Are Not Amused by MarkLogic

After reading the PCWorld story, I thought I recalled writing about this white paper in “Oracle Feels Heat, Tries to Redefine Kitchen.” I pointed out that my write up was supported by the former chief executive officer, and I made this point two years ago:

Oracle finds itself in a position of playing catch up in next generation data management. For whatever reason, the Oracle sales engineers have found that organizations in a number of business sectors want a non Oracle solution.

I dipped into my Overflight system and found a copy of Oracle’s 2009 white paper “Mark Logic XML Server 4.1.” (MarkLogic now spells its name without a space between Mark and Logic.)

The Oracle document, according to my file stamp, appeared in October 2009. You may be able to locate a copy of this document on the Oracle Web site. No promises because Oracle is not exactly the easiest Web site in the world to search even though the company owns SES11g, Triple Hop, RightNow, and Endeca.

What did Oracle assert in 2009?

Some of Oracle’s 2009 points include:

  • Mark Logic is a specialty XML database vendor started in 2001 and continues to
    rely on venture funding to remain operational.
  • Mark Logic Server deviates substantially from W3C standard XQuery language by supporting a confusing array of “dialects” with considerable proprietary extensions to an early draft of the standard. A Mark Logic customer can quickly get locked in by these proprietary extensions to improve performance because of the subpar implementation of standard XQuery constructs on Mark Logic server.
  • Mark Logic Server provides insufficient support for developing, deploying, migrating, and managing XML applications.
  • Mark Logic Server is a costly product to purchase and will cost much more to maintain due to its support of proprietary APIs and its lack of an ecosystem.

Strong stuff. With Oracle taking umbrage at Google’s alleged use of Java, Oracle has some teeth in its slick black glass office buildings on what used to be the entrance to Sea World.

Oracle added on page 1 a point that I think may be important for MarkLogic to address in a factual manner with some clear customer endorsement:

XQuery 1.0 became a W3C standard on January 23, 2007. As stated in the announcement of the XQuery 1.0 standard by W3C, XQuery is an open web standard for unifying the database and the document world with its versatile capabilities of querying, transforming, and accessing XML and relational data. Mark Logic has touted XQuery as the backbone of its XML server. However, while the standardization effort was still in its infancy, Mark Logic prematurely introduced its XQuery support based on an early draft of the W3C XQuery language dated Mary 2, 2003. Worse yet, Mark Logic interjected numerous proprietary syntactical variations to the XQuery language along with its library of non-standard functions. The shortsighted approach has taking [sic] its toll as evident in the latest release 4.1 of MarkLogic Server where three different XQuery “dialects” are now supported.


Oracle made another point in 2009, which resonated with me in this rapid, surprising transformation of MarkLogic:

As a consequence of its deviation from the W3C XQuery standard, its proprietary XCC (XML Contentbase Connector) APIs, and its limited support of Internet protocols (e.g., no support for SOAP, FTP, and HTTPS), there are spotty and shallow support for Mark Logic Server from third party vendors. Without a robust development tool supported by Mark Logic, developers have been having a hard  time finding a reliable development tool. Because of Mark Logic’s own notion of documents, forests, databases, hosts, and clusters as well as its XQuery-based
administrative API, administrators also face a steep learning curve in deploying and managing XML applications on a Mark Logic Server. Furthermore, based on a third party benchmark experience, performance tuning of an application will require a developer to manually rewrite W3C standard XQuery expressions to use Mark Logic proprietary extensions. Any types of application maintenance on a Mark Logic Server will be a major chore for the database administrators.  Managing Mark Logic servers has been difficult for database administrators as well.
With limited capabilities in administrative tools, Mark Logic server administrators are often frustrated by its difficulty to navigate and its inaccessibility when there are server problems.

Bottom Line

One wonders if these issues have been addressed.

MarkLogic has hired former Autodesk and Microsoft executive Gary Lang as vice president of engineering. One of his tasks, if I understood the announcement, is to work on developer tools. Xquery needs coding training wheels. He should be able to deliver. He “brings more than two decades of experience to MarkLogic in delivering large, complex products and systems, architectural design, and direction setting for high-revenue software projects.” I think he worked at Microsoft after he left Autodesk.

And MarkLogic’s new chief technical officer, Ron Avnur will also be working overtime to ensure that Oracle remains well behind MarkLogic, watching MarkLogic’s tail lights race down Highway 101 and  breathing the exhaust from MarkLogic’s more powerful enterprise solution.

Is Oracle on the money? Is Oracle behind in enterrise data management? Is Oracle going to sit on its hands as MarkLogic pursues its licensees?

Several observations:

First, Oracle’s 2009 white paper is likely to find new currency as companies stung by MarkLogic’s public relations blitzkrieg respond to respond to MarkLogic’s revivified marketing campaign. Is the campaign “big hat, no cattle”, or does MarkLogic have the “silver bullet” organizations need in today’s economic climate choked with data smog?

Second, has MarkLogic really moved from specialist vendor to the top dog enterprise solution provider? One has to admire the ability of marketers to take a functional task with specific technical strictures and covert it into the digital equivalent of a Popeil (Ronco) Pocket Fisherman. The same trajectory is being followed by some of the taxonomy solution providers. A trend? A brilliant marketing move? Reality that I missed here in Harrod’s Creek. I just don’t know.

Third, will MarkLogic finally hit the numbers the stakeholders want and need? Management shake ups like the recent ones at Thomson Reuters’ Markets unit tell me one thing: Executives who do not hit their revenue numbers find their future elsewhere. I think MarkLogic has to grow and fast. Will there be acquisitions to move the company along? Possibly. Organic growth may not be able to move the needle from $55 million to a more satisfying $200 million in revenue with a 10 percent margin to boot.

I don’t have a dog in the fight between Oracle and MarkLogic. Max and Tess don’t fiddle with databases or XML. My view is that as MarkLogic ramps up its open sourciness with “big data”, buzzwords, and expensive public relations, Oracle and other data management companies will take notice. MarkLogic may have to joust with Oracle sooner rather than later.

I need some time to figure out if the “silver bullet” is deadly or just a misfire. I excluded MarkLogic, ISYS, and dozens of other vendors from The New Landscape of Search. Delivering at the enterprise level takes more than marketing buzz words  or taking an azure chip consultant to dinner and signing on for a year’s consulting.

In my study I provide some positive comments about Autonomy and  Exalead, firms whose respective technologies strike me as a step ahead. Those left out were a step behind in my view.

Stephen E Arnold, November 7, 2011

Sponsored by Pandia.com


6 Responses to “A Coming Dust Up between Oracle and MarkLogic?”

  1. Business Process Management: Bit Player or Buzz Word? : Beyond Search on November 7th, 2011 8:34 am

    […] Second, the sensitivity of indexes and blogs to public relations spam is increasing. The perception that indexing systems are “objective” is fascinating, just incorrect. What happens then is that a well heeled firm can output a sequence of spam news releases and then sit back and watch the “real” journalists pick up the arguments and ideas. I wrote about one example of this in “A Coming Dust Up between Oracle and MarkLogic?” […]

  2. Business Process and Adaptive Case Management News and Information » Business Process Management: Bit Player or Buzz Word? : Beyond … on November 7th, 2011 12:24 pm

    […] Second, the sensitivity of indexes and blogs to public relations spam is increasing. The perception that indexing systems are “objective” is fascinating, just incorrect. What happens then is that a well heeled firm can output a sequence of spam news releases and then sit back and watch the “real” journalists pick up the arguments and ideas. I wrote about one example of this in “A Coming Dust Up between Oracle and MarkLogic?” […]

  3. Dave Kellogg on November 7th, 2011 12:34 pm

    Hi Steven,

    Interesting stuff and I hope you are well. While it’s not really appropriate for me to comment on the vast majority of your post, I do take umbrage with one point: the “/… will MarkLogic finally hit the numbers …”

    For the 6 years I ran the company we, with rather amazing consistency, did hit the numbers in our operating plans. I’m not sure who or why someone is giving you the opposite impression, but it is indeed false.

    All the best. Keep blogging!


  4. Business Process and Adaptive Case Management News and Information » Business Process Management: Bit Player or Buzz Word? : Beyond Search on November 10th, 2011 12:29 am

    […] Second, the sensitivity of indexes and blogs to public relations spam is increasing. The perception that indexing systems are “objective” is fascinating, just incorrect. What happens then is that a well heeled firm can output a sequence of spam news releases and then sit back and watch the “real” journalists pick up the arguments and ideas. I wrote about one example of this in “A Coming Dust Up between Oracle and MarkLogic?” […]

  5. Kurt Cagle on November 11th, 2011 3:51 pm


    I’ve been following the XML database space for several years, and wanted to make a few observations on your post.

    Chances are pretty good that if you are writing with any office suite produced in the last three years, you are working with XML under *typically zipped” covers. Microsoft’s default office formats, Open or Libre Office, etc., migrated to a zipped XML format some time ago – 2-3 years or more. Most of the active XML databases – MarkLogic, EMC’s xDB, and yes, even Oracle’s XML database offerings – provide extension tools that make it possible to manipulate those documents and index them. MarkLogic 5.0 has actually gone one step further, making it possible to retrieve at a minimum metadata info (such as JPEG EXIF data) and in many cases retrieval of structured content in a wide variety of media formats, including MPEG streams data.

    In most cases these platforms, and again I would cite both MarkLogic and EMC along with the open source eXist-db and Zorba database engines here, have application-level APIs that rival those of traditional languages, to the extent that these databases are increasingly taking over the mid-tier infrastructure role from Java in both corporate and government projects. I wouldn’t call these “Enterprise Search” engines, but less because I think that MarkLogic and their ilk are underpowered but that the concept of Enterprise Search is too restrictive for the type of applications are capable of producing.

    I recently spoke at the San Jose NoSQL conference, and noted there that most of the participants there were moving into this space because they recognized that the relational database model in general (and Oracle in particular) was becoming increasingly irrelevant to their data needs. Semi-structured content (XML databases, JSON stores such as MongoDB and column-centric relational DBs) was increasingly critical as a way of not only storing but processing content that fell outside that model, and the combination of these with parallel processing technologies such as Hadoop provided a natural fit. Similarly, semantic data stores (triple stores and graph stores) were rounding out that space by providing data storage, analysis and rendering tools that worked quite effectively outside the silo-inducing relational data stores, as they are able to create relational graphs that transcend the very one-dimensional view of data that’s typical of SQL. Of significance, MarkLogic is moving into this arena as well.

    So, as to the title on your posting. Yes, there is no definite that a confrontation is in the wind. Whether it will be between Oracle and MarkLogic specifically or the traditional relational DB vendors and the non-linear vendors in general is hard to say, but I would definitely be wary of dismissing MarkLogic here.

  6. Stephen E. Arnold on November 13th, 2011 12:42 pm

    Kurt Cagle,

    Thanks for taking the time to post. My view is evolving. I once believed that SMGL would be the solution. Then I saw an glimmer of light with XML until the XML to XML hassle gave me a headache. With the JSON technology, should I be optimistic? I am willing to entertain the thought that commercial XML: has won the hearts and minds of some of my clients, I think there may be change afoot.

    Stephen E Arnold, November 13, 2011

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