Tales from a Cocktail Party: How Customers Use Vertica

On Wednesday, I gave one of the lightning talks at the 4th Extremely Large Databases Conference (XLDB) at Stanford University about how real customers use Vertica to store and analyze their ‘extremely large’ databases. The 5 minute format is tough.  I had to pick only three customers   but I hope I was able to get across how cool the things they are doing with Vertica are.

Given the proximity to San Francisco, it occurs to me that Vertica is basically in the same business that Levi Strauss was in during the 19th century gold rush: selling supplies to a rapid and lucrative market where there is lots of money to be made. Our modern day gold rush is between businesses to see who can use the massive amounts of data they collect to make the best X possible, where X is anything from ‘television distribution network’ to ‘massive online game’ and everything in between.

Given that we are in the system software business, we sell a (vital) component of an end product and thus I largely don’t see complete applications. I most typically see the SQL that those applications generate, and on most days I am focused on the nitty-gritty details of making it work as fast as possible.  Sometimes, though, I get to step back and see what is really being done with our products and it’s usually quite cool.

So, in this blog post, I wanted to give you some cool cocktail party tidbits about what our customers do with their data…

One telecom company told me that (unsurprisingly) most of those 500 channels on your cable box never get watched.  So most of the time, the company doesn’t waste their network’s bandwidth sending all of the channels to your house.  Instead, they use switched video and then use Vertica to analyze the patterns of who watches what and when in every local distribution group, so that they can make network planning decisions like “how much switched video capacity do we really need for those 100 subscribers?”

Cocktail item: This telco has an (anonymized) record of what station each television box is tuned to for every minute of every day.

Another of our customers analyzes SMS message content for big mobile service providers. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what they are doing with this information, but you might imagine they have interesting data and interesting conclusions, and they use Vertica to parse this data.

Cocktail item: Question: What is the most common text message? Answer: The single letter ‘k.’

My aunt is a devoted online farmer, but I doubt she realizes how much technical firepower is used to analyze her online buying habits. Zynga, the developer of FarmVille, Mafia Wars and a number of other popular online games, has a massive Vertica cluster that they use to analyze past in-game decisions with the goal of making their games more fun to play.  This means you will spend more time playing the games, and hopefully spending more money with Zynga.

Cocktail Item: Zynga’s revenue is massive, estimated by various sources to be $200M or greater in 2009, and also reportedly on track for a killer 2010.  Who would have thought virtual farming or playing a gangster would be so lucrative?

Vertica’s customers are from a wide range of industries – gaming, telecommunications, financial, healthcare, and more – but they share one thing in common.  They all use Vertica to analyze massive amounts of data in real time, converting it into usable information that helps drive business decisions.  And now, I feel like a cocktail!

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