Master Data Management

Hortonworks' Cunitz hungry for data ingestion acquisition

Scotch or Irish? Untypically when asked a simple question about which whisky (or whiskey) he prefers, Herb Cunitz, president of Hortonworks and a key protagonist in the march of Hadoop has to think for a minute.

“As we’re in Dublin, Jameson’s, although I tried a new one here called Redbreast, which was really good,” he says.

Cunitz is no stranger to trying something new. A self-confessed adrenalin junky in his spare time (triathlons, motorcycle racing, skiing) his approach to Hortonworks has to be more measured, given the company’s status as a publicly-owned business. Yet he talks relatively openly about his plans to dominate the world. Excuse me?

“We want to manage the world’s data,” he says, pointing out that this would involve managing data in motion and at rest; something which he says Hortonworks can now do. Throw in the integration of Apache Ranger and Apache Atlas for security and data governance with the addition of cybersecurity layer Apache Metron and Cunitz’s vision seems to have legs.

So is this the company’s most significant announcement?

“Certainly from a technology perspective; the security and governance and specifically the integration of Atlas and Ranger and the tag-based policy management. Most of our customers say this really matters to them because if you can take a piece of data, and you can tag it by type, then set all the authentication and all the policies down the road from there, it cascades all the way through.”

Metron also gets a mention. He talks about what companies are already doing with it, the many thousands of end points ingesting the data and looking for instances of fraud but admits there is “still a way to go”, especially as Metron is still incubating and not a fully-fledged product yet.


Another key announcement is what Cunitz describes as the “evolving relationship with Pivotal”. He revealed that Pivotal’s HD for business analytics is now Hortonworks’ HDP so more business insights can be gleaned from Hadoop. An approach from Pivotal led to the once-rival player adopting Hortonworks’ key data distribution platform technology and reselling it.

“Pivotal is putting its focus, and rightly so, into [its open source platform] Cloud Foundry,” he adds. The two companies will work together on “scale of architecture, what we can do with HAWQ with the SQL analytics and what we can do with Pivotal Labs with large scale application development. How do you make all that work together? That’s what we’ve decided to do, to work together and make the whole platform work.”

So what about Cloudera? Any chance soon it will follow the Pivotal route?

“It’s only a matter of time,” retorts Cunitz with what looks like a cheeky smile, although he was quick to point out that in fact the two rivals are, if anything, going in different directions now.

“Even a couple of years ago, everyone said Hadoop is Hadoop and there are a couple of flavours but everything is looking pretty much the same. The feeling now is that these two flavours, Hortonworks and Cloudera, are diverging greatly. They are two very different products now. You are making a fundamental choice about how you want to approach Hadoop.”

Choice is a good though, right?

“Yes, in one way choice is good but you also get customers saying ‘why can’t you all get along?’ In markets that develop you can have multiple alternatives but over time you come to one primary and one secondary.”

No guessing which company Cunitz sees filling those particular roles. Interestingly, Cloudera is the subject of IPO talk, a ‘will they or wont they?’ drama that is waiting on more favourable market conditions, at least according to Cloudera CEO Tom Reilly.


Cunitz says the market is different today than when Hortonworks went public. Scrutiny and the requirement to be profitable is, he says, much higher than a year-and-a-half ago. This sort of public scrutiny has already led to some rocky moments for Hortonworks, which saw its own stock price nosedive by 21 per cent in January to a low of $7.44, following an announcement of a $100m secondary stock offering.

So is Cunitz enjoying the rollercoaster ride of being a public company?

“Compliance is great,” he says and again comes the smile. “What we do enjoy about being public is that this market needed a level of transparency. We went public for two reasons – currency to grow the business and acquire technology, and transparency. We felt that over time the market will contract and it would become more difficult to raise private capital and you are seeing that now. In the public market we felt we could raise money. Also, we wanted to add some transparency to the market to kill some of the claims against us and open source communities, to say here it is, we are proud of what we are doing so see for yourself.”

During April’s Hadoop Summit in Dublin, the day Hortonworks made its announcements about Pivotal, Metron and integration, its stock price jumped 51 cents to $12.23. There’s certainly a renewed confidence, a belief that the company may have finally cracked it, combining open source development with a profitable business model.

Cunitz’s promise of profitability by the end of the year confirms this. It’s a shift from the high-growth demands of the early years to a more mature business learning to stand on its own two feet, although it’s certainly still early days on that one. Of course the problem is the pressure to continue to grow and to certainly fill the technology gaps with new acquisitions. So what’s hot?

“Data ingestion,” he says. “We absolutely believe that this is important because the platform for establishing a data lake is limited unless you can easily get the data in and so the whole data ingestion bit, in my opinion is the next frontier.”

The company is certainly hungry for acquisition, to build on its recent developments and this is where, if at all, it will surely happen. Cunitz is not budging on any potential targets but it’s clear he has the air of a man that has jumped a difficult hurdle and is looking forward to the next leap forward.

“We have 156 per cent net expansion rate on existing business because customers are bringing more data under management, they have more servers, more nodes,” he says. “But we have to be diligent about the market. Connected platforms of data ingestion is an example - we jumped on this early because our 800 plus customers told us about it. We get to see the trends early and respond.”

How Cunitz responds now we will have to wait and see. As the old Irish proverb - Molann an obair an fear – says, the work praises the man.


Related reading:

Cloudera CEO interview

Hortonworks’ Cunitz plots IPO, slates Cloudera


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Marc Ambasna-Jones

Marc Ambasna-Jones is a UK-based freelance writer and media consultant and has been writing about business and technology since 1989.

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