As Teradata Moves into Cloud, R&D Lab Steps into Light in San Diego

When Oliver Ratzesberger joined Teradata (NYSE: TDC) in 2013, the global computing giant just outside of Dayton, OH, was known for its high-end technology in data warehousing and big data analytics.

At that time, Teradata sold its high-performance systems, which consolidate data from different sources, for millions of dollars to many of the biggest companies in financial services, healthcare, insurance, retail, and manufacturing.

But Teradata’s continued focus on its legacy business, with its on-premises systems and license-based software, was wearing thin, and the company’s target market has been evaporating. By some accounts, over half of the companies on the Fortune 500 list of biggest U.S. companies in 2000 have gone bankrupt, been acquired, dropped off the list, or ceased to exist.

For Teradata, the bottom fell out roughly a year ago, when the company’s first-quarter financial results badly missed Wall Street expectations. Teradata shares have plunged by roughly 38 percent since then.

Now Teradata is undergoing a transformation that has Ratzesberger playing a key role as the president of Teradata Labs, the company’s engineering R&D center in suburban San Diego.

In a recent interview at his office in Rancho Bernardo, where Teradata has about 1,000 employees, the Austrian-born Ratzesberger said he has been overseeing a broad effort to integrate platforms, unify data, develop more innovative analytics, and to adapt and support open-source initiatives like Presto and Hadoop.

“We are heading full-steam into the cloud,” Ratzesberger said, explaining that longstanding technical limitations in what he called “the interconnect” that physically links online networks had previously precluded Teradata from moving its massively parallel processing (MPP) technology into the cloud.

“The moment you slice [data] into 1,000 pieces, the whole network is only as fast as the slowest piece,” Ratzesberger explained. But recent innovations in the most commonly used supercomputer interconnect (InfiniBand and Ethernet) have radically improved bandwidth and reduced latency—and enabled Teradata to load its technology on Amazon Web Services earlier this year for the first time.

“This has been in the making for years, but there are accelerating forces coming together,” Ratzesberger said. “In the old days, if you wanted Teradata, it was at least a six-month process” to get it, Ratzesberger said. “With the cloud, it’s a 30-minute process. It gives us a new way to do things that haven’t been done before.”

Teradata’s move to Amazon Web Services is only a first step to providing more sophisticated analytics technology as a Web-based service, and to provide customers with the expertise they need to design and manage their own analytical systems, Ratzesberger said.

As Teradata CFO Stephen Scheppmann put it during a May 5 conference call with analysts, “With our cloud initiative, we are delivering a hybrid analytical ecosystem, building on our strengths in on-premise analytical technology and consulting…

“Our overall objective with this initiative is to allow seamless integration across environments and to provide the expertise to help customers successfully architect, implement, and manage their high-grade cloud analytical ecosystems.”

Ratzesberger has been in the cloud before. Prior to joining Teradata, he spent seven years at eBay, where he was responsible for its data warehouse and big-data platforms, and led eBay’s analytics expansion.

As Teradata moves into the cloud, Ratzesberger said, it has become increasingly important to integrate various technology platforms, unify data, and to adapt open-source software like Hadoop (for distributed data storage and processing) and Presto (for running interactive analytic queries).

But recruiting data scientists and others with the skills needed to extend Teradata’s capabilities, has proved to be a little challenging in San Diego, Ratzesberger said.

Because Teradata’s target market has traditionally focused on business at the high end of Fortune 500 companies, Teradata Labs is not well-known as a technology company in San Diego. “We need to get that company name out there,” Ratzesberger said. He also sees challenges in trying to make Teradata’s corporate culture more agile—and more like the fast-moving and collaborative cultures at companies like Facebook, Uber, and Tesla.

To raise its visibility, Ratzesberger said, Teradata Labs has joined Qualcomm and other technology companies in sponsoring a three-day SmartCity Hackathon. The event was organized to help the City of San Diego meet the requirements of an ambitious climate change plan the city council approved in December.

More than 200 software developers and designers have signed up for the event, which begins Friday at UC San Diego. The volunteers are expected to figure out new ways for the city to measure its progress against the plan, and Ratzesburger says Teradata’s technology can help. “We have put our entire Teradata ecosystem into the cloud for this hackathon, and we are training them to use it,” he said.

The hackathon, organized by the City of San Diego, UC San Diego’s Center for Wireless Communications, and Internet of Things (IoT) evangelist Daniel Obodovski, has the added benefit of exploring how IoT sensors could be used to collect data about energy use, water consumption, traffic, and other climate-related information.

For Ratzesberger, who is already enthusiastic about the opportunities emerging for big data and analytics in IoT markets, the hackathon will enable Teradata to show off its new capabilities.

“To me, it’s an incredible opportunity to participate in [San Diego’s] local tech ecosystem, and the local economy.”

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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