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Full speed ahead down in-memory lane

Technology that for years has boosted the speed of PCs and games machines is now improving the performance of entire companies.

Called in-memory computing, it uses main memory (similar to the random access memory – RAM – in a PC) to host a database that can perform analytics tasks at much higher speeds than conventional disk-based databases.

Need for speed ... analytics can be performed at much higher speeds with in-memory computing.
Need for speed ... analytics can be performed at much higher speeds with in-memory computing. 

While the technology has been available for many years, plummeting prices for main memory are making it more accessible. In-memory databases include QlikView from QlikTech, TIBCO's Spotfire, High Performance Analytics Appliance (HANA) from SAP and IBM's TM1. Microsoft's forthcoming Hekaton database is also based on in-memory technology.

In-memory databases are faster than conventional systems as they do not require data to be loaded and unloaded from disk-based storage. They also feature simpler database structures and require less CPU computing power, further accelerating their performance.

The results for users have been startling. The WA-based mining company Mount Gibson Iron is using QlikView to shave costs across its three mines and port facility and saved time and money on its analytics activity.

Software administrator Don Wilmshurst said the miner is now analysing data generated by its Pronto enterprise software system essentially at will. This has provided a significant benefit to how it manages its $20 million, 15,000 part inventory.

“Suddenly we were able to see where we were running out of stock and where we needed to airfreight stuff in,” Wilmshurst said.

The technology also boosted productivity by enabling managers to reassign workers who were waiting around for parts. It has since been adopted by accounts, maintenance, environmental tracking and HR.

Mount Gibson's technology supplier, QlikTech, has been working with in-memory technology for nearly 20 years. Regional director Mark Sands said the technology was growing more popular because data could be easily pulled out of other systems into the in-memory model and associated at the lowest level possible – such as a customer key, day of the week, a colour – thus enabling more performance indicators to be easily analysed.

“It provides the ability to deliver a type of analysis to a category of user that has traditionally been at best underserved by BI [business intelligence],” Sands said.

While some in-memory database vendors originally pitched to large companies with enormous volumes of data, strong interest is coming from smaller businesses such as Sydney-based regional technology equipment supplier EMPR Group.

Chief information officer Stephen Taylor said his company's use of SAP's HANA would improve information flow within the organisation by eliminating the need for conventional reports.

“In such a competitive marketplace we need to make decisions quickly – we can't wait for a monthly meeting,” Taylor said. “As an SME, all I am interested in is whether I can access my data in real time and empower the rest of the staff.”

He said now basic queries could get an instant response. He was using the technology to create real time "health checks" for the company, and planned to deploy screens to display the information generated from HANA in real time.

“We'll be able to show right down to who is the best sales person for the day or who is the person who has packed the most,” Taylor said. “And just by them seeing this, there is a totally different motivation element within the company.”

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