It’s Back to the Database Future for Exasol CEO Tewes



When Joerg Tewes last worked in the database business, the world was just becoming aware of the possibilities of non-relational data models. Fast forward 20 years, and NoSQL databases are commonplace across all industries, and the biggest transition facing the industry is the move to the cloud. As the recently named CEO of German analytics database maker Exasol, Tewes will thread the needle between clouds and on-prem.

Tewes started his career in 1990 at a software developer for the German company Poet Holdings, the developer of the POET object-oriented database. He oversaw the database’s development all the way through an IPO and left just before the company merged with another NoSQL database maker, Versant, now part of Actian.

His IT journey took him to Silicon Valley, where he made his mark in other fields. Tewes went from video production (Pinnacle Systems and then Avid Technology) to consumer electronics (Logitech, where he led development of Webcams and the Harmony remote), back to video and augmented reality (Avegant), and then back to consumer products (leading development of Fire tablets and Kindle e-readers at Amazon).

When he was offered the top job at Exasol late last year, he looked forward to not only getting back into databases, but moving back to his homeland.

“Part of the deal with the company was that I was relocated back to Germany, which I did,” Tewes tells Datanami in an interview. “I lived in the Bay Area for 15 years. I just recently moved back to Germany about three months ago, so I still have that California sunshine in my mind.”

That California sunshine is somewhat obscured by clouds. Since the pandemic, the migration to the cloud has been in overdrive, as AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure racked up huge customer gains. Databases, as one of the primary repositories for business data, have proliferated in the cloud.

Joerg Tewes was named CEO of Exasol in January 2023

The move to the cloud is “tectonic shift,” from Tewes’ point of view.

“When I was in the database world [before], it was basically a on-prem server world. There was no cloud at that point in time,” he says. “Every company has their server somewhere in their data center, and so you would have a client-server architecture, and I think that’s dramatically changed with the cloud.”

However, not every company wants to run in the cloud, Tewes says. For some, the hesitancy to move to the cloud is due to concerns over the accidental disclosure of sensitive data. European companies, in particular, are more attuned to laws like GDPR and are more sensitive about handing over control of personal data to American cloud giants, he says.

“Given what’s happened in the political universe over the last five, six years, the concerns have increased, specifically in Germany,” Tewes says. “Germany has this huge dependency on the natural gas pipeline from Russia. And some people in Germany argue, well, we’re also dependent on IT infrastructure in general on major U.S. companies.”

Another cloud concern relates to cost increases. In the on-prem world, spending on infrastructure is done up-front, and customers are capped on capacity. But in the cloud world, capacity is basically unlimited, and so is the cost.

“A lot of companies get into that situation where they either have major performance issues, or with some of the cloud databases, run into substantially higher costs of their deployment,” Tewes says.

Tewes’ strategy with Exasol is to help customers accelerate existing analytic workloads wherever they’re running. While Exasol can serve as a primary analytics database for 100TB to 300TB data warehouses, it has found a comfortable niche serving as an accelerator for existing data warehouses. By slipping in between the front-end BI tool and the backend data warehouse, Exasol can help to goose existing queries and reduce the wait time for users.

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“We basically help customers to remove a ‘spinning wheel’ that they might have, because over the years, data volume just increases and parallel queries happen,” he says. “It’s in a way a ‘land and expand’ strategy. That’s where we’re getting the traction and excitement.”

The good news for Exasol customers is it can work with a large variety of databases. It doesn’t matter whether they’re running an older on-prem warehouse or running one of the newer cloud data warehouses. Exasol’s MPP analytics database can slip in as an accelerator.

“What we’re trying to avoid is obviously to go head-to-head with Snowflake and Databricks,” he says. “They can stay with what they’re using. Let’s say they have a legacy Oracle or Teradata, or maybe two environments. They can keep that, and they can use us as an acceleration layer in between to basically scale the system.”

The need to support on-prem databases is particularly important for customers, he says.  “There’s still a lot of companies that actually have on premise databases–for good reasons,” he says. “They have security, regulatory reasons to keep the data in their own data center. They want to have control over it.”

While European companies are the most hesitant to move their data into the cloud, Exasol also has some U.S. companies that would rather just keep their data on-prem, Tewes says. “We do have customers that have sensitive personal data that they don’t want to be in the cloud,” he says.

In the end analysis, giving customers the flexibility to run either in the cloud or on prem is important to Exasol and its customers. That was the focus of version 8 of the database, which was recently launched.

“It gives our customers the freedom of choice, which I think is very important,” Tewes says. “So they can either have an on premise solution where they get that, or they can also run our database in their own cloud accounts, like in their own AWS, GCP or Azure account. Or now we also have a SaaS offering where we basically manage the data for customer.”

Exasol has a relatively small team in the US, with about 20 people. But the company has attracted some big names, including T-Mobile, Verizon, and Dell as customers, so it’s proven that it’s capable of supporting Fortune 500 businesses.

Whether or not customers run their data warehouse on-prem, in the cloud, or somewhere in between the one constant will be an increase in data that needs analyzing. By focusing on enabling customers to maximize analytics performance while maintaining flexibility, Exasol will likely find its business growing too, which should help it meet its goal of achieving profitability in 2023.

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