IBM acquires Ahana, steward of open source PrestoDB

The purchase not only gives IBM a managed SaaS and AWS marketplace version of the popular open-source Presto database, but membership in the Presto Foundation as well.

IBM quietly purchased Ahana Cloud Inc., a Presto database SaaS vendor, earlier this month, growing its open-source presence and providing a data lake product for its enterprise customers.

The purchase makes IBM a member of the Presto Foundation, a Linux Foundation community that oversees software development while providing infrastructure and other services. Financial details of the acquisition, unveiled in a blog post by IBM's vice president of hybrid data management Vikram Murali and Ahana co-founder and CEO Steven Min, were not disclosed.

Selling a SaaS version of the Presto database lets IBM customers tinker with open-source code to experiment with the project while maintaining compatibility with future versions, according to Doug Henschen, an analyst at Constellation Research.

"[IBM] can reassure their large customers they can provide an open-source solution that doesn't lock them in," Henschen said.

Database for cloud companies

Ahana raised more than $20 million in Series A funding the past two years after emerging from stealth in 2020. The company sells PrestoDB in the AWS marketplace, a commercial version of the open source project, as well as Ahana Cloud for Presto, a fully managed SaaS version of PrestoDB also operating within the AWS cloud.

Presto emerged from a then-Facebook engineering project in 2012 that sought to create a SQL query engine alongside growing data in Apache Hadoop and object storage. Goals of the project included a component akin to PostgreSQL, an open source relational database management system. As the project matured, the Presto query engine evolved to support business intelligence and analytics on high volumes of data in data lake environments.

The project and its engineers eventually spun out as separate companies, with PrestoDB overseen by the Presto Foundation. PrestoSQL, the other open-source fork, rebranded as Trino. It has become the database technology sold by companies including Starburst Data and Varada, which Starburst acquired in 2022.

Cloud-native businesses such as Uber are commonly cited in vendor success stories for Presto. The ride share company, a member of the Presto Foundation, said it uses the Presto engine as a core technology for its titular smartphone application.

Big Blue closes in

IBM is no stranger to adopting open source technologies after acquiring Red Hat in 2019 for $34 billion. The two companies assured customers they would remain separate in identity and offerings.

A single vendor can't match the power of a healthy community.
Doug HenschenAnalyst, Constellation Research

Last year, Big Blue rebranded and incorporated certain Red Hat products into its own catalog, including Red Hat Ceph. The open source scalable file, object and block software-defined storage platform is now IBM Ceph and sold as part of IBM's hybrid cloud data storage offerings.

Analysts said at the time IBM wouldn't likely take a hands-on approach in the day-to-day operations of Red Hat but would instead focus on building new products from the technology.

Maintaining that trust with the open-source community is a far greater value proposition than any one product, Henschen said. Word-of-mouth opinions can sour adoption of the product, while advertising the open source nature of SaaS can assuage concerns about vendor lock-in.

Ahana's presence on AWS also gives IBM another avenue to further deepen its partnership with the hyperscaler while providing access to customer data stores, he said.

"It's the community that helps build this product," Henschen said. "A single vendor can't match the power of a healthy community."

Tim McCarthy is a journalist from the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. He covers cloud and data storage news.

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