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Actian goes to the edge with latest Zen database update

The data management and analytics vendor's embeddable database now includes streaming capabilities via support for Kafka and faster query times that enable decisions in real time.

Actian is targeting data management at the edge with new capabilities for its embedded database aimed at enabling real-time data processing for mobile, IoT devices and other sources of data.

Launched on June 17, Actian Zen 16.0 includes improved query speed and real-time streaming capabilities, among other features. In addition, the database has a smaller footprint that consumes less memory than a traditional database, according to the vendor, making it embeddable in edge devices such as phones and tablets that have less storage than more powerful computers.

While traditional databases can be repositories for data collected from a wide-ranging array of data sources, embedded databases are tightly integrated into an application and serve as the library for that application's data. As a result, just as embedded BI enables users to explore and analyze data within the flow of their work rather than a BI environment, embedded databases enable data management and analysis within the same applications that produce the data.

Meanwhile, investment in edge computing is on the rise. Research and advisory firm IDC predicts a 15.4% increase in spending on edge computing in 2024 and a rise from $232 billion in 2024 to nearly $350 billion by 2027.

Given the increasing emphasis on edge computing, Actian's update meets a growing need, according to Doug Henschen, an analyst at Constellation Research.

Between mobile apps and IoT initiatives, edge capabilities are growing in demand. The Zen 16.0 upgrades ... are all designed to appeal to developers of edge applications.
Doug HenschenAnalyst, Constellation Research

"Between mobile apps and IoT initiatives, edge capabilities are growing in demand," he said. "The Zen 16.0 upgrades -- including its small footprint, fast read and write access, and automatic administration -- are all designed to appeal to developers of edge applications."

Based in Santa Clara, Calif., Actian is the data management and analytics division of HCLSoftware.

Other independent vendors offering embedded database capabilities include Couchbase, MongoDB and Neo4j, while tech giants AWS, Microsoft and Oracle also provide embeddable databases.

In addition to Zen, Actian offers a broad array of data management and analytics tools, including numerous other databases, a data warehouse, data integration capabilities and a real-time analytics platform.

New capabilities

Embedded technologies -- whether databases such as Actian's Zen or embedded analytics capabilities -- are often geared toward third-party technology vendors. The third-party vendors are customers of a data management or analytics provider, and they use the data management or analytics provider's tools to develop their own data products, according to Henschen.

Within an application, databases are often accompanied by software development kits, development libraries and customization capabilities that enable developers to develop data products that their company can then sell to its own customers.

"If you're an ISV [independent software vendor], a SaaS vendor, or simply a company that is developing software or services for consumption by customers, you'll want to consider the embedded support and licensing approach," Henschen said.

The embedded database itself differs only slightly from a traditional database, according to Donald Farmer, founder and principal of TreeHive Strategy.

The primary difference is its tight integration with its surroundings within an application. But also key are an embedded database's smaller footprint and the minimal configuration and administration required that enable its use in edge computing devices.

"This allows for a more self-contained deployment, suitable for resource-constrained environments like mobile, IoT and edge devices," Farmer said. "Zen is a good example."

Advantages, meanwhile, are the potential for faster performance due to tight integration with a single application, offline use, and better privacy and security, he continued.

Regarding performance, Zen 16.0 is 50% faster than previous iterations of the database, according to Actian.

The updated database is trained to access frequently used data stored in an L2 cache, which improves the speed of queries on that data, the vendor said. Also accelerating speed are page read-ahead capabilities -- the database's engine anticipates queries and preloads pages from data files -- and improved data retrieval times.

In addition, Actian's Zen update adds real-time streaming capabilities with support for Apache Kafka, an open source streaming service platform. Using Zen and Kafka together, developers can create real-time data pipelines with Zen acting as the source database and Kafka the throughput messaging system. Together, the tools enable immediate responses to events at the edge, such as IoT sensor malfunctions and fraud detection.

The improved performance and addition of real-time streaming capabilities are significant for Actian customers, according to Farmer. However, they are not particularly different from what other embedded database vendors are now providing their own users.

"Zen 16.0 seems to be a substantial release, but not a new direction or radical step," Farmer said.

Real-time processing at the edge importantly enables immediate action and proactive maintenance, he continued. Kafka support eliminates the need for customers to choose between streaming platforms and databases by combining the two.

"Zen 16.0 should handle both," Farmer said.

Beyond improved performance capabilities and added Kafka support, Actian's Zen 16.0 update includes the following:

  • Zen Container SDK, a development kit designed to quickly enable Actian customers to run Zen in Docker containers to simplify deployment and management across on-premises, hybrid and cloud environments.
  • Btrieve 2 Python package, an integration with Python applications that lets developers familiar with Python use the programming language for database operations to reduce complexity and development time.
  • Zen EasySync, a built-in feature aimed at saving developers and administrators time and effort by enabling them to move and copy data without requiring them to write new code and without having to go through a gateway.

Overall, embedded databases including Actian Zen enable customers to better build products of their own, according to Henschen.

"Companies of every description are developing software and services these days as part of their differentiation -- even if the firm doesn't identify as a SaaS company or ISV -- so embedded offerings are getting to be more popular," he said.

Actian's motivation for addressing performance speed, adding Kafka support and developing the other new Zen features came largely from customer feedback, according to Emma McGrattan, the vendor's senior vice president of engineering and product.

Actian's long-term plans for Zen also play a role in the database's evolution, but version 16.0 was primarily customer-driven, she said.

"While the development cycle follows the product's lifecycle and aims to keep up with market demands, updates in this release were driven by direct customer feedback," McGrattan said. "Additionally, there was a focus on making Zen 16.0 easy to use, flexible and reliable in edge computing environments."

Next steps

While the new features in Zen 16.0 advance the capabilities of Actian's embedded database, the vendor has plans to continue adding new capabilities.

For example, adding integrations with popular development environments such as Apache Spark is prominent on the vendor's roadmap, according to McGrattan. So is adding support for AI development capabilities at the edge.

"Actian will continue to enhance solutions based on customer requests, and continue to focus on integration with developer tools, simplified APIs and increased support for Spark," McGrattan said. "Efforts will also be made to support AI frameworks at the edge, keeping pace with market evolution."

Adding support for AI development at the edge is wise, according to Farmer.

Zen 16.0 does not address the growing demand for AI and machine learning, sparked by the surge of interest in generative AI over the past 18 months. Adding more AI and machine learning capabilities at the edge would benefit Zen users, though Farmer noted that developing support for AI and machine learning at the edge is complicated.

In addition, adding low-code tooling for edge application and data pipeline development is a way Actian could further improve Zen. Finally, as IoT and 5G technologies continue to proliferate, so too must Actian's support for them, according to Farmer.

"They will need to look for even better resource management for 5G and massively scaled IoT," he said.

Eric Avidon is a senior news writer for TechTarget Editorial and a journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He covers analytics and data management.

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