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August 9, 2013updated 22 Sep 2016 1:10pm

Q&A: Crossing the mainframe-to-big-data chasm

Little-known firm, Syncsort, hoping to ride crest of big wave.

By Jason Stamper

It may not be the best-known software company in the world, but half the world’s mainframes run Syncsort. The firm has been around for four decades, but now private equity backed, it sees a burgeoning opportunity to use its experience to get mainframe data into Hadoop for big data projects. CBR spoke with CEO Lonne Jaffe about big data integration.

Tell us a bit about your background prior to joining Syncsort.

I was with IBM for 13 years in a variety of operating roles. In my most recent role I was the vice president in the software group, leading a big part of the software mergers and acquisitions function, so I sourced and led more than half of IBM’s 2011 software acquisitions. I left in 2011 to go work for CA where I was running strategy for the company, both organic and inorganic strategy, so we did a couple of acquisitions and I managed the $3bn a year in organic spend and technical strategy work that we were doing.

The owners of Synsort, which are a few large private equity companies, recently took the step to separate the business, which is a little more than $100m in revenue, into two pieces. So there is the data protection company which is about 30% of the revenues, and the remaining piece, which I’m CEO of, is the data integration business. That is the mainframe software portfolio as well as this exciting new big data and Hadoop opportunity that we have.

Is the plan to sell the data protection business off altogether?

It’s for it to be a separating operating business. That could take a variety of forms… but with both businesses the goal is to have additional investment, so not looking to do a specific investment structure in the near term but it opens up all options there.

The major motivation is to be able to double down on the data integration business and invest more to grow organically the big data start-up that we have. The Hadoop product we have only got launched a couple of weeks ago – high performance acceleration which makes Hadoop easier to use and run a lot faster. The investors are looking to use the company as an anchor asset around which to do follow-up acquisitions.

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My first impressions are that the technical team here is quite extraordinary, building industrial-scale data processing and taking that expertise to the world of big data. I was at a Hadoop summit a few weeks ago and it was really impressive to see the extent to which the Syncsort team was being embraced by the open source community. Cloudera is making us one of only two tier one partners. We’re particularly excited about our mainframe-to-Hadoop technology.

There’s a lot of hype around big data. What does it mean to you? Is it about the three v’s (volume, velocity and variety)?

The big data framework that we think about is 4 v’s – we add a v for value. If you think about the early adopters of big data, companies like Facebook and LinkedIn and Amazon, they’re consumer internet properties. Many of the concerns they had were solved by hiring armies of computer science PhDs to build custom software.

But as it’s crossing over and the technology is getting adopted by what I’ll call more grown-up companies like financial services companies or healthcare companies or the government, there is a whole class of challenges that the consumer internet companies didn’t have to deal with, such as compliance challenges, needing to be able to procure enterprise grade software that makes Hadoop easier to use as well as access your important data repositories that hold your most valuable data. Such as all of the data stored in mission critical mainframe repositories.

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