Cloudera CEO: We’re taking the high (profit) road in Hadoop

It has been three months since Tom Reilly took over as CEO of Cloudera, and he already has a strong vision for where his new company is headed. And where it’s not — a decades-long fight against fellow startups like Hortonworks and MapR for dominance in the Hadoop market.

In fact, he told me during a recent interview, he wishes his erstwhile rivals the utmost success. He tells his team not to view them as competitors, but as valuable members of the Hadoop community. He gives Hortonworks all the credit in the world (OK, much of it) for driving the development of YARN, which is the rising tide floating all boats in the Hadoop space right now.

If anything, it’s full-stack information-management companies like Pivotal and IBM that have Reilly losing sleep. “Those are who I view as our real competitors,” he said.

I promised to save the details of Cloudera’s shift in focus until publicly announces them at its Hadoop World conference next week, but suffice it to say that industry watchers have probably seen the writing on the wall for a while. Reilly (like founding CEO Mike Olson before him) wants Cloudera, with an ever-growing list of features and more than 700 partners, be a big data platform that stores lots of data and delivers real value to enterprise customers. He doesn’t want Cloudera to be just a Hadoop distribution and “we do not want to get pulled into commodity wars,” he said.

“Yes, [Hadoop] is cheap,” he added, “but that’s not the value.”

The Cloudera vs. Hortonworks rivalry inspired Hadoop analytics startup Datameer to create a T-shirt bearing this logo.
The Cloudera vs. Hortonworks rivalry inspired Hadoop analytics startup Datameer to create a T-shirt bearing this logo.

Granted, companies like Hortonworks and MapR will argue they’re platform plays, too (heck, Hortonworks’ product is called the Hortonworks Data Platform), but Reilly says Cloudera is already putting its money where its mouth is. Remember the news in September that Hortonworks had lured Spotify away from Cloudera? Reilly acknowledged it hurt from a public relations perspective, but he puts a different spin on the situation.

Spotify was using the free version of Cloudera’s software and eventually decided it wanted enterprise support, Reilly explained. Cloudera offered Spotify a contract off of which Reilly thought his company could actually make money. He could have matched the Hortonworks offer — which he claims was one-fifth the price of Cloudera’s — but he didn’t think it made good business sense.

“Spotify never spent any money with us; we didn’t lose anything,” Reilly said. “… They just got a vendor that offered them a dirt-cheap deal to get a logo.”

Those are pretty harsh words for a company that’s not even a competitor, but perhaps Reilly knows deep down that he’s not free of competition from Hortonworks and MapR just yet. I’ve been told by some pretty smart people, for example, that they’d never bet against Hortonworks CEO Rob Bearden, who claims to have his company riding toward profitability and an IPO within the next two years.

Everyone involved in the Hadoop space will tell you it’s still very early on in its evolution. Cloudera might be the 800-pound gorilla among the Hadoop startups right now and might be making some smart strategic shifts to become a big-time information-management company, but it will forever be linked with its pioneering Hadoop peers. It might not be wise to take its eyes off them just yet.

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user Carlos Caetano.