EDB Is Developing Its Flagship Database Into A Comprehensive Platform For Analytics, AI

Kevin Dallas, who took over as EDB’s CEO in August 2023, talks about his first six months at the company in a wide-ranging interview with CRN, including his creation of a long-range strategic blueprint for the company, the evolution of the database industry, and EDB’s efforts to expand its Postgres-based database into a comprehensive data and AI platform.

Kevin Dallas took the reins as CEO at database provider EDB last August, joining the company from real-time operating system developer Wind River where he was CEO for nearly three years. Dallas succeeded Ed Boyajian who was EDB’s president and CEO for nearly 16 years and remains at the company as chairman.

Before joining Wind River, Dallas worked at Microsoft for more than 24 years, including as corporate vice president, cloud & AI, for the last four years of his time at the software giant.

EDB (previously “EnterpriseDB” and rebranded to EDB in June 2020) is a leading developer of enterprise and cloud database software and services based on the open-source Postgres database. The company’s offerings include the EDB BigAnimal Postgres-as-a-service database and EDB Enterprise Advanced database server.

The global database market now exceeds $100 billion, according to market researcher Gartner, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.8 percent to reach $203.6 billion by 2027. Much of that growth is spurred by exploding demand for cloud database services – especially for data analytics and AI tasks.

In addition to hiring a new CEO, EDB has undergone other changes recently. In October of last year EDB acquired Splitgraph, developer of a Postgres-compatible serverless SQL API for building analytical and AI applications that pull date from hundreds of sources. In June 2022, Bain Capital Private Equity made a “majority growth investment” in EDB with previous owner Great Hill Partners remaining as “a significant shareholder.”

Dallas recently spoke with CRN and discussed what he has been working on during his first six months at EDB, including creating a strategic blueprint for the company’s direction, and launched a project to expand EDB’s database offering into a Postgres-based platform for data-intensive and AI applications. The following Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You’ve been in the CEO post for six months now. What’s your assessment of EDB and is it different from what you expected or your initial take on the company?

Following the successful exit with Wind River there back in December of 2022, after Aptiv acquired the company for $3.5 billion, I took about six months off to think about where I wanted to go next from a technology point of view. Some of my friends said ‘Congratulations on the exit Are you going to take two years off? Get some rest.’ And I said no, no, no, no. I had such a blast with [that] team that I'm ready to go again, to get the opportunity to run another portfolio company for a private equity company.

This AI revolution that's happening, it’s here, it’s now. And for me I wanted to be the CEO of a company that could play a major role in realizing this new digital future, where you've got what we call this ‘intelligent systems economy.’ We have all these intelligent devices and systems – they're all data-driven and AI infused. I wanted to be part of a company that could really realize that future. And when I say intelligent systems, I'm talking about drones, robots, autonomous vehicles, business automation processes, with AI and data being infused. And then modern applications, step by step influencing every industry from financial services, all the way through to telecommunications. Every industry has been revolutionized by AI and data.

EDB was presented to me as a company that is a leader in the area of data and the Postgres database, and they were looking for a leader to come in and transform the company. And I saw some key capabilities in the company that could really apply to being a leader in data and AI. Leadership in terms of data processing, leadership in terms of contribution to the Postgres community. That's one opportunity to join this company and transform it from a database company into a data platform company.

And you say, ‘Well, why that?’ Well, if you look at these intelligent applications, there is a need for a data stack that supports all workloads, a data stack that supports database workloads, transactional processing, a data stack that can give you support for a data lake workload, which is support for both structured and unstructured data, giving you a unified view of that data. You need a data platform that supports data warehouse analytics capabilities. And then finally, you need a data stack that supports AI workloads. So database, data lake, data warehouse and AI work. So I saw the opportunity to join this company, EDB, and be the first company to deliver a Postgres data and AI platform that delivers on the full workloads needed for this new generation of intelligent applications.

We are a diamond in the rough. Everything that I thought was here is here and more. We're now harnessing that, and the plan is to come out with our first version of the Postgres data and AI platform in the first half of this year. We'll beat the industry with the first Postgres data and AI platform.

It’s a powerful mission that we're on. We believe in this new intelligent systems economy. And we believe in our ability to work with our customers, MasterCard, Telstra Communications, and making that future happen. I didn't think this level of innovation was going to happen in my lifetime. Didn't think so. You just look at the latest innovations around generative AI. I did not think that was going to happen in my lifetime. It's here, it's now and it's a pleasure to be on a platform like EDB to actually deliver this value in real industry applications.

Why the management change in 2023? Why did Ed Boyajian step down as president and CEO?

I talked about why I've moved to EDB from a technological innovation perspective, data and AI. But there was another dimension as well that attracted me [to the company], the culture of it.

As you know, you could have the best strategy on the planet, [but] it's about the people. Ed has run the company for 15 years and he's done a phenomenal job of growing the company, but also building a culture that I think is very attractive – a culture that’s centered around the customer, a culture that’s centered around a growth mindset. There are three: customer focus, a growth mindset, and diversity and inclusion, those three. He's done a phenomenal job of building a culture in the company.

He made the decision early last year that he wanted to spend more time with his family. So, the decision for him to step down was his, it wasn't a Bain [Capital Private Equity] decision. It was his decision that he was ready to hand over the reins to another CEO. I want to commend him on the way the transition happened where we literally announced that Ed was stepping down for personal reasons and then he introduced me as the new CEO. And he continues to work with me as an advisor and he's a member of our board – that’s how good a relationship we have. So, we thank him for everything he's done, he's been a tremendous leader. Now I just hope I can continue that growth trajectory for the company moving forward.

What has been your focus during the six months you’ve been CEO?

Step one really has been about creating what I call a strategic document that outlines our north star: Who we tend to be as a company, what's our mission, what's our strategy for getting there. And then what are the tactical steps we're going to take by function. Putting that document together really provides clarity for the entire employee base in terms of the focus on this new intelligent machines economy, our strategy to create a Postgres data and AI platform that supports all four workloads for intelligent applications, and then clearly outlining in terms of objectives and results by function – here's what each function is going to do.

We created this document – it's like a 30- or 40-page document where we wrote down this new direction for the company and then communicating that to the board, to the employee base. So everybody is very clear in terms of where we're going, and how we intend to get there. Now that's step one of 10 that we need to go through as a company, making sure that we have clarity around where we're going. Now, of course, we have to create that energy inside the company to go mobilize towards that new north star. But that's been the big focus, creating that direction for the company.

And then there’s this big deliverable, of course, to create our annual operating plan for 2024. That is the commitments that we are putting forward to the board, how we will perform, top line, bottom line, in 2024. So that was the other deliverable I had in Q4.

Then the icing on the cake at the end of last year is I got to go to the Postgres community in Europe, in Prague [Czech Republic] and present to them. And that was a very, very important meeting…because EDB is a leading contributor to Postgres, it's open source, so we're the number-one contributor to Postgres. In fact, we’re not only the number-one contributor, we're the leading site for downloading Postgres today.

It was important for me to go to that community and make sure they understand that we are doubling down on Postgres. We're not backing away. Not only are we going to contribute in terms of code and people and resources, we’re going to be heavily involved in extending Postgres into analytics and artificial intelligence. That's where we are going to invest. So it was a great, great opportunity for me to address the Postgres community and restate our commitment to that community and how we're going to continue to add value and innovate around Postgres. Postgres is the most widely adopted, most desired, most admired database worldwide. It's above Oracle, MongoDB, SQL. It is number one. We're focused on continuing that leadership with our customers, but making sure that we evolve it in such a way that it enables these new intelligent applications.

Postgres, at least originally, was more focused on transaction processing than analytics. Is that changing?

Precisely right. So if you look at Postgres, it is primarily used for online transactional processing. And what we are going to do is, we will continue to increase that performance in online transactional processing. We will then extend Postgres into analytics – what you'll see from us this year is Postgres for online analytics processing. And then you'll see us extend it to AI processing. We're extending from transactional, which is the core today, which is what Postgres is known for, and we'll extend it into analytics and AI.

What are the database market dynamics and market drivers right now in the $100 billion database market [Gartner]? And how does what we’ve been talking about fit into that?

I mentioned earlier that there's an AI revolution that's here, it's now. But there's this one cold fact that really should resonate, which is there is no AI without data. There's a lot of innovation happening. You look at generative AI, a lot of innovation [in] AI algorithms. But if it's being fed the wrong data or inaccurate data, you’ve got hallucinations, you’ve got bad customer experiences. I say that because the role of the data stack provider has changed. It's now no longer a notion of providing database functionality and transactional processing. It's really about understanding the data and understanding how to process that data and anticipate the use of that data.

So how are we able to store that data and translate that data in such a way that it can deliver the necessary transactional performance needed, the analytics performance needed, or AI performance? There's a lot more intelligence now. We're in that data stack. What I mean by that is, think of it as data gravity. If you look at the compute market, the compute models, and how it has transitioned, it was client/server, then it moved to cloud. And that's been the big focus, trying to take your data to the cloud, run the compute in the scalable cloud environment. We've moved from client/server to cloud.

What I think we're seeing now is the shift towards this data gravity and AI era where there's so much data now being collected by companies – and, by the way, they’re deriving value from very, very little of it today, but in the future that will change – they’re capturing so much data that it's becoming so expensive not to round-trip that to the cloud. But you're starting to see more compute and AI being pulled [to] and co-located with the data. And that's the shift you're starting to see.

So imagine an autonomous vehicle. In an autonomous vehicle you cannot capture the data from the cameras and then send that to the cloud and have it processed, then send it straight back to the vehicle and keep [the driver] safe. You can't do that. You've got to be able to compute and run your AI locally, some of it in the vehicle itself. And some of it can be [batch processed]. So you can see, some of these intelligent applications break down when you have to go all the way to the cloud. You need to have this data gravity, compute AI, running in the device, in the system locally.

That's the big compute model shift I think we're seeing that's, frankly, rewriting the rules of what it means to be in the data stack space. So you've got the legacy database providers, look at Oracle and others, they have to evolve to this new world if they're going to be relevant in this new digital future.

And what I mean by this new world is they're not just this database, they're now a data and AI platform that brings this compute, brings us AI, with the data and then provides the necessary translation to the application itself. And it could be an application, it could be an engineer that writes through a set of APIs, it could be a data scientist…that wants to be able to interface with [their] knowledge base. And rather than writing queries to access that knowledge base in the future, you will be able to chat with your database or talk to your database…So the way you interface with your data is going to be very, very different. The way humans interact, intelligent applications interact, will be very different. The role now of the data stack is very, very different. It's about data plus AI.

So this new version of the company’s database will be a platform for analytics and AI and the timing is about mid-year?

We’ll be out in the first half of this year. We provide data services to our customers today. And think of this as a new set of data services that will be available to our customers. For example, I just talked about a natural language interface for database. So that will be a service that we’ll offer to our customers that says, ‘Okay, in addition to transactional processing, do you need to horizontally scale? Yes? No?’ Click ‘I want to be able to horizontally scale,’ so you'll get a service for horizontally scaling. I also need a service that gives me a single pane of glass view into my [data]. So you go to select that.

Think of this as [Microsoft] Office. What's going to happen is our customers are going to be able to go to this suite from EDB and be able to select the services that they want. So what you do with Office is you say ‘I want to use Word, I want PowerPoint, I want Excel and I want Outlook.’ So you select those and then you will move forward with those services.

Think of the EDB offering that will come out in the first half of this year, very similar, but it's for a data team. You'll be able to look at this catalog of services [and] select the services that you need for your intelligent application. And we'll provide guidance as well, by the way. We'll say: ‘For applications like these use cases, here are the services that we find other customers needed.’ We'll guide the data team in terms of what services to use, but think of it as a suite of services where you'll be able to select those services that you need for your application and move forward. And we’ll be able to deploy in both an on-prem or cloud environment. We'll meet our customers where they are in terms of the deployment model that they need.

EDB has the Global Connect Partner Program and partners with a broad range of VARs, systems integrators, distributors, and OEM and ISV partners. Talk about the role you see the channel playing in your plans as we’ve discussed here. And do you foresee any changes in how EDB works with partners?

There'll be some significant changes. I would say that the EDB of 2023 was very focused on, I would say, transactional sales. We would sell [the database] to engineers, we would sell it to development departments. But it was more of a transaction. The EDB of 2024 and moving on is going to be selling outcomes to our customers, solutions to our customers.

What I mean by that is, it's more than the product coming from EDB. It's about understanding the outcome, the solution that our customers need. And then how do we deliver a solution in concert with our partners? You can imagine delivering a solution for a [telecommunications customer], they require EDB and solution partners to be with us to deliver an end-to-end solution. You’ll see us selling in these end-to-end solutions that are going to be very partner enabled. That's very different from the way we've operated to date.

Second, in terms of the channel, we’ll be looking to have not just channel partners, distributors, value-added solution providers, but we'll also make sure that we provide the necessary support for customers where we can deliver customer success services. We'll start to deliver what we call lifecycle services to our customers where we’re going to be more hands on with our customers and helping them get from ideation [and] proof of concept [to] deployment and operations.

So the way we're looking at this is our customer success is our success. It’s not about selling in software and waiting for a phone call when they need support. It's about the customer signed up for a partnership with EDB. And we're done when they see a successful outcome. And we'll provide lifecycle services along the way, like I talked about, the evaluation, the deployment and [the] operations, to make sure that they get these successful outcomes.

If they get these successful outcomes, then we think that's kind of the network effect. As soon as they see a successful outcome, they move more workloads onto our platform and the business continues to grow with our customers. So very different in terms of the way in, it’s more of a solution with our partners. And then with the customer having these lifecycle services – both from EDB and our partners – to make sure we deliver success with those customers. We want to move away from being transactional to more of a strategic partner for our customers.

EDB is headquartered in Bedford, Mass., but you live across the country in the Seattle area. How are you managing the bi-coastal thing? Are you in the air a lot?

It’s not just managing what some people call work-life balance – I call it work-life harmony. Because I don't think there's one or the other, I think it's just kind of merged together, you know, work and life. I think I've been able to maintain a pretty balanced portfolio where I'm over on the East Coast at least once a quarter. I've already visited the European region and I plan to be in Asia this quarter.

I’m taking care of business with about 20-percent travel right now. I don't want it to be much more than that. I'm taking [advantage] of modern tools like Zoom to stay connected and stay present with the employee base, our customers and our partners. But I'm also looking to make sure that I do have that face time, because as you know, it's very important to have that. So it's about 20 percent travel and that works very well for me personally and my family as well.