Data warehousing specialist Aster Data Systems has released a new version of its nCluster software, hoping to address some concerns raised by analysts.

The company had been placed in the "Visionaries" section of Gartner's data warehousing "Magic Quadrant" although Gartner said that its nCluster database lacked some basic features in the area of stored procedures, views and some types of database schemas.

"As the newest entrant to the DBMS data warehouse world, Aster Data carries more risk than the larger DBMS vendors," wrote Gartner analysts Donald Feinberg and Mark Beyer. "We recommend a thorough POC [proof of concept] with Aster Data and a minimum of two other vendors."

Version 4.5 of nCluster addresses these concerns, said Aster, by improving the software in three key areas: performance, ease of development and management.

Aster has certified optional flash memory storage from Fusion I/O connected via fast PCI Express (PCIe) cards. This follows closely on the heels of similar moves by ParAccel, which released a Fusion I/O-based data warehousing appliance earlier this month, and Oracle, whose Exadata Version 2 Database Appliance also uses PCIe-based cards, while Teradata has announced, but not yet released, an appliance using flash SSDs.

Apart from letting users choose flash-enabled servers to be central ones in the cluster, Aster hasn't optimised Version 4.5 for flash by, for example, treating it as a different storage tier. Because of the high cost today of flash, customers will likely use it in small amounts, said Sharmila Shahani-Mulligan, Aster's executive vice president of worldwide marketing.

Besides adding flash, Aster says it improved data-loading performance in nCluster 4.5 up to 4TB per hour.

Version 4.5 of nCluster lets developers create applications using a point-and-click SQL-based interface, said Aster's director of product marketing, Jon Bock. This free development environment, called Aster Data Developer Express, works with the popular Eclipse IDE, and makes it possible to build and test apps quickly, without the need to buy an nCluster licence upfront. Aster hopes that move will attract the attention of potential independent software vendor partners.

The Aster development framework can also be used to build MapReduce apps. Those MapReduce applications run inside nCluster, giving Aster a key patent-pending advantage over competitors who "treat MapReduce as a UDF [user-defined function] or stored procedure," says Bock.

Aster is also offering a suite of prebuilt analytics functions for developers.

Aster is enhancing its management console with new dashboards to monitor both queries and server performance.

"I'm very impressed with Aster's products, direction, partnerships, architecture, and customer adoption," said Forrester Research Inc. analyst James Kobielus. "For starters, the new integrated SQL and MapReduce visual development environment fills the last missing piece in their platform/tool portfolio, addressing developers' needs for simplified, graphical, wizard-driven MapReduce development tools. Likewise, the DW workload management dashboard supports very fine-grained optimisation and administration of these MapReduce jobs across distributed nCluster grids and clouds."

Kobielus said the data loader puts Aster "solidly in the pack with Greenplum, Oracle, and others," while the pre-built Aster analytic functions "should speed ISV and customer adoption of MapReduce for core analytics."