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Catalina Marketing enables data scientists and power users with up to 182x better query performance

Catalina – 182X Better Query Performance
Industry: Retail
Business use cases: Predictive marketing analytics
Technical use case: Enterprise Data Warehouse


Catalina Marketing is the market leader in shopper intelligence and targeted in-store and digital media. The company delivers $6.1 billion in consumer value annually, combining the richest buyer history database in the world with its own deep analytics and insights to help retailers, CPG brands, and agencies optimize every stage of media planning, execution, and measurement.

Business challenge

Until recently, the company’s enterprise data warehouse ran entirely on an IBM Netezza system. It supported two main workloads:

  • Data processing, consisting of the complex ETL processes required to convert nightly data feeds from customers into a normalized set of databases for querying and reporting.
  • Consumption of processed data by the company’s Analytics team—consisting of about 100 data scientists, analysts and power users, who use advanced analytics and data mining tools like Python, R and SAS. to run large, ad-hoc queries as they support customers across all of the company’s lines of business.

However, the Netezza system lacked the compute capacity to support both workloads. “It was an unsustainable environment, in which we weren’t able to finish our data loads because we had 15-20 queries running at any given time,” says Luis Velez, Data Engineering Director at Catalina. “Every day, it was getting a little bit worse.”

The company’s Analytics team—the source of those queries—was also hamstrung by the lack of compute capacity, having to wait 20 minutes or more for their queries to run. “Sometimes queries took hours, and other times they were simply killed so ETL processes could run,” says Aaron Augustine, Executive Director, Analytics Architecture at Catalina. “We only had small windows of time for heavy analysis—like maybe 25% of the day. Given that we have Analytics teams overseas and in Japan, it was a 24×7 problem.”

Enabling power users with Yellowbrick

Catalina decided to augment its existing data warehouse with a second system, dividing the compute workload into two parts. Data processing would continue to run on the Netezza system, while consumption of the processed data—including queries by the Analytics team—would be supported by Yellowbrick. “The Netezza box was running some pretty advanced ETL processes, which were working fine when there weren’t a lot of big queries hitting the system,” explains Augustine. “At the same time, we needed to give data scientists, analysts and other power users the means to ask some really big questions of the data—as needed to discover entirely new insights into buyer behavior. Moving that ad-hoc, advanced analytics workload onto Yellowbrick was an incremental, low-risk approach that made a lot of sense.”

Catalina discovered Yellowbrick after a failed proof-of-technology (POT) with a different vendor, which couldn’t deliver the needed performance or compatibility. During a successful 3-week POT on Yellowbrick, a single 10-U, 30-node Yellowbrick system delivered up to 182x better performance for specific use cases than an 8-rack, 56-node Netezza Mako system. The company immediately purchased the Yellowbrick system and spent the next 4-6 weeks migrating its 260 TB of data. Over the following two months, Catalina moved the Analytics team onto Yellowbrick. “All in all, our migration onto Yellowbrick took four months—far faster than we expected,” says Augustine.

Today, the company’s Analytics team can work unimpeded. Queries that used to take up to 30 minutes—if they weren’t killed first—are now completed in a few seconds to a few minutes. “Our Yellowbrick system has made our analytics team a lot more productive,” says Augustine. “These are power users doing deep and complex analytics—using tools like Python, R and SAS to query three years of point-of-sale data. We’re continuously hammering on Yellowbrick with some really big queries, and it’s handling them very well.”

Now that it’s no longer hamstrung by a lack of compute capacity, the Analytics team can fully contribute to all parts of the business:

  • Data mining and predictive analytics—as needed to fuel Catalina’s targeting solutions.
  • Retail analytics—helping retailers build effective multichannel campaigns.
  • Manufacturing analytics—helping CPG brands optimize engagement and targeting.
  • Digital analytics—helping agencies drive effective advertising and promotions for CPG clients.


  • Uncompromised query performance. Catalina’s 100-member Analytics team now enjoys superior query performance at all times, giving it 24×7 access to all the compute resources it needs to work at top speed.
  • Faster data loads. Yellowbrick’s PostgreSQL interface lets Catalina use familiar tools like Informatica to load data at rates in excess of 100,000 rows per second. YBLoad, Yellowbrick’s native data-loading utility, delivers even more performance, bypassing the system’s PostgreSQL layer to bulk-load data directly into NVMe flash memory.
  • Increased focus on product development. “In the past, we frequently had to act as Level-3 support for the Analytics team, which prevented us from focusing on more strategic initiatives,” says Velez. “Now that we no longer need to triage resource constraints day-in and day-out, we’ve been able to collaborate on the development of two new products—something that, in the past, we were unable to do.”
  • Rapid, low-risk migration. With both Netezza and Yellowbrick based on PostgreSQL, Catalina was able to complete its migration onto Yellowbrick quickly, with minimal risk.
  • Minimal form factor. Yellowbrick’s minimal form factor—a single 10-U rack-mount system—also helped facilitate the company’s migration.
  • High reliability. Compared to the old Netezza environment, which had hundreds of spinning disks, Yellowbrick is delivering better reliability because it has a fault-tolerant design and no moving parts.

Although the aforementioned technical benefits are impressive on their own, to Augustine, the largest benefit of the company’s decision to partner with Yellowbrick has been its commitment to Catalina’s success. “To me, Yellowbrick is a lot more than just great hardware,” he says. “What really impressed me was the great service and support. From the very beginning of the project, our partnership with Yellowbrick has gave us confidence that what we were doing would work out well—and it has.”

“Our Yellowbrick system has made our Analytics team a lot more productive. These are power users doing deep and complex analytics—using tools like Python, R and SAS to query three years of point-of-sale data.”

- Aaron Augustine,
Executive Director of Analytics Architecture Catalina Marketing
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