Marketo Project Orion
Marketo's unveiling of Project Orion May 10 at the Marketing Nation Summit at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. PHOTO: @syvaenen

(Editor's note: In an email to CMSWire, a Marketo spokesperson challenged the accuracy of this story, claiming there is "complexity around the platform and architecture." Marketo executives believe CMSWire did not accurately portray "the distinction and timing between the platform and the architecture." 

She said the platform, "called the Marketo Engagement Platform," is made up of three functional areas: an Engagement Marketing Hub, Marketo Marketing Apps and Partner Apps. "At this time, all customers are on the platform. The big data architecture, developed under the codename Project Orion, is what powers the Engagement Platform," she said, noting that Marketo began a phased roll out to Marketo customers in the third quarter last year.

Her explanation does not square with the original messaging CMSWire received from Marketo executives last May, which we consistently reported in our stories.)

Marketo today took steps to address confusion surrounding the rollout of its major platform re-architecture project — but stopped short of resolving all of its customers' questions about what was initially called Project Orion.

As of today, the San Mateo, Calif.-based marketing automation provider has rolled out the upgrade to all of its customers, Cheryl Chavez, group vice president for product management and user experience at Marketo, told CMSWire. 

That's a slightly different story than Marketo outlined in a press release today, which announced only the general availability of the upgrade — now known as the Marketo Engagement Platform.

Update: Late yesterday, some six hours after Marketo issued the public statement about its platform, it notified its customers about the status of its platform re-architecture. 

The statement advises all those "experiencing specific scenarios where you feel that migrating to the new big data architecture will be beneficial" to contact their "authorized support contact open a case with our Support Team." 

The advice contradicts the earlier statement Chavez made to CMSWire, which contended all customers were now on the new platform.

Not everyone was impressed with Marketo's communication efforts:

What's Up With Project Orion?

CMSWire interviewed Chavez and Chandar Pattabhiram, Marketo's chief marketing officer, in advance of today's planned announcement to learn more about the status of Project Orion.

The company unveiled Project Orion at its annual user conference last May. Described at the time as the company's "biggest engineering project to date," Marketo executives said the improvements are supported by big data technologies that will enhance marketers' abilities to track, capture and execute activities at scale.

But 10 months later, some customers were left wondering why they still suffered performance problems such as slow-loading Smart Lists, slow-approving email templates and complex campaign flows.

Cheryl Chavez
Cheryl Chavez

Chavez said these performance issues should be resolved by the full rollout — "and we plan in the future to continue to build out additional assets of the architecture as we continue to innovate on our products."

The company has remained virtually mum about Project Orion since the initial buzz, alluding to it only in media reports and within the Marketo customer community. (Editor's note: CMSWire is a customer of Marketo's with access to its community.).

Big Data Execution

Chavez told CMSWire the Engagement Platform leverages big data technologies such as Apache HBase (a Hadoop database and big data store), Apache Spark (big data processing) and Apache Kafka (distributed streaming platform).

"Our first goal with Project Orion was to use modern big data to turn customer events into marketing activities faster," Chavez said. "We wanted to become a central marketing interaction store, taking in all of the activities from web, mobile and any other connected devices. Think of the Internet of Things (IoT). We wanted to be able to consume and ingest all this data at very high speeds."

Marketo Engagement Platform
Marketo shared this slide about its new Engagement Platform with CMSWire.

Most important, she added, Marketo wanted its marketing customers to be able to act on that data by creating "personalized relevant conversations across all of the different channels on which they're interacting with their customers."

Marketo formerly leveraged MySQL technology for these customer events, which Chavez called "old" and unable to scale as customers' architecture needs have evolved.

"As customers evolved we needed to have our technology there and ready to meet their needs," Chavez told CMSWire. "The HBases and Hadoops of the world are coming out, and it made sense as we evolved to start taking advantage of these new technologies."

Rollout in Stages

Chavez called the platform rollout an "ongoing process" that took nearly a year.

"Don't think of this as we built a whole new feature and just turned it on for all customers," Chavez said. "It consisted of key components that we rolled out for over a year. It did not come out all at the same time. It's really hard to give an actual date as to when things started because it was pretty much all happening in sequence with these components."

HBase is now the primary store for all marketing activities. Marketo's suite includes JavaScript tracking codes called "Munchkins," webpage tracking mechanisms that ingest data and pushes it into Marketo. The data was previously replicated to MySQL but now will use HBase as the primary store for all activities.

Marketo also features "trigger campaigns" that listen for activities and generate data. That's now operating using Spark for computation. It adds data into a Kafka-based events stream.

Also through the new Engagement Platform, Marketo promises real-time Smart List results and faster data imports that lead to better segmentation and targeting in campaigns.

Chavez called this the "heart and soul of Marketo," the way marketers "build out the who, what and when around their marketing campaigns."

"This new architecture enables us to produce that in a truly fast response time," she said. Marketo's new Account-Based Marketing platform, its analytics and its connectors to Microsoft Dynamics CRM are now built upon the new big data architecture, she added.

5,000 Customers

Marketo operates in a lucrative space, according to MarketsandMarkets, a Pune, India-based research firm. The marketing automation market will grow to $5.5 billion in 2019.

Privately held Marketo has more than 5,000 customers, Pattabhiram said. He hailed the upgrade as Marketo's response to the need for an engagement platform in the "engagement economy" — a platform built from the ground up for "engaged human touch at scale."