Marketo CEO Steve Lucas
Marketo CEO Steve Lucas now says Project Orion will be nearly rolled out by midyear.

Marketo CEO Steve Lucas stepped into the fray over his company's rollout of a big data re-architecture project formerly code-named Project Orion, announcing during a webinar that it would be at least "90 percent" complete by midyear.

“We’re incredibly excited about Orion as we continue to roll this out,” said Lucas, who replaced Marketo’s top executive, Phil Fernandez, in October.

“We now have either all or part of Orion rolled out to thousands of customers. And through the course of this year — certainly the first half of this year — we’ll complete the rollout to — if not all — I’d say certainly 90-plus percent of our base.”

Marketo: Orion Not Done Yet

His comments come just a few weeks after Cheryl Chavez, group vice president for product management and user experience at Marketo, told CMSWire the San Mateo, Calif.-based marketing automation provider had rolled out the platform to all of its customers.

A Marketo spokesperson later clarified that all of its customers are on "a platform" but not necessarily the re-architected Orion platform — even customers that were earlier told they were on the new version including Simpler Media Group, the parent company of CMSWire.

Confused? You should be. The story starts simply enough: The former Marketo management team unveiled Project Orion at the company's user conference last May, calling it as their company's "biggest engineering project to date." They said all the company's customers would reap the benefits of Project Orion by the end of 2016.

But then Marketo was sold to Vista Equity Partners and not only Fernandez but several other senior leaders left the company. None of the new management team rushed to give updates about Project Orion until pressed to do so in a recent interview with CMSWire.

This is where it gets complicated — as shown by the gentle way Lucas handled discussion of the project during the webinar Wednesday. Lucas acknowledged Marketo has “much more work to do with Orion.”

“There is no 'mission accomplished' banner being hung up anywhere,” Lucas told customers. “We just made a down payment on your success. But it has established the fundamental big data architecture we will use to deliver the future growth and performance you want from Marketo.”

Now renamed the Marketo Engagement Platform, it is made up of three functional areas: an Engagement Marketing Hub, Marketo Marketing Apps and Partner Apps. A Marketo spokeswoman told CMSWire the big data architecture, developed under the codename Project Orion, is what powers the Engagement Platform.

Lucas told customers during the webinar Wednesday at least 90 percent of Marketo’s 5,000-plus customer base will be supported by the newly named Engagement Hub by the end of the first half of this year.

Lucas this week told customers Marketo’s rolling out the big data re-architecture in a “proactive fashion.”

‘Incredible Feedback’

Marketo’s Engagement Hub 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).

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

Marketo has received “incredible feedback,” Lucas said. He cited “literally hundreds of success stories and tons of positivity around Orion.”

Orion “performed flawlessly,” he said, as Politico.com took on an all-time record high of 80 million page views on the night of the US Presidential Election last November and the following day.

Matt Zilli, senior director of segment marketing at Marketo, said on the webinar this week that Marketo has fielded a “number of questions” from customers on Orion. He recommended customers refer to the Project Orion FAQ in the Marketo Community.

Performance Promises

Orion is a “no-limit” platform, Lucas added, in terms of data ingestion, campaign speed, delivery and scale.

It enables Marketo to bring trillions of activities in real-time into its platform and process them “at a speed like never before,” Lucas said.

Through Orion, Lucas said marketers are able to:

  • Track web events on any page of a website without any traffic volume restrictions
  • Find people instantly when going through the Marketo database
  • Get up-to-date Smart Lists in real-time instantly with real-time membership updates and dramatically faster loading times
  • Import people into the Marketo database in a fraction of the time it takes today
  • Generate customer web page activity reports in less time

Customer Confusion Lingers

Some customers are still unclear whether they’re on Orion.

Ryan Vong, president and CEO of Marketo partner Digital Pi, told CMSWire in an interview the day before Marketo's webinar that, for the most part, his clients don’t know their Orion fate.

“That’s been the big mystery,” he said. “The way they rolled it out definitely was not clear.”

One of Digital Pi’s customers was notified it is on Orion but has still seen performance issues, Vong said.

‘Big Ask’

Kashyap Kompella, research director and marketing automation analyst for the Real Story Group, said companies that succeed best with large-scale back-end reconstruction projects are consumer-based internet companies like Google and Facebook.

“For a smaller company like Marketo’s this is a big ask,” Kompella told CMSWire. “To be fair to Marketo they did say it was the biggest engineering project they have ever undertaken.”

Marketo traditionally has a sweet spot of B2B mid-size enterprises. With Orion, it wants to support large B2C enterprises that need massive data sets.

Kompella cited other challenges like the Vista Equity acquisition and personnel changes.

In August, then newly private Marketo promoted Chandar Pattabhiram, group vice president of marketing, to senior vice president and chief marketing officer. Former CMO Sanjay Dholakia left the company, according to Marketo. In another change last summer, Chief Administrative Officer Fred Ball left the company.

“All of this set the clock back,” Kompella said. “This is a complex toolkit. It’s not a trivial effort.”

But Kompella stopped short at excusing Marketo for a “lack of clarity” surrounding Orion.

“Ironically despite being a vendor of marketing solutions,” he said, “the campaign around the rollout was very confusing.”