With a new CEO, will Hortonworks get serious about Hadoop?

A little bird alerted me to a series of significant, but unannounced management changes at Hortonworks, the Hadoop startup that Yahoo (s yhoo) spun off in June. The biggest is that co-founder Eric Baldeschwieler is no longer CEO but is now CTO. Former COO Rob Bearden is taking over the top executive role. Hortonworks has yet to devise a discernible business model in the eight months since it launched, but some think Bearden will whip the company into shape.

When Hortonworks began in June, it wasn’t going to be a product company but was just going to provide services around the Apache Hadoop open source project and continue leading its development as its team did while with Yahoo. In November, Hortonworks announced the Hortonworks Data Platform — a product — so it could compete more closely with rivals Cloudera, MapR and EMC Greenplum (s emc). But the company said its product would be all free, all open source, for all time. That approach, too, raised some eyebrows.

Rob Bearden

Now, a source familiar with the matter told me, “the experiment is over.” The board always wanted Bearden as CEO — something several commenters pointed out when I broke the news of Hortonwork’s launch last year — and now it has its man in place. Bearden knows a thing or two about how to run an open source company, having served as COO at both SpringSource and JBoss ahead of their acquisitions by VMware (s vmw) and Red Hat (s rht), respectively.

Two of Baldeschwieler’s recent executive hires — VP of Engineering Mark Himelstein and VP of Customer Support Marko Nicosia — have been let go. One senior member of a Hortonworks rival in the Hadoop-distribution space told me several months ago that it was then-COO Bearden, not the company’s Hadoop-development chops, that had him taking Hortonworks seriously.

I’ve heard that Cloudera’s big OEM deal with Oracle (s orcl), through which Cloudera’s distribution of Hadoop is integrated with the Oracle Big Data Appliance, sent Hortonworks into panic mode, but I’m not sold on that explanation. Hortonworks actually has a unique consulting business that has signed up mega clients such as Microsoft (s msft). Microsoft actually killed its years-in-the-making Dryad big data platform to focus on Hadoop, with Hortonworks helping Microsoft integrate Hadoop into its product lineup. I’ve also heard that Hortonworks has raised $50 million from investors in less than a year.

It’s very possible Hortonworks’ board just wants the company to stop resting on its laurels as the team that helped build Hadoop into the big data juggernaut it now is, and actually start running itself as a business that exists to make lots of money in a white-hot field. I imagine that means lighting a fire under the product team and perhaps pulling back a bit from the all-open-source stance. We’ll see.

I have reached out to Hortonworks for a comment on the management changes but have not received a response. I will update this post accordingly when I receive one.