Still More Comments on Microsoft and Revolution Analytics
Three full business days post-announcement, and stories continue to roll in.
Stephen Sowyer of TDWI writes an excellent summary of what Microsoft will likely do with Revolution Analytics. He correctly notes, for example, that Microsoft is unlikely to develop a business user interface for R with code-generating capabilities (comparable to SAS Enterprise Guide, for example). This is difficult to do, and the demand is low; people who care about R tend to like working in a programming environment, and value the ability to write their own code. Business users, on the other hand, tend to be indifferent about the underlying code generated by the application.
Since Revolution’s Windows-based IDE requires some investment to keep it competitive, the most likely scenario is that Microsoft will add R to the Visual Studio suite.
Mr. Sowyer also notes that popular data warehouses (such as Oracle, IBM Netezza and Teradata Aster) can run R scripts in-database. While this is true, what these databases cannot do is run R scripts in distributed mode, which limits the capability to embarrassingly parallel tasks. Enabling R scripts to run in distributed databases — necessary for Big Data — is a substantial development project, which is why Revolution Analytics completed only two such ports (one to Hadoop and one to Teradata).
While Microsoft’s deep pockets give Revolution Analytics the means to support more platforms, they still need the active collaboration of database vendors. Oracle and Pivotal have their own strategies for R, so partnerships with those vendors is unlikely.
For some time now, commercial database vendors have attempted to differentiate their product by including machine learning engines. Teradata was the first, in 1987, followed by IBM DB2 in 1992; SQL Server followed in the late 1990s, and Oracle acquired what was left of Thinking Machines in 1999 primarily so it could build Darwin software for predictive analytics into Oracle database. None of these efforts has gained much traction with working analysts. for several reasons: (1) database vendors generally sell to the IT organization and not to an organization’s end users; (2) as a result, most organizations do not link the purchase decision for databases and analytics; (3) users for predictive analytics tend to be few in number compared to SQL and BI users, and their needs tend to get overlooked.
Bottom line: I think it is doubtful that Microsoft will pursue enabling R to run in relational databases other than SQL Server, and they will drop Revolution’s “Write Once Deploy Anywhere” tagline, as it is impossible to deliver.
Elsewhere, Mr. Dan Woods doubles down on his argument that Microsoft should emulate Tibco, which is like arguing that the Seattle Seahawks should emulate the Jacksonville Jaguars. Sorry, JAX; it just wasn’t your year.