Spark is the Future of Analytics

At the 2016 Spark Summit, Gartner Research Director Nick Heudecker asked: Is Spark the Future of Data Analysis?  It’s an interesting question, and it requires a little parsing. Nobody believes that Spark alone is the future of data analysis, even its most ardent proponents. A better way to frame the question: Does Spark have a role in the future of analytics? What is that role?

Unfortunately, Heudecker didn’t address the question but spent the hour throwing shade at Spark.

Spark is overhyped! He declared. His evidence? This:

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One might question an analysis that equates real things like optimization with fake things like “Citizen Data Science.” Gartner’s Hype Cycle by itself proves nothing; it’s a conceptual salad, with neither empirical foundation nor predictive power.

If you want to argue that Spark is overhyped, produce some false or misleading claims by project principals, or documented cases where the software failed to work as claimed. It’s possible that such cases exist. Personally, I don’t know of any, and neither does Nick Heudecker, or he would have included them in his presentation.

Instead, he cited a Gartner survey showing that organizations don’t use Spark and Flink as much as they use other tools for data analysis. From my notes, here are the percentages:

  • EDW: 57%
  • Cloud: 44%
  • Hadoop: 42%
  • Stat Packages: 32%
  • Spark or Flink: 9%
  • Graph Databases: 8%

That 42% figure for Hadoop is interesting. In 2015, Gartner concern-trolled the tech community, trumpeting the finding that “only” 26% of respondents in a survey said they were “deploying, piloting or experimenting with Hadoop.” So — either Hadoop adoption grew from 26% to 42% in a year, or Gartner doesn’t know how to do surveys.

In any event, it’s irrelevant; statistical packages have been available for 40 years, EDWs for 25, Spark for 3. The current rate of adoption for a project in its youth tells you very little about its future. It’s like arguing that a toddler is cognitively challenged because she can’t do integral calculus without checking the Wolfram app on her iPad.

Heudecker closed his presentation with the pronouncement that he had no idea whether or not Spark is the future of data analysis, and bolted the venue faster than a jackrabbit on Ecstasy. Which begs the question: why pay big bucks for analysts who have no opinion about one of the most active projects in the Big Data ecosystem?

Here are eight reasons why Spark has a central role in the future of analytics.

(1) Nearly everyone who uses Hadoop will use Spark.

If you believe that 42% of enterprises use Hadoop, you must believe that 41.9% will use Spark. Every Hadoop distribution includes Spark. Hive and Pig run on Spark. Hadoop early adopters will gradually replace existing MapReduce applications and build most new applications in Spark. Late adopters may never use MapReduce.

The only holdouts for MapReduce will be those who want their analysis the way they want their barbecue: low and slow.

Of course, Hadoop adoption isn’t static. Forrester’s Mike Gualtieri argues that 100% of enterprises will use Hadoop within a few years.

(2) Lots of people who don’t use Hadoop will use Spark.

For Hadoop users, Spark is a fast replacement for MapReduce. But that’s not all it is. Spark is also a general-purpose data processing environment for advanced analytics. Hadoop has baggage that data science teams don’t need, so it’s no surprise to see that most Spark users aren’t using it with Hadoop. One of the key advantages of Spark is that users aren’t tied to a particular storage back end, but can choose from many different options. That’s essential in real-world data science.

(3) For scalable open source data science, Spark is the only game in town.

If you want to argue that Spark has no future, you’re going to have to name an alternative. I’ll give you a minute to think of something.

Time’s up.

You could try to approximate Spark’s capabilities with a collection of other projects: for example, you could use Presto for SQL, H2O for machine learning, Storm for streaming, and Giraph for graph analysis. Good luck pulling those together. H2O.ai was one of the first vendors to build an interface to Spark because even if you want to use H2O for machine learning, you’re still going to use Spark for data wrangling.

“What about Flink?” you ask. Well, what about it? Flink may have a future, too, if anyone ever supports it other than ten guys in a loft on the Tempelhofer Ufer. Flink’s event-based runtime seems well-suited for “pure” streaming applications, but that’s low-value bottom-of-the-stack stuff. Flink’s ML library is still pretty limited, and improving it doesn’t appear to be a high priority for the Flink team.

(4) Data scientists who work exclusively with “small data” still need Spark.

Data scientists satisfy most business requests for insight with small datasets that can fit into memory on a single machine. Even if you measure your largest dataset in gigabytes, however, there are two ways you need Spark: to create your analysis dataset and to parallelize operations.

Your analysis dataset may be small, but it comes from a larger pool of enterprise data. Unless you have servants to pull data for you, at some point you’re going to have to get your hands dirty and deal with data at enterprise scale. If you are lucky, your organization has nice clean data in a well-organized data warehouse that has everything anyone will ever need in a single source of truth.

Ha ha! Just kidding. Single sources of truth don’t exist, except in the wildest fantasies of data warehouse vendors. In reality, you’re going to muck around with many different sources and integrate your analysis data on the fly. Spark excels at that.

For best results, machine learning projects require hundreds of experiments to identify the best algorithm and optimal parameters. If you run those tests serially, it will take forever; distribute them across a Spark cluster, and you can radically reduce the time needed to find that optimal model.

(5) The Spark team isn’t resting on its laurels.

Over time, Spark has evolved from a research project for scalable machine learning to a general purpose data processing framework. Driven by user feedback, Spark has added SQL and streaming capabilities, introduced Python and R APIs, re-engineered the machine learning libraries, and many other enhancements.

Here are some projects under way to improve Spark:

— Project Tungsten, an ongoing effort to optimize CPU and memory utilization.

— A stable serialization format (possibly Apache Arrow) for external code integration.

— Integration with deep learning frameworks, including TensorFlow and Intel’s new BigDL library.

— A cost-based optimizer for Spark SQL.

— Improved interfaces to data sources.

— Continuing improvements to the Python and R APIs.

Performance improvement is an ongoing mission; for selected operations, Spark 2.0 runs 10X faster than Spark 1.6.

(6) More cool stuff is on the way.

Berkeley’s AMPLab, the source of Spark, Mesos, and Tachyon/Alluxio, is now RISELab. There are four projects under way at RISELab that will extend Spark capabilities:

Clipper is a prediction serving system that brokers between machine learning frameworks and end-user applications. The first Alpha release, planned for mid-April 2017, will serve scikit-learn, Spark ML and Spark MLLib models, and arbitrary Python functions.

Drizzle, an execution engine for Apache Spark, uses group scheduling to reduce latency in streaming and iterative operations. Lead developer Shivaram Venkataraman has filed a design document to implement this approach in Spark.

Opaque is a package for Spark SQL that uses Intel SGX trusted hardware to deliver strong security for DataFrames. The project seeks to enable analytics on sensitive data in an untrusted cloud, with data encryption and access pattern hiding.

Ray is a distributed execution engine for Spark designed for reinforcement learning.

Three Apache projects in the Incubator build on Spark:

— Apache Hivemall is a scalable machine learning library implemented as a collection of Hive UDFs designed to run on Hive, Pig or Spark SQL with MapReduce, Tez or Spark.

— Apache PredictionIO is a machine learning server built on top of an open source stack, including Spark, HBase, Spray, and Elasticsearch.

— Apache SystemML is a library of machine learning algorithms that run on Spark and MapReduce, originally developed by IBM Research.

MIT’s CSAIL lab is working on ModelDB, a system to manage machine learning models. ModelDB extracts and stores model artifacts and metadata, and makes this data available for easy querying and visualization. The current release supports Spark ML and scikit-learn.

(7) Commercial vendors are building on top of Spark.

The future of analytics is a hybrid stack, with open source at the bottom and commercial software for business users at the top. Here is a small sample of vendors who are building easy-to-use interfaces atop Spark.

Alpine Data provides a collaboration environment for data science and machine learning that runs on Spark (and other platforms.)

AtScale, an OLAP on Big Data solution, leverages Spark SQL and other SQL engines, including Hive, Impala, and Presto.

Dataiku markets Data Science Studio, a drag-and-drop data science workflow tool with connectors for many different storage platforms, scikit-learn, Spark ML and XGboost.

StreamAnalytix, a drag-and-drop platform for real-time analytics, supports Spark SQL and Spark Streaming, Apache Storm, and many different data sources and sinks.

Zoomdata, an early adopter of Spark, offers an agile visualization tool that works with Spark Streaming and many other platforms.

All of the leading agile BI tools, including Tableau, Qlik, and PowerBI, support Spark. Even stodgy old Oracle’s Big Data Discovery tool runs on Spark in Oracle Cloud.

(8) All of the leading commercial advanced analytics platforms use Spark.

All of them, including SAS, a company that embraces open source the way Sylvester the Cat embraces a skunk. SAS supports Spark in SAS Data Loader for Hadoop, one of SAS’ five different Hadoop architectures. (If you don’t like SAS architecture, wait six months for another.)

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Magic Quadrant for Advanced Analytics Platforms, 2016

— IBM embraces Spark like Romeo embraced Juliet, hopefully with a better ending. IBM contributes heavily to the Spark project and has rebuilt many of its software products and cloud services to use Spark.

— KNIME’s Spark Executor enables users of the KNIME Analytics Platform to create and execute Spark applications. Through a combination of visual programming and scripting, users can leverage Spark to access data sources, blend data, train predictive models, score new data, and embed Spark applications in a KNIME workflow.

— RapidMiner’s Radoop module supports visual programming across SparkR, PySpark, Pig, and HiveQL, and machine learning with SparkML and H2O.

— Statistica, which is no longer part of Dell, offers Spark integration in its Expert and Enterprise editions.

— Microsoft supports Spark in AzureHD, and it has rebuilt Microsoft R Server’s Hadoop integration to leverage Spark as well as MapReduce. VentureBeat reports that Databricks will offer its managed service for Spark on Microsoft Azure later this year.

— SAP, another early adopter of Spark, supports Vora, a connector to SAP HANA.

You get the idea. Spark is deeply embedded in the ecosystem, and it’s foolish to argue that it doesn’t play a central role in the future of analytics.

The Year in Machine Learning (Part Four)

This is the fourth installment in a four-part review of 2016 in machine learning and deep learning.

— Part One covered Top Trends in the field, including concerns about bias, interpretability, deep learning’s explosive growth, the democratization of supercomputing, and the emergence of cloud machine learning platforms.

— Part Two surveyed significant developments in Open Source machine learning projects, such as R, Python, Spark, Flink, H2O, TensorFlow, and others.

— Part Three reviewed the machine learning and deep learning initiatives of Big Tech Brands, industry leaders with significant budgets for software development and marketing.

In Part Four, I profile eleven startups in the machine learning and deep learning space. A search for “machine learning” in Crunchbase yields 2,264 companies. This includes companies, such as MemSQL, who offer absolutely no machine learning capability but hype it anyway because Marketing; it also includes application software and service providers, such as Zebra Medical Imaging, who build machine learning into the services they provide.

All of the companies profiled in this post provide machine learning tools as software or services for data scientists or for business users. Within that broad definition, the firms are highly diverse:

Continuum Analytics, Databricks, and H2O.ai drive open source projects (Anaconda, Apache Spark, and H2O, respectively) and deliver commercial support.

Alpine Data, Dataiku, and Domino Data Lab offer commercially licensed collaboration tools for data science teams. All three run on top of an open source platform.

KNIME and RapidMiner originated in Europe, where they have large user communities. Both combine a business user interface with the ability to work with Big Data platforms.

Fuzzy Logix and Skytree provide specialized capabilities primarily for data scientists.

DataRobot delivers a fully automated workflow for predictive analytics that appeals to data scientists and business users. It runs on an open source platform.

Four companies deserve an “honorable mention” but I haven’t profiled them in depth:

— Two startups, BigML and SkyMind, are still in seed funding stage. I don’t profile them below, but they are worth watching. BigML is a cloud-based machine learning service; SkyMind drives the DL4J open source project for deep learning.

— Two additional companies aren’t startups because they’ve been in business for more than thirty years. Salford Systems developed the original software for CART and Random Forests; the company has added more techniques to its suite over time and has a loyal following. Statistica, recently jettisoned by Dell, delivers a statistical package with broad capabilities; the company consistently performs well in user satisfaction surveys.

I’d like to take a moment to thank those who contributed tips and ideas for this series, including Sri Ambati, Betty Candel, Leslie Miller, Bob Muenchen, Thomas Ott, Peter Prettenhofer, Jesus Puente, Dan Putler, David Smith, and Oliver Vagner.

Alpine Data

In 2016, the company formerly known as Alpine Data Labs changed its name and CEO. Alpine dropped the “Labs” from its brand — I guess they didn’t want to be confused with companies that test stool samples — so now it’s just Alpine Data. And, ex-CEO Joe Otto is now an “Advisor,” replaced by Dan Udoutch, a “seasoned executive” with 30+ years of experience in business and zero years of experience in machine learning or advanced analytics. The company also dropped its CFO and head of Sales during the year, presumably because the investors were extremely happy with Alpine’s business results.

Originally built to run in Greenplum database, the company ported some of its algorithms to MapReduce in early 2013. Riding a wave of Hadoop buzz, Alpine closed on a venture round in November 2013, just in time for everyone to realize that MapReduce sucks for machine learning. The company quickly turned to Spark — Databricks certified Alpine on Spark in 2014 — and has gradually ported its analytics operators to the new framework.

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It seems that rebuilding on Spark has been a bit of a slog because Alpine hasn’t raised a fresh round of capital since 2013. As a general rule, startups that make their numbers get fresh rounds every 12-24 months; companies that don’t get fresh funding likely aren’t making their numbers. Investors aren’t stupid and, like the dog that did not bark, a venture capital round that does not happen says a lot about a company’s prospects.

In product news, the company announced Chorus 6, a major release, in May, and Chorus 6.1 in September. Enhancements in the new releases include:

— Integration with Jupyter notebooks.

— Additional machine learning operators.

— Spark auto-tuning. Chorus pushes processing to Spark, and Alpine has developed an optimizer to tune the generated Spark code.

PFA support for model export. This is excellent, a cutting edge feature.

— Runtime performance improvements.

— Tweaks to the user experience.

Lawrence Spracklen, Alpine’s VP of Engineering, will speak about Spark auto-tuning at the Spark Summit East in Boston.

Prospective users and customers should look for evidence that Alpine is a viable company, such as a new funding round, or audited financials that show positive cash flow.

Continuum Analytics

Continuum Analytics develops and supports Anaconda, an open source Python distribution for data science. The core Anaconda bundle includes Navigator, a desktop GUI that manages applications, packages, environments and channels; 150 Python packages that are widely used in data science; and performance optimizations. Continuum also offers commercially licensed extensions to Anaconda for scalability, high performance and ease of use.

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Anaconda 2.5, announced in February, introduced performance optimization with the Intel® Math Kernel Library. Beginning with this release, Continuum bundled Anaconda with Microsoft R Open, an enhanced free R distribution.

In 2016, Continuum introduced two major additions to the Anaconda platform:

Anaconda Enterprise Notebooks, an enhanced version of Jupyter notebooks

Anaconda Mosaic, a tool for cataloging heterogeneous data

The company also announced partnerships with Cloudera, Intel, and IBM. In September, Continuum disclosed $4 million in equity financing. The company was surprisingly quiet about the round — there was no press release — possibly because it was undersubscribed.

Continuum’s AnacondaCon 2017 conference meets in Austin February 7-9.

Databricks

Databricks leads the development of Apache Spark (profiled in Part Two of this review) and offers a cloud-based managed service built on Spark. The company also offers training, certification, and organizes the Spark Summits.

The team that originally developed Spark founded Databricks in 2013. Company employees continue to play a key role in Apache Spark, holding a plurality of the seats on the Project Management Committee and contributing more new code to the project than any other company.

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In 2016, Databricks added a dashboarding tool and a RESTful interface for job and cluster management to its core managed service. The company made major enhancements to the Databricks security framework, completed SOC 2 Type 1 certification for enterprise security, announced HIPAA compliance and availability in Amazon Web Services’ GovCloud for sensitive data and regulated workloads.

Databricks also launched a free Community edition; a five-part series of free MOOCs; completed its annual survey of the Spark user community, and organized three Spark Summits.

In December, Databricks announced a $60 million “C” round of venture capital. New Enterprise Associates led the round; Andreessen Horowitz participated.

Dataiku

Dataiku develops and markets Data Science Studio (DSS), a workflow and collaboration environment for machine learning and advanced analytics. Users interact with the software through a drag-and-drop interface; DSS pushes processing down to Hadoop and Spark. The product includes connectors to a wide variety of file systems, SQL platforms, cloud data stores and NoSQL databases.

dataiku

In 2016, Dataiku delivered Releases 3.0 and 3.1. Major new capabilities include H2O integration (through Sparkling Water); additional data sources (IBM Netezza, SAP HANA, Google BigQuery, and Microsoft Azure Data Warehouse); added support for Spark MLLib algorithms; performance improvements, and many other enhancements.

In October, Dataiku closed on a $14 million “A” round of venture capital. FirstMark Capital led the financing, with participation from Serena Capital.

DataRobot

DataRobot, a Boston-based startup founded by insurance industry veterans, offers an automated machine learning platform that combines built-in expertise with a test-and-learn approach.  Leveraging an open source back end, the company’s eponymous software searches through combinations of algorithms, pre-processing steps, features, transformations and tuning parameters to identify the best model for a particular problem.

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The company has a team of Kaggle-winning data scientists and leverages this expertise to identify new machine learning algorithms, feature engineering techniques, and optimization methods. In 2016, DataRobot added several new capabilities to its product, including support for Hadoop deployment, deep learning with TensorFlow, reason codes that explain prediction, feature impact analysis, and additional capabilities for model deployment.

DataRobot also announced major alliances with Alteryx and Cloudera. Cloudera awarded the company its top-level certification: the software integrates with Spark, YARN, Cloudera Service Descriptors, and Cloudera Parcels.

Earlier in the year, DataRobot closed on $33 million in Series B financing. New Enterprise Associates led the round; Accomplice, Intel Capital, IA Ventures, Recruit Strategic Partners, and New York Life also participated.

Domino Data Lab

Domino Data Lab offers the Domino Data Science Platform (DDSP) a scalable collaboration environment that runs on-premises, in virtual private clouds or hosted on Domino’s AWS infrastructure.

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DDSP provides data scientists with a shared environment for managing projects, scalable computing with a variety of open source and commercially licensed software, job scheduling and tracking, and publication through Shiny and Flask. Domino supports rollbacks, revision history, version control, and reproducibility.

In November, Domino announced that it closed a $10.5 million “A” round led by Sequoia Capital. Bloomberg Beta, In-Q-Tel, and Zetta Venture Partners also participated.

Fuzzy Logix

Fuzzy Logix markets DB Lytix, a library of more than eight hundred functions for machine learning and advanced analytics.  Functions run as database table functions in relational databases (Informix, MySQL, Netezza, ParAccel, SQL Server, Sybase IQ, Teradata Aster and Teradata Database) and in Hadoop through Hive.

Users invoke DB Lytix functions from SQL, R, through BI tools or from custom web interfaces.  Functions support a broad range of machine learning capabilities, including feature engineering, model training with a rich mix of supported algorithms, plus simulation and Monte Carlo analysis.  All functions support native in-database scoring.  The software is highly extensible, and Fuzzy Logix offers a team of well-qualified consultants and developers for custom applications.

In April, the company announced the availability of DB Lytix on Teradata Aster Analytics, a development that excited all three of the people who think Aster has legs.

H2O.ai

H2O.ai develops and supports H2O, the open source machine learning project I profiled in Part Two of this review. As I noted in Part Two, H2O.ai updated Sparkling Water, its Spark integration for Spark 2.0; released Steam, a model deployment framework, to production, and previewed Deep Water, an interface to GPU-accelerated back ends for deep learning.

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In 2016, H2O.ai added 3,200 enterprise organizations and over 43,000 users to its roster, bringing its open source community to over 8,000 enterprises and nearly 70,000 users worldwide. In the annual KDnuggets poll of data scientists, reported usage tripled. New customers include Kaiser Permanente, Progressive, Comcast, HCA, McKesson, Macy’s, and eBay.

KNIME

KNIME.com AG, a commercial enterprise based in Zurich, Switzerland, distributes the KNIME Analytics Platform under a GPL license with an exception permitting third parties to use the API for proprietary extensions. The KNIME Analytics Platform features a graphical user interface with a workflow metaphor.  Users build pipelines of tasks with drag-and-drop tools and run them interactively or in batch.

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KNIME offers commercially licensed extensions for scalability, integration with data platforms, collaboration, and productivity. The company provides technical support for the extension software.

During the year, KNIME delivered two dot releases and three maintenance releases. The new features added to the open source edition in Releases 3.2 and 3.3 include Workflow Coach, a recommender based on community usage statistics; streaming execution; feature selection; ensembles of trees and gradient boosted trees; deep learning with DL4J, and many other enhancements. In June, KNIME launched the KNIME Cloud Analytics Platform on Microsoft Azure.

KNIME held its first Summit in the United States in September and announced the availability of an online training course available through O’Reilly Media.

RapidMiner

RapidMiner, Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, develops and supports RapidMiner, an easy-to-use package for business analysis, predictive analytics, and optimization. The company launched in 2006 (under the corporate name of Rapid-I) to drive development, support, and distribution for the RapidMiner software project. The company moved its headquarters to the United States in 2013.

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The desktop version of the software, branded as RapidMiner Studio, is available in free and commercially licensed editions.  RapidMiner also offers a commercially licensed Server edition, and Radoop, an extension that pushes processing down to Hive, Pig, Spark, and H2O.

RapidMiner introduced Release 7.x in 2016 with an updated user interface. Other enhancements in Releases 7.0 through 7.3 include a new data import facility, Tableau integration, parallel cross-validation, and H2O integration (featuring deep learning, gradient boosted trees and generalized linear models).

The company also introduced a feature called Single Process Pushdown. This capability enables RapidMiner users to supplement native Spark and H2O algorithms with RapidMiner pipelines for execution in Hadoop. RapidMiner supports Spark 2.0 as of Release 7.3.

In January 2016, RapidMiner closed a $16 million equity round led by Nokia Growth Partners. Ascent Venture Partners, Earlybird Venture Capital, Longworth Venture Partners, and OpenOcean also participated.

Skytree

Skytree Inc. develops and markets an eponymous commercially licensed software package for machine learning. Its founders launched the venture in 2012 to monetize an academic machine learning project (Georgia Tech’s FastLab).

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The company landed an $18 million venture capital round in 2013 and hasn’t secured any new funding since then. (Read my comments under Alpine Data to see what that indicates.) Moreover, the underlying set of algorithms does not seem to have changed much since then, though Skytree has added and dropped several different add-ons and wrappers.

Users interact with the software through the Skytree Command Line Interface (CLI), Java and Python APIs or a browser-based GUI. Output includes explanations of the model in plain English. Skytree has a grid search feature for parameterization, which it trademarks as AutoModel, labels as “ground-breaking” and is attempting to patent. Analysts who don’t know anything about grid search think this is amazing.

In 2016, Skytree introduced a freemium edition, branded as Skytree Express. Hold out another six months and they’ll pay you to try it.

As is the case with Alpine Data, if you like Skytree’s technology wait for another funding round, or ask the company to provide evidence of positive cash flow.

Big Analytics Roundup (July 11, 2016)

Light news this week. We have results from an interesting survey on fast data, an excellent paper from Facebook and a nice crop of explainers.

From one dumb name to another.  Dato loses trademark dispute, rebrands as Turi. They should have googled it first.

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Wikibon’s George Gilbert opines on the state of Big Data performance benchmarks. Spoiler: he thinks that most of the benchmarks published to date are BS.

Databricks releases the third eBook in their technical series: Lessons for Large-Scale Machine Learning Deployments in Apache Spark.

The State of Fast Data

OpsClarity, a startup in the applications monitoring space, publishes a survey of 4,000 respondents conducted among a convenience sample of IT folk attending trade shows and the like. Most respondents self-identify as developers, data architects or DevOps professionals. For a copy of the report, go here.

As with any survey based on a convenience sample, results should be interpreted with a grain of salt. There are some interesting findings, however.  Key bits:

  • In the real world, real time is slow. Only 27% define “real-time” as “less than 30 seconds.”  The rest chose definitions in the minutes and even hours.
  • Batch rules today. 89% report using batch processing. However, 68% say they plan to reduce batch and increase stream.
  • Apache Kafka is the most popular message broker, which is not too surprising since Kafka Summit was one of the survey venues.
  • Apache Spark is the most popular data processing platform, chosen by 70% of respondents.
  • HDFS, Cassandra, and Elasticsearch are the most popular data sinks.
  • A few diehards (9%) do not use open source software. 47% exclusively use open source.
  • 40% host data pipelines in the cloud; 32% on-premises; the rest use a hybrid architecture.

It should surprise nobody that people who attend Kafka Summit and the like plan to increase investments in stream processing. What I find interesting is the way respondents define “real-time”.

Alex Woodie summarizes the report. (Fixed broken link).

Top Read of the Week

Guoqiang Jerry Chen, et. al. explain real-time data processing at Facebook. Adrian Colyer summarizes.

Explainers

— Jake Vanderplas explains why Python is slow.

— On Wikibon, Ralph Finos explains key terms in cloud computing. Good intro.

— A blogger named Janakiram MSV describes all of the Apache streaming projects. Two corrections: Kafka Streams is a product of Confluent (corrected) and not part of Apache Kafka, and Apache Beam is an abstraction layer that runs on top of either batch or stream processing engines.

— Srini Penchikala explains how Netflix orchestrates its machine learning workflow with Spark, Python, R, and Docker.

— Kiuk Chung explains how to generate recommendations at scale with Spark and DSSTNE, the open source deep learning engine developed by Amazon.

— Madison J. Myers explains how to get started with Apache SystemML.

— Hossein Falaki and Shivaram Venkataraman explain how to use SparkR.

— Philippe de Cuzey explains how to migrate from Pig to Spark. For Pig diehards, there is also Spork.

— In a video, Evan Sparks explains what KeystoneML does.

— John Russell explains what pbdR is, and why you should care (if you use R).

— In a two-part post, Pavel Tupitsyn explains how to get started with Apache Ignite.NET. Part two is here.

— Manny Puentes of Altitude Digital explains how to invest in a big data platform.

Perspectives

— Beau Cronin summarizes four forces shaping AI: data, compute resources, software, and talent. My take: with the cost of data, computing and software collapsing, talent is the key bottleneck.

— Greg Borenstein argues for interactive machine learning. It’s an interesting argument, but not a new argument.

— Ben Taylor, Chief Data Scientist at HireVue, really does not care for Azure ML.

— Raj Kosaraju opines on the impact of machine learning on everyday life.

— An anonymous blogger at CBInsights lists ten well-funded startups developing AI tech.

— The folks at icrunchdata summarize results from the International Symposium on Biomedical Imaging, where an AI system proved nearly as accurate as human pathologists in diagnosing cancer cells.

Open Source Announcements

— Yahoo Research announces the release of Spark ADMM, a framework for solving arbitrary separable convex optimization problems with Alternating Direction Method of Multipliers. Not surprisingly given the name, it runs on Spark.

Commercial Announcements

— Talend announces plans for an IPO. The filing discloses that last year Talend lost 28 cents for every dollar in revenue, which is slightly better than the 35 cents lost in 2015. At that rate, Talend may break even in 2020, if nothing else happens in the interim.

Big Analytics Roundup (July 5, 2016)

Quite a few open source announcements this week. One of the most interesting is Apache Bahir, which includes a number of bits spun out from Apache Spark. It’s another indicator of the size and strength of Spark, in case anyone needs a reminder.

In other news, Altiscale and H2O.ai concurrently develop time travel: both vendors claim to support Spark 2.0, which isn’t generally available yet. The currently available Spark 2.0 preview release is not a stable release and the Spark team does not guarantee API stability. So at minimum anyone claiming to support Spark 2.0 will have to retest with the GA release.

Andrew Brust summarizes news from Hadoop Summit.

Microsoft’s Bill Jacobs explains Apache Spark integration through Microsoft R Server.  (Short version: Microsoft R previously pushed processing down to MapReduce, and now pushes down to Spark.) In a test, Microsoft found that shifting from MapReduce to Spark produced a 6X speedup, which is similar to what IBM achieved when it did the same thing with SPSS Analytics Server. Bill’s claim of 125X speedup is suspicious — he compares the performance of Microsoft R’s ScaleR distributed GLM algorithm running in a five-node Spark cluster with running GLM with an unspecified CRAN package on a single machine.

Owen O’Malley benchmarks file formats, concludes nothing. But it was fun!  Pro tip: if you’re going to spend time running benchmarks, use a standard TPC protocol.

Denny Lee introduces Databricks’ new Guide to getting started with Spark on Databricks.

Top Read/Watch

On YouTube and SlideShare: Slim Baltagi, Director of Enterprise Architecture at Capital One, presents his analysis of major trends in big analytics at Hadoop Summit.

Explainers

— In the second of a three-part series, Databricks’ Bill Chambers explains how to build data science applications on Databricks. Part one is here.

— William Lyon explains graph analysis with Neo4j and Game of Thrones, concludes that Lancel Lannister isn’t very important to the narrative.

graph-of-thrones

— On the AWS Big Data Blog, Sai Sriparasa explains how to transfer data from EMR to RDS with Sqoop.

— In part one of a series, LinkedIn’s Kartik Paramasivam disses Lambda, explains how to solve hard problems in stream processing with Apache Samza.

— Hortonworks’ Vinay Shukla and others explain the roadmap for Apache Zeppelin.

— Rajat Jaiswal explains Azure Machine Learning in the first of a multi-part series. It’s on DZone, which means the content was ripped from some other source, but I can’t find the original.

— A blogger named junkcharts explains the importance of simplicity in visualization.

Perspectives

— Roger Schank, who wrote the book on cognitive computing, parses IBM’s claims for Watson. He isn’t impressed.

— Werther Krause offers some pretty good recommendations for building a data science team.

Open Source Announcements

— The Apache Software Foundation announces Apache Bahir as a top-level project. Bahir aims to curate extensions for distributed analytic platforms. Initial bits include toolkits for streaming akka, streaming mqtt, streaming twitter and streamingmq. The team includes 16 committers from Databricks, 4 from UC Berkeley, 3 from Cloudera and 13 others. Sam dean reports.

— H2O.ai announces Sparkling Water 2.0. Sparkling Water is an H2O API for Spark, and a registered Spark package. Stories here, here, here, and here. Among the claimed enhancements:

  • Support for Apache Spark 2.0 and “backward compatibility with all previous versions.”
  • The ability to run Apache Spark and Scala through H2O’s web-based Flow UI.
  • Support for the Apache Zeppelin notebook.
  • H2O feature improvements and visualizations for MLlib algorithms, including the ability to score feature importance.
  • The ability to build Ensembles using H2O plus MLlib algorithms.
  • The power to export MLlib models as POJOs (Plain Old Java Objects).

— Alluxio (née Tachyon) announces Release 1.1. (Alluxio is an open source project for in-memory virtual distributed storage). Key bits include performance improvements, including master metadata scalability, worker scalability and better support for random I/O; improved access control features; usability improvements; and integration with Google Compute Engine.

— Apache Drill announces Release 1.7.0, with bug fixes and minor improvements.

— Qubole announces Quark, an open source project that optimizes SQL across storage platforms.

— MongoDB releases its own connector for Spark, supplementing the existing package developed by Stratio.

Commercial Announcements

— Altiscale claims support for Spark 2.0.

— AtScale announces a reseller agreement with Hortonworks.

— GridGain Systems announces Professional Edition 1.6, the commercially licensed enhanced version of Apache Ignite. Release 1.6 includes native support for Apache Cassandra.

— Hortonworks announces Microsoft Azure HDInsight as its premier cloud solution. They should have noted that Azure is Hortonworks only cloud solution.

— Zoomdata announces certification on the MapR Converged Data Platform.

Big Analytics Roundup (May 16, 2016)

This week we have more insight into Spark 2.0, scheduled for release just before Spark Summit 2016. (Yes, I’m going.) Also, kudos to BI-on-Hadoop startup AtScale for a new round of funding; Amazon releases YADLF (Yet Another Deep Learning Framework); and there are a number of new faces at H2O.ai.

Plus, we have an extended review of the Palantir story.

Buzzfeed on Palantir

Last week, I deemed Buzzfeed’s story on Palantir too dumb to link. (“Forget it, Jake. It’s Buzzfeed.”) Buzzfeed “news” reporter William Alden, who was all over a story about maggots in Facebook lunches, breathlessly mines a cache of “secret internal documents” and discovers:

  • Palantir expects employee turnover of around 20% for 2016.
  • Palantir lost some clients.
  • Palantir books more work than it bills.

Does Palantir have an employee turnover problem?  No. A 20% turnover rate is slightly above the 17% reported for all industries in 2015, and about on track for Silicon Valley. (There are companies in SV with 100% turnover rates.) On Glassdoor, employees give Palantir high marks.

Does Palantir have a client retention problem? Not exactly. The story cites four clients — American Express, Coca-Cola, Kimberley-Clark and Nasdaq — who engaged Palantir to conduct a pilot, then decided not to proceed with a long-term contract. In other words, lost sales and not cancelled contracts. The document Buzzfeed obtained is Palantir’s won/lost analysis, which shows that the company is attempting to learn from its lost sales.

Does Palantir have a revenue problem? No. Palantir’s 2015 revenue was up 50% from the previous year. Buzzfeed obsesses over the difference between Palantir’s bookings of $1.7 billion and its revenue of $420 million. A high book-to-bill ratio  is typical for consultancies that pursue large multi-year projects; it is a sign of strong demand for the company’s services. Under GAAP accounting, companies can accrue revenue only as work is performed, even if they bill the work in advance. Note that consulting giant Accenture’s bookings exceed its revenue for its most recent quarter.

Does Palantir have a profitability problem? Possibly. Buzzfeed reports that the company lost $80 million last year on revenue of $420 million. Consulting margins tend to be fairly high, so a loss means that Palantir is “investing” in a lot of unbillable work. It’s hard to say if these “investments” will pay off. Palantir closed another round of funding in December, 2015, so people with more and better information than Buzzfeed obviously think they will, and are backing up their belief with cash.

By the way, you know who has an actual revenue problem? Buzzfeed.

Roger Peng attempts to draw lessons for data scientists from the Buzzfeed story, without questioning its premises. He should stick to Biostatistics.

Spark 2.0

— Databricks announces preview of Apache Spark 2.0 on Databricks Community Edition.

— From last week: Reynold Xin explains what’s new in Spark 2.0.

— Dave Ramel summarizes the new features, including faster SQL; consolidation of the Dataset and DataFrame APIs; support for ANSI (2003) SQL; and Structured Streaming, an integrated view of tables and streams.

— Now that Spark 2.0 is in preview, MapR offers Spark 1.6.1.

Explainers

— Four from Adrian Colyer:

— Richard Williamson explains how to build a streaming prediction engine with Spark, MADlib, Kudu and Impala.

— On the Cloudera Vision blog, Santosh Kumar explains Hive-on-Spark.

— DataStax’ Dani Traphagen explains data processing with Spark and Cassandra.

— In ZDNet, Andrew Brust explains Microsoft’s R strategy, and gets it right.

Perspectives

— For a planted article in Linux.com, Pam Baker interviews IBM’s Mike Breslin, who answer questions nobody is asking about using Spark and Cloudant.

— Joyce Wells recaps a presentation by Booz Allen’s Jair Aguirre, who touts Apache Drill.

— Alex Woodie attends the Apache: Big Data 2016 conference and discovers open source projects.

— In Business Insider, Sam Shead describes FBLearnerFlow, a workbench for machine learning and AI.

— Leslie D’Monte describes some ways companies use machine learning in their operations.

Open Source Announcements

— Google announces release to open source of SyntaxNet, a framework for natural language understanding. Included in the release: an English parser dubbed Parsey McParseface. Journalists respond to the latter like dogs to a squirrel.

— Amazon releases yet another deep learning framework, this one branded as “Deep Scalable Sparse Tensor Network Engine (DSSTNE)” or “Destiny”. Stephanie Condon reports.

— Salesforce donates PredictionIO to Apache.

— Apache Storm announces two new maintenance releases:

  • Storm 0.10.1 has bug fixes.
  • Storm 1.0.1 has performance improvements and bug fixes.

— Apache Flink announces Release 1.0.3, with bug fixes and improved documentation.

— Apache Apex pushes a release to resolve a security issue.

Commercial Announcements

— BI-on-Hadoop startup AtScale announces an $11 million “B” round. Media coverage here.

— H2O.ai announces new hires with a strong orientation towards visualization, suggesting the company plans to add a more robust user interface to its best-in-class machine learning engine.

Big Analytics Roundup (April 11, 2016)

Top story of the week is NVIDIA’s new DGX-1 deep learning chip; scroll down for more on that.

We have three roundups from Strata + Hadoop World, Rashomon style:

  • Alex Woodie reports six takeaways: Kafka, Spark, Hadoop, Cloud, machine learning, mainframes.
  • Jessica Davis recalls four things: comedian Paula Poundstone, MapR, public data sets, AI.
  • Nik Rouda recaps five things: Spark, machine learning, data warehousing, user interfaces, cloud.

— H2O.ai CTO and co-founder Cliff Click departs H2O, joins Neurensic, a firm that specializes in compliance analytics. Neurensic has a team of surname-eschewing executives that is surprisingly large considering it has no visible funding.

— Machine learning startup Context Relevant announces the appointment of Joseph Polverari as CEO, replacing board member Chris Kelley, who replaced founder Stephen Purpura in July, 2015, a month after the latter wrote a meditation on failure. Kelley’s major accomplishment: firing people. Appears that Context Relevant isn’t the next unicorn.

— One of the 76 IBM executives with the title of “CTO” touts cognitive computing. My take:

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 7.52.54 AM

— Forrester publishes its 2016 “Wave” for Big Data Streaming Analytics. You can go here and buy it for $2,495, get a free copy here, or just look at the picture below.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 3.52.54 PM

— Spiderbook’s Aman Naimat examines data gleaned by trolling through billions of publicly available documents, identifies 2,680 companies that are using Hadoop at any level of maturity, and another 3,500 that are just learning. That’s out of a total universe of 500,000 companies worldwide. I’m thinking that trolling through billions of public documents may understate the actual incidence of Hadoop usage.

— Crowdflower, a data enrichment platform, surveys data scientists and publishes the results. The report does not disclose how data scientists were identified and sampled, which is key to interpreting surveys like this. Respondents report that they spend a lot of time mucking around with data, which won’t surprise anyone, since Crowdflower sells a service that helps data scientists spend less time mucking with data.

NVIDIA Unveils Deep Learning Chip

— NVIDIA announces June availability for the DGX-1, a deep learning supercomputer on a chip. The DGX-1 includes eight Tesla P100 GPUs, each of which is 12X faster than NVIDIA’s previous benchmark. For $129K you get the throughput of 250 CPU-based servers.

— NVIDIA also reveals a Deep Learning SDK with Deep Learning primitives, math libraries, tools for multi-GPU communication, a CUDA toolkit and DIGITS, a model training system. The system works with popular Deep Learning frameworks like Caffe, CNTK, TensorFlow and Theano.

— Selected media reports:

— MIT Technology Review interviews NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang.

Explainers

— Ian Pointer explains Structured Streaming, coming up in Spark 2.0.

— Till Rohrmann introduces Complex Event Processing (CEP) with Flink.

— Maxime Beauchemin explains Caravel, Airbnb’s data exploration platform.

— LinkedIn’s Akshay Rai explains Dr. Elephant, a newly open-sourced self-service performance tuning package for Hadoop and Spark.

— In a guest post on the Cloudera Engineering Blog, engineers from Wargaming.net explain how they built their real-time recommendation engine with Spark, Kafka, HBase and Drools.

— Katrin Leinweber et. al. explain how to analyze an assay of bacteria-induced biofilm formation the freshwater diatom Achnanthidium minutissimum with KNIME. In case you’re wondering, Achnanthidium minutissimum is a kind of algae.

Perspectives

— On LinkedIn, George Hill of The Cyclist nicely critiques the 2011 McKinsey Big Data report, offering a point by point assessment.

— Mauricio Prinzlau of Cloudwards.net opines, without data, that the five languages paving the future of machine learning are MATLAB/Octave, R, Python, “Java-family/C-family” and Extreme Learning Machines (ELM). What was that last one again? Personally, I’ve never seen anyone lump Java and C into a single category, but whatever.

— In InfoWorld, “internationally recognized industry expert and thought leader” David Linthicum ventures into the machine learning discussion by arguing that it’s mostly BS.

— John Dunn demonstrates his ignorance of fraud by asking if machine learning can help banks detect it. As if they haven’t been doing that for years. Also, the “hard decline” he describes at the beginning of the article is rare; most false positives produce “soft declines,”, where the merchant is asked to request identification or speak with the call center.

— In IBT, Ian Allison wonders if financial analysts will lose their jobs to intelligent trading machines. If he watched Billions, he would know that financial analysts spend their time procuring inside information.

— Timo Elliott argues that BI is dead. I have to wonder if it was ever alive.

— Confluent CTO Neha Narkhede opines on stream processing. She’s in favor of it.

— Brandon Butler interviews AWS’ Matt Wood, who chats about competing with Google and Microsoft.

— On Forbes, Robert Hof interviews Cloudera CEO Tom Reilly.

Open Source Announcements

— Qubole releases SQL optimizer Quark to open source.

— Flink releases version 1.0.1, a maintenance release.

— Apache Lens, a “unified analytics interface,” releases version 2.5.0 to beta.

— Airbnb open sources Caravel, a data exploration package.

— Apache Tajo announces Release 0.11.2, which should please its user.

— LinkedIn releases Dr. Elephant to open source.

Commercial Announcements

— Databricks announces the agenda for Spark Summit 2016 in SFO.

— Cloudera announces Cloudera Enterprise 5.7. New analytic bits include Hive-on-Spark GA, support for the HBase-Spark module, support for Spark 1.6 and support for Impala 2.5.

— MapR announces availability of Apache Drill 1.6 as the unified SQL layer for the MapR Converged Data Platform.

Big Analytics Roundup (March 21, 2016)

Minimal hard news this week, but some interesting survey results, analysis, articles, explainers and perspectives.

— On his personal blog, Will Kurt describes Bayesian reasoning in the Twilight Zone. I tried to learn Bayesian reasoning a few years ago, but it conflicted with my prior beliefs.

— Stack Overflow shares results from its 2016 Developer Survey. (h/t Thomas Ott) Key bits:

  • Most popular technologies for math and data: Python and SQL.
  • Top paying technologies: Spark and Scala.
  • Top paying tech for data scientists: Scala, Spark and Hadoop.
  • Top tech stack for data scientists: Python + R + SQL.
  • Top development environments for data scientists: (1) Vim; (2) Notepad++; (3) RStudio; (4) IPython/Jupyter.
  • Job priorities for data scientists: (1) Salary; (2) Building something that’s innovative.
  • Biggest challenge at work (all respondents): Unrealistic expectations.
  • Purchasing power of developers in South Africa: 25,713 Big Macs per year.

— MIT Technology Review summarizes a comparative analysis of the tweeps for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Study authors use facial recognition to classify followers into demographic categories, with surprising findings.

— Daniel Chalef of Domino Data analyzes data from Google Trends and StackOverflow, discovers that people search for open source data science tools more than they do for commercial data science tools. For a more comprehensive look at this question, see Bob Muenchin’s blog on the popularity of analytics software. Search interest is one data point, Bob’s work with job postings offers a better picture of the actual state of the market.

— On his Databaseline blog, Ian Hellström corrals information on Apache streaming projects, including Apex, Beam, Flink, Flume, Ignite, NiFi, Samza, Spark Streaming and Storm/Trident.

Explainers

— On the Confluent blog, Jay Kreps explains Kafka Streams. Given Kafka’s dominance in the streaming data space, I suspect that we will see Confluent move upstream — no pun intended — to streaming analytics.

— This week from the morning paper:

  • Adrian Colyer explains MacroBase, an open source software project for anomaly detection in streaming data.
  • … explains social engineering attacks and potential defenses.
  • explains distributed TensorFlow with MPI. Distributed versions improve (runtime) performance, but scaleability is sublinear; with 32 nodes, performance is a little less than 12X faster than a single node.

— MapR’s Tugduall Grall explains what Spark is, what it does, and what sets it apart.

— In SlideShare, Joe Chow explains random grid search for hyperparameter optimization in H2O.

— On the Databricks blog, Denny Lee et. al. explain how to use the new GraphFrames package. They include a notebook and demonstration of GraphFrames with the airline on-time performance dataset.

— MSFT’s Jeff Stokes explains how to scale stream analytics jobs with Azure Machine Learning functions.

— On the MapR blog, Carol McDonald explains how to get started using GraphX with Scala.

Perspectives

— Jack Vaughan interviews some old guy who thinks Spark is a thing.

— In Forbes, Gil Press reviews the Forrester TechRadar Big Data report and opines about the top ten technologies. InformationWeek’s Jessica Davis reviews the same report and draws different conclusions. The great thing about punditry is you can say anything you like.

— Gabriela Motroc engages the tiresome old “Spark versus Hadoop” theme.

— Alex Woodie opines that Hadoop must evolve toward greater simplicity. While his complaint has merit, the problem with his argument is that organisms do not “evolve” to simplicity; simplicity itself is a product of design.  Pure Hadoop is simple: MapReduce and HDFS.  Hadoop has evolved to something more complex because it had to do so; every additional piece added to the ecosystem is a response to unmet needs.

— H2O.ai’s Ken Sanford, who previously worked for SAS, argues that the best data scientists run R and Python.  He’s right. Money talks: according to O’Reilly’s 2015 Data Science Salary Survey, the median salary for data scientists who use SAS is less than the median salary for data scientists who use R and Python.

— On Medium, PredictionIO’s Thomas Stone celebrates ten years of open source machine learning.

— Jessica Davis profiles nine big data and analytics startups she thinks you should watch: Confluent, H2O.ai, AtScale, Algorithmia, BedrockData, Wavefront, RJMetrics, BlueTalon, and Cazena.

— In TechCrunch, Hightail’s Mike Trigg opines that Silicon Valley’s unicorn problem will solve itself. I doubt that’s true; you can’t simultaneously argue that VCs are irrational on the upside (e.g. Groupon) but rational on the downside. If VCs are too dumb to spot companies with no sustainable competitive advantage, they are also too dumb to spot “well-run, profitable companies with proven business models and healthy balance sheets.”

— On Quora, Dato’s Carlos Guestrin opines about what’s next in machine learning.

— In Martech Advisor, Ankush Gupta Mar interviews Altiscale’s VP of Marketing, Barbara Lewis. Interesting bits about Altiscale’s Spark-as-Service offering.

— David Weldon asks if you are asking all the wrong questions about Apache Spark. He interviews Sean Suchter of Pepperdata.

— Srini Penchikala interviews the authors of Spark in Action, an upcoming book from Manning.

Teradata Watch

— Teradata CEO Mike Koehler continues to demonstrate confidence in the company’s growth prospects by selling another 350,000 shares.

— Zacks downgrades TDC to hold. On Wall Street, “hold” is code for “dump it.”

Open Source Announcements

— Three announcements from Apache projects:

  • Apex announces release 3.3.1 of the Malhar library, a maintenance release.
  • Drill announces release 1.6.0, which includes a few new features and many bug fixes. Release notes here.
  • Phoenix announces release 4.7, with ACID transaction support, better statistics, improved performance and 150+ bug fixes.

Commercial Announcements

— SAP announces general availability for SAP HANA Vora, a tool that enables HANA users to query data in Hadoop and other distributed storage platforms through Spark. In CIO, Thor Olavsrud reports.

— Dataiku announces that it has hired two new Veeps to drive expansion in North America.

— Reltio announces GA of Reltio Cloud 2016.1, with early access to Reltio Insights. Reltio offers a master data management platform-as-a-service; Reltio Insights adds Spark to the mix.

— BlueData announces that it has joined the Dell Technology Partnership Program. BlueData offers a datacenter virtualization capability that enables enterprises to build an on-premises cloud. BlueData Veep Greg Kirchoff opines about the partnership. Spoiler: he likes it.

Gartner’s 2016 MQ for Advanced Analytics Platforms

This is a revised and expanded version of a story that first appeared in the weekly roundup for February 15.

Gartner publishes its 2016 Magic Quadrant for Advanced Analytics Platforms.   You can get a free copy here from RapidMiner (registration required.)  The report is a muddle that mixes up products in different categories that don’t compete with one another, includes marginal players, excludes important startups and ignores open source analytics.

Other than that, it’s a fine report.

The advanced analytics category is much more complex than it used to be.  In the contemporary marketplace, there are at least six different categories of software for advanced analytics that are widely used in enterprises:

  • Analytic Programming Languages (e.g. R, SAS Programming Language)
  • Analytic Productivity Tools (e.g. RStudio, SAS Enterprise Guide)
  • Analytic Workbenches (e.g. Alteryx, IBM Watson Analytics, SAS JMP)
  • Expert Workbenches (e.g. IBM SPSS Modeler, SAS Enterprise Miner)
  • In-Database Machine Learning Engines (e.g. DBLytix, Oracle Data Mining)
  • Distributed Machine Learning Engines (e.g. Apache Spark MLlib, H2O)

Gartner appears to have a narrow notion of what an advanced analytics platform should be, and it ignores widely used software that does not fit that mold.  Among those evaluated by Gartner but excluded from the analysis: BigML, Business-Insight, Dataiku, Dato, H2O.ai, MathWorks, Oracle, Rapid Insight, Salford Systems, Skytree and TIBCO.

Gartner also ignores open source analytics, including only those vendors with at least $4 million in annual software license revenue.  That criterion excludes vendors with a commercial open source business model, like H2O.ai.  Gartner uses a similar criterion to exclude Hortonworks from its MQ for data warehousing, while including Cloudera and MapR.

Changes from last year’s report are relatively small.  Some detailed comments:

— Accenture makes the analysis this year, according to Gartner, because it acquired Milan-based i4C Analytics, a tiny little privately held company based in Milan, Italy.  Accenture rebranded the software assets as the Accenture Analytics Applications Platform, which Accenture positions as a platform for custom solutions.  This is not at all surprising, since Accenture is a consulting firm and not a software vendor, but it’s interesting to note that Accenture reports no revenue at all from software licensing;  hence, it can’t possibly satisfy Gartner’s inclusion criteria for the MQ.  The distinction between software and services is increasingly muddy, but if Gartner includes one services provider on the analytics MQ it should include them all.

Alpine Data Labs declines a lot in “Ability to Deliver,” which makes sense since they appear to be running out of money (*).  Gartner characterizes Alpine as “running analytic workflows natively within Hadoop”, which is only partly true.  Alpine was originally developed to run on MPP databases with table functions (such as Greenplum and Netezza), and has ported some of its functions to Hadoop.  The company has a history with Greenplum Pivotal and EMC Dell, and most existing customers use the product with Greenplum Database, Pivotal Hadoop, Hawq and MADlib, which is great if you use all of those but otherwise not.  Gartner rightly notes that “the depth of choice of algorithms may be limited for some users,” which is spot on — anyone not using Alpine with Hawq and MADlib.

(*) Of course, things aren’t always what they appear to be.  Joe Otto, Alpine CEO, contacted me to say that Alpine has a year’s worth of expenses in the bank, and hasn’t done any new venture rounds since 2013 “because they haven’t needed to do so.”  Joe had no explanation for Alpine’s significantly lower rating on both dimensions in Gartner’s MQ, attributing the change to “bias”.  He’s right in pointing out that Gartner’s analysis defies logic.

Alteryx declines a little, which is surprising since its new release is strong and the company just scored a pile of venture cash.  Gartner notes that Alteryx’ scores are up for customer satisfaction and delivering business value, which suggests that whoever it is at Gartner that decides where to position the dots on the MQ does not read the survey results.  Gartner dings Alteryx for not having native visualization capabilities like Tableau, Qlik or PowerBI, a ridiculous observation when you consider that not one of the other vendors covered in this report offers visualization capabilities like Tableau, Qlik or PowerBI.

Angoss improves a lot, moving from Niche to Challenger, largely on the basis of its WPL-based SAS integration and better customer satisfaction.  Data prep was a gap for Angoss, so the WPL partnership is a positive move.

— Dell: Arguing that Dell has “executed on an ambitious roadmap during the past year”, Gartner moves Dell into the Leaders quadrant.   That “execution” is largely invisible to everyone else, as the product seems to have changed little since Dell acquired Statistica, and I don’t think too many people are excited that the product interfaces with Boomi.  Customer satisfaction has declined and pricing is a mess, but Gartner is all giggly about Boomi, Kitenga and Toad.  Gartner rightly cautions that software isn’t one of Dell’s core strengths, and the recent EMC acquisition “raises questions” about the future of software at Dell.  Which raises questions about why Gartner thinks Dell qualifies as a Leader in the category.

FICO fades for no apparent reason.  I’m guessing they didn’t renew their subscription.

IBM stays at about the same position in the MQ.  Gartner rightly notes the “market confusion” about IBM’s analytics products, and dismisses yikyak about cognitive computing.  Recently, I spent 30 minutes with one of the 443 IBM vice presidents responsible for analytics — supposedly, he’s in charge of “all analytics” at IBM — and I’m still as confused as Gartner, and the market.

— KNIME was a Leader last year and remains a Leader, moving up a little.  Gartner notes that many customers choose KNIME for its cost-benefit ratio, which is unsurprising since the software is free.  Once again, Gartner complains that KNIME isn’t as good as Tableau and Qlik for visualization.

Lavastorm makes it to the MQ this year, for some reason.  Lavastorm is an ETL and data blending tool that does not claim to offer the native predictive analytics that Gartner says are necessary for inclusion in the MQ.

Megaputer, a text mining vendor, makes it to the MQ for the second year running despite being so marginal that they lack a record in Crunchbase.  Gartner notes that “Megaputer scores low on viability and visibility and there is a lack of awareness of the company outside of text analytics in the advanced analytics market.”  Just going out on a limb, here, Mr. Gartner, but maybe that’s your cue to drop them from the MQ, or cover them under text mining.

Microsoft gets Gartner’s highest scores on Completeness of Vision on the strength of Azure Machine Learning (AML) and Cortana Analytics Suite.  Some customers aren’t thrilled that AML is only available in the cloud, presumably because they want hackers to steal their data from an on-premises system, where most data breaches happen.  Microsoft’s hybrid on-premises cloud should render those arguments moot.  Existing customers who use SQL Server Analytic Services are less than thrilled with that product.

Predixion Software improves on “Completeness of Vision” because it can “deploy anywhere” according to Gartner.  Wut?  Anywhere you can run Windows.

Prognoz returns to the MQ for another year and, like Megaputer, continues to inspire WTF? reactions from folks familiar with this category.  Primarily a BI tool with some time-series and analytics functionality included, Prognoz appears to lack the native predictive analytics capabilities that Gartner says are minimally required. 

RapidMiner moves up on both dimensions.  Gartner recognizes the company’s “Wisdom of Crowds” feature and the recent Series C funding, but neglects to note RapidMiner’s excellent Hadoop and Spark integration.

SAP stays at pretty much the same place in the MQ.  Gartner notes that SAP has the lowest scores in customer satisfaction, analytic support and sales relationship, which is about what you would expect when an ankle-biter like KXEN gets swallowed by a behemoth like SAP, where analytics go to die.

SAS declines slightly in Ability to Deliver.  Gartner notes that SAS’ licensing model, high costs and lack of transparency are a concern.  Gartner also notes that while SAS has a loyal customer base whose members refer to it as the “gold standard” in advanced analytics, SAS also has the highest percentage of customers who have experienced challenges or issues with the software.

Looking Ahead: Big Analytics in 2016

Every year around this time I review last year’s forecast and publish some thoughts about the coming year.

2015 Assessment

First, a brief review of my predictions for 2015:

(1) Apache Spark usage will explode.

Nailed it.

(2) Analytics in the cloud will take off.

In 2015, all of the leading cloud platforms — AWS, Azure, IBM and Google — released new tools for advanced analytics and machine learning.  New cloud-based providers specializing in advanced analytics, such as Qubole and Domino Data, emerged.

Cloud platform providers do not break out revenue by workload, so it’s difficult to measure analytics activity in the cloud; anecdotally, though, there are a growing number of analysts, vendors and service providers whose sole platform is the cloud.

(3) Python will continue to gain on R as the preferred open source analytics platform.

While Python continues to add functionality and gain users, so does R, so it’s hard to say that one is gaining on the other.

(4) H2O will continue to win respect and customers in the Big Analytics market.

In 2015, H2O doubled its user base, expanded its paid subscriber base fourfold and landed a $20 million “B” round.  Not bad for a company that operates on a true open source business model.

(5) SAS customers will continue to seek alternatives.

Among analytic service providers (ASPs) the exit from SAS is a stampede.

With a half dozen dot releases, SAS’ distributed in-memory products are stable enough that they are no longer the butt of jokes.  Customer adoption remains thin; customers are loyal to SAS’ legacy software, but skeptical about the new stuff.

2016 Themes

Looking ahead, here is what I see:

(1) Spark continues its long march into the enterprise.

With Cloudera 6, Spark will be the default processing option for Cloudera workloads.  This does not mean, as some suggest, that MapReduce is dead; it does mean that a larger share of new workloads will run on Spark.  Many existing jobs will continue to run in MapReduce, which works reasonably well for embarrassingly parallel workloads.

Hortonworks and MapR haven’t followed Cloudera with similar announcements yet, but will do so in 2016.  Hortonworks will continue to fiddle around with Hive on Tez, but will eventually give up and embrace Hive on Spark.

SAS will hold its nose and support Spark in 2016.  Spark competes with SAS’ proprietary back end, but it will be forced to support Spark due to its partnerships with the Hadoop distributors.  Analytic applications like Datameer and Microsoft/Revolution Analytics ScaleR that integrate with Hadoop through MapReduce will rebuild their software to interface with Spark.

Spark Core and Spark SQL will remain the most widely used Spark components, with general applicability across many use cases.  Spark MLLib suffers from comparison with alternatives like H2O and XGBoost; performance and accuracy need to improve.  Spark Streaming faces competition from Storm and Flink; while the benefits of “pure” streaming versus micro-batching are largely theoretical, it’s a serious difference that shows up in benchmarks like this.

With no enhancements in 2015, Spark GraphX is effectively dead.  The project leadership team must either find someone interested in contributing, fold the library into MLLib, or kill it.

(2) Open source continues to eat the analytics software world.

If all you read is Gartner and Forrester, you may be inclined to think that open source is just a blip in the market.  Gartner and Forrester ignore open source analytics for two reasons: (1) they get paid by commercial vendors, and (2) users don’t need “analysts” to tell them how to evaluate open source software.  You just download it and check it out.

Surveys of actual users paint a different picture.  Among new grads entering the analytics workforce, using open source is as natural as using mobile phones and Yik Yak; big SAS shops have to pay to send the kids to training.  The best and brightest analysts use open source tools, as shown by the 2015 O’Reilly Data Science Salary Survey;  while SAS users are among the lowest paid analysts, they take consolation from knowing that SPSS users get paid even less.

IBM’s decision in 2015 to get behind Spark exemplifies the movement towards open source.  IBM ranks #2 behind SAS in advanced analytics software revenue, but chose to disrupt itself by endorsing Spark and open-sourcing SystemML.  IBM figures to gain more in cloud and services revenue than it loses in cannibalized software sales.  It remains to be seen how well that will work, but IBM knows how to spot a trend when it sees it.

Microsoft’s acquisition of Revolution Analytics in 2015 gives R the stamp of approval from a company that markets the most widely implemented database (SQL Server) and the most widely used BI tool (Excel).  As Microsoft rolls out its R server and SQL-embedded R, look for a big jump in enterprise adoption.  It’s no longer possible for folks to dismiss R as some quirky tool used by academics and hobos.

The open source business model is also attracting capital.  Two analytics vendors with open source models (H2O and RapidMiner) recently landed funding rounds, while commercial vendors Skytree and Alpine languish in the funding doldrums and cut headcount.  Palantir and Opera, the biggest dogs in the analytics startup world, also leverage open source.

Increasingly, the scale-out distributed back end for Big Analytics is an open source platform, where proprietary architecture sticks out like a pimple.  Commercial software vendors can and will thrive when they focus on the end user.  This approach works well for AtScale, Alteryx, RapidMiner and ZoomData, among others.

(3) Cloud emerges as the primary platform for advanced analytics.

By “cloud” I mean all types of cloud: public, private, virtual private and hybrid, as well as data center virtualization tools, such as Apache Mesos.  In other words, self-service elastic provisioning.

High-value advanced analytics is inherently project-oriented and ad-hoc; the most important questions are answered only once.  This makes workloads for advanced analytics inherently volatile.  They are also time-sensitive and may require massive computing resources.

This combination  — immediate need for large-scale computing resources for a finite period — is inherently best served by some form of cloud.  The form of cloud an organization chooses will depend on a number of factors, such as where the source data resides, security concerns and the organization’s skills in virtualization and data center management.  But make no mistake: organizations that do not leverage cloud computing for advanced analytics will fall behind.

Concerns about cloud security for advanced analytics are largely bogus: rent-seeking apologetics from IT personnel who (rightly) view the cloud as a threat to their fiefdom.  Sorry guys — the biggest data breaches in the past two years were from on-premises systems.  Arguably, data is more secure in one of the leading clouds than it is in on premises.

For more on this, read my book later this year. 🙂

(4) Automated machine learning tools become mainstream.

As I’ve written elsewhere, automated machine learning is not a new thing.  Commercial and open source tools that automate modeling in various ways have been available since the 1980s.  Most, however, automated machine learning by simplifying the problem in ways that adversely impact model quality.  In 2016, software will be available to enterprises that delivers expert-level predictive models that win Kaggle competitions.

Since analysts spend 80% of their time data wrangling, automated machine learning tools will not eliminate the hiring crunch in advanced analytics; one should be skeptical of vendor claims that “it’s so easy that even a caveman can do it.”  The primary benefit of automation will be better predictive models built consistently to best practices.  Automation will also expand the potential pool of users from hardcore data scientists to “near-experts”, people with business experience or statistical training who are not skilled in programming languages.

(5) Teradata continues to struggle.

Listening to Teradata’s Q3 earnings call back in November, I thought of this:

100_anniversary_titanic_sinking_by_esai8mellows-d4xbme8

CEO Mike Koehler, wiping pie from his face after another quarterly earnings fail, struggled to explain a coherent growth strategy.  It included (a) consulting services; (b) Teradata software on AWS; (c) Aster on commodity hardware.

Well, that dog won’t hunt.

— Teradata’s product sales drive its consulting revenue.  No product sales, no consulting revenue.   Nobody will ever hire Teradata for platform-neutral enterprise Big Data consulting projects, so without a strategy to build product sales, consulting  revenue won’t grow either.

— Teradata’s principal value added is its ability to converge software and hardware into an integrated appliance.  By itself, Teradata software itself is nothing special; there are plenty of open source alternatives, like Apache Greenplum.  Customers who choose to build a data warehouse on AWS have many options, and Teradata won’t be the first choice.  Meanwhile, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle are light years ahead of Teradata delivering true hybrid cloud databases.

— Aster on commodity hardware is a SQL engine with some prebuilt apps.  It runs through MapReduce, which was kind of cool in 2012 but DOA in today’s market: customers who want a SQL engine that runs on commodity hardware have multiple open source options, including Presto, which Teradata also embraces.

Meanwhile, Teradata’s leadership team actually spent time with analysts talking about the R&D tax credit, which seemed like shuffling deck chairs.  The stock is worth about a third of its value in 2012 because the company has repeatedly missed earnings forecasts, and investors have no confidence in current leadership.

At current market value, Teradata is acquisition bait, but it’s not clear who would buy it.  My money’s on private equity, who will cut headcount by half and milk the existing customer base.   There are good people at Teradata; I would advise them all to polish their resumes.

2015 in Big Analytics

Looking back at 2015, a few stories stand out:

  • Steady progress for Spark, punctuated by two big announcements.
  • Solid growth in cloud-based machine learning, led by Microsoft.
  • Expanding options for SQL and OLAP on Hadoop.

In 2015, the most widely read post on this blog was Spark is Too Big to Fail, published in April.  I wrote this post in response to a growing chorus of snark about Spark written by folks who seemed to know little about the project and its goals.

IBM Embraces Spark

IBM’s commitment to Spark, announced on Jun 15, lit up the crowds gathered in San Francisco for the Spark Summit.  IBM brings a number of things to Spark: deep pockets to build a community, extensive technical resources and a large customer base.  It also brings a clutter of aging and partially integrated products, an army of suits and no less than 164 Vice Presidents whose titles include the words “Big Data.”

When IBM announced its Spark initiative I joked that somewhere in the bowels of IBM, someone will want to put Spark on a mainframe.  Color me prophetic.

It’s too early to tell what substantive contributions IBM will make to Spark.  Unlike Mesosphere, Typesafe, Tencent, Palantir, Cloudera, Hortonworks, Huawei, Shopify, Netflix, Intel, Yahoo, Kixer, UC Berkeley and Databricks, IBM did not help test Release 1.5 in September.  This is a clear miss, given the scope of IBM’s resources and the volume of hype it puts out about its commitment to the project.

All that said, IBM brings respectability, and the assurance that Spark is ready for prime time.  This is priceless.  Since IBM’s announcement, we haven’t heard a peep from the folks who were snarking at Spark earlier this year.

Cloudera Announces “One Platform” Initiative

In September, Cloudera announced its One Platform initiative to unify Spark and Hadoop, an announcement that surprised everyone who thought Spark and Hadoop were already pretty well integrated.  As with the IBM announcement, the symbolism matters.  Some analysts took this announcement to mean that Cloudera is replacing MapReduce with Spark, which isn’t exactly true.  It’s fairer to say that in Cloudera’s vision, Hadoop users will rely more on Spark in the future than they do today, but MapReduce is not dead.

The “One Platform” positioning has more to do with Cloudera moving to stem the tide of folks who use Spark outside of Hadoop.  According to Databricks’ recent Spark user survey, only 40% use Spark under YARN, with the rest running in a freestanding cluster or on Mesos.  It’s an understandable concern for Cloudera; I’ve never heard a fish seller suggest that we should eat less fish.  But if Cloudera thinks “One Platform” will stem that tide, it is mistaken.  It all boils down to use cases, and there are many use cases for Spark that don’t need Hadoop’s baggage.

Microsoft Builds Credibility in Analytics

In 2015, Microsoft took some big steps to demonstrate that it offers serious solutions for analytics.  The acquisition of Revolution Analytics, announced in January, was the first step; in one move, Microsoft acquired a highly skilled team and valuable software assets.  Since the acquisition, Microsoft has rolled Revolution’s enhanced R distribution into SQL Server and Azure, opening both platforms to the large and growing R community.

Microsoft’s other big move, in February, was the official launch of Azure Machine Learning (AML).   First released in beta in June 2014, AML is both easy to use and powerful.  The UI is simple to understand, and documentation is excellent; built-in analytic functionality is very rich, and the tool is extensible with custom R or Python scripts.  Microsoft’s trial user program is generous, and clearly designed to encourage adoption and use.

Azure Machine Learning contrasts markedly with Amazon Machine Learning.  Amazon’s offering remains a skeleton, with minimal functionality and an API only a developer could love.  Microsoft is clearly making a play for the data science market as a way to leapfrog Amazon.  If analytic capabilities are driving your choice of cloud platform, Azure is by far your best option.

SQL Engines Proliferate

At the beginning of 2015, there were two main options for SQL on Hadoop: Hive for batch SQL and Impala for interactive SQL.  Spark SQL was still in Alpha; Drill was a curiosity; and Presto was something used at Facebook.

Several things happened during the year:

  • Hive on Tez established rough performance parity with the fast SQL engines.
  • Spark SQL went to general release, stabilized, and rolled out the DataFrames API.
  • MapR promoted Drill, and invested in improvements to the software.  Also, MapR’s Drill team spun off and started Dremio to provide commercial support.
  • Cloudera donated Impala to open source, and Pivotal donated Hawq.
  • Teradata placed its chips on Presto.

While it’s great to see so many options emerge, Hive continues to win actual evaluations.  Given Hive’s large user and contributor base and existing stock of programs, it’s unclear how much traction Hive alternatives have now that Hive on Tez offers competitive performance.  Obviously, Cloudera doesn’t think Impala offers a competitive advantage anymore, or they would not have donated the assets to Apache.

The other big news in SQL is TPC’s release of a benchmarking standard for decision support with Big Data.

OLAP on Hadoop Gets Real

For folks seeking to perform dimensional analysis in Hadoop, 2015 delivered not one but two options.  The open source option, Apache Kylin, originally an eBay project, just recently graduated to Apache top level status.  Adoption is limited at present, but any project used by eBay and Baidu is worth a look.

The commercial option is AtScale, a company that emerged from stealth in April.  Unlike BI-on-Hadoop vendors like Datameer and Pentaho, AtScale provides a dimensional layer designed to work with existing BI tools.  It’s a nice value proposition for companies that have already invested big time in BI tools, and don’t want to add another UI to the mix.

Funding for Machine Learning

H2O.ai’s recently announced B round is significant for a couple of reasons.  First, it validates H2O.ai’s true open source business model; second, it confirms the continued growth and expansion of the user base for H2O as well as H2O.ai’s paid subscription base.

Like Sherlock Holmes’ dog that did not bark, two companies are significant because they did not procure funding in 2015:

  • Skytree, whose last funding round closed in April 2013, churned its executive team and rebranded a couple of times.  It finally listed some new customers; interestingly, some are investors and others are affiliated with members of Skytree’s Board.
  • Alpine Data Labs, last funded in November 2013, struggled to distance itself from the Pivotal ecosystem.  Designed to run on Greenplum, Alpine offers limited functionality on Hadoop, which makes it unclear how this company survives.

Palantir continued to suck up capital like a whale feeding on krill.

Google TensorFlow

Google open sourced TensorFlow, so now we have sixteen open source Deep Learning frameworks instead of just fifteen.