The Year in Machine Learning (Part Three)

This is the third installment in a four-part review of 2016 in machine learning and deep learning. In Part One, I 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. In Part Two, I surveyed significant developments in Open Source machine learning projects, such as R, Python, Spark, Flink, H2O, TensorFlow, and others.

In this installment, we will review the machine learning and deep learning initiatives of Big Tech Brands — industry leaders with big budgets for software development and marketing. Big Tech Brands fall into three groups:

— SAS is the software revenue leader in predictive analytics. It has a unique business model and falls into its own category.

— Companies such as IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and Teradata have all have strong franchises in the data warehousing market, and all except Teradata offer widely used business intelligence software. These companies have the financial strength to develop, market and cross-sell machine learning software to their existing customer base, and can impact the market if they choose to do so.

Dell and HPE dabbled in advanced analytics and exited the market in 2016.

I covered Google and Amazon Web Services in Part One. Although neither company has a strong position in business analytics at present, they are making moves in that direction. Google set up Google Cloud Machine Learning as a distinct product group this year to service that market, and Amazon introduced QuickSight, a business analytics service.

Regular readers know that I favor open source software — as do most data scientists. Among the companies covered in this installment, IBM and Microsoft are making substantial commitments to the open source model, including direct contributions to open source software projects. They deserve kudos for that. Teradata is investing in Presto SQL, for which they get polite applause. Oracle and SAP leverage open source software in their solutions but make no significant contributions. SAS embraces open source the way a cat embraces a porcupine.

In Part Four, I will survey machine learning startups, and deliver results from the Bottom Story of the Year poll.

SAS

SAS leads the market in licensing revenue for advanced and predictive analytics software, according to IDC. The company has a loyal following among statisticians, actuaries, life scientists and others whose work depends on statistical analysis.

Partnering with IBM, SAS built its business in the 1970s on the strength of its software for the IBM System/360 mainframe. IBM promoted the software to its enterprise customers to increase adoption and use of its hardware. SAS software still runs on the mainframe, and the company continues to earn a significant share of its revenue on that platform. IBM has mainframe customers who use the big box exclusively for SAS.

In the 1990s, SAS successfully transitioned to a multi-vendor architecture and rebuilt its software to run on many different hardware platforms and operating systems. During this period, SAS established a reputation for industrial-strength and enterprise-grade software — in contrast to vendors like SPSS, who focused on building easy-to-use software for the desktop.

On the face of it, SAS has struggled to transition from server-based computing to the contemporary world of distributed architecture and cloud platforms. In the past ten years, the company has announced multiple initiatives to improve the performance and scalability of its products, with mixed success. In April, SAS announced Viya, its third attempt to deliver advanced analytics in a distributed MPP architecture.

What is SAS Viya? How does it differ from SAS’ previous attempts at high-performance design? Let’s peruse the brochure:

Cloud-ready, elastic and scalable

 

SAS Viya is built to be elastic and scalable for both private and public clouds. Analytical, in-memory computations are optimized for unconstrained environments, but they can also adjust for constrained environments. The elastic processing automatically adapts to needs and available resources – spinning up or winding down computing capacity as needed. Elastic scalability lets you quickly experiment with different scenarios and apply more complex approaches to larger amounts of streaming data.

Ahem. Any software is “cloud-ready,” in the sense that a Linux instance is a Linux instance whether it runs on-premises or in the cloud. And any software is elastic when you deploy it in a virtual appliance, such as an Amazon Machine Image. That includes SAS 9.4, which SAS touted as “cloud-ready” in 2014, and previous versions of SAS, which you could deploy in AWS even though SAS did not formally support the platform.

If you want to spin up software instances, however, you need software licenses. With open source software, such as Python, R, or Spark, that’s not an issue — you can spin up as many instances as you like without violating license agreements. Commercial software is more complicated since you need to pay for the licenses you want to spin up. Some vendors, like HPE and Teradata, tried to address this problem by marketing their own cloud platforms to compete with Amazon Web Services; they failed miserably. Others, like Oracle, partner with AWS to deliver their software in the cloud — either as a bundled managed service or on a “Bring Your Own License” (BYOL) model.

You can’t have elastic computing with commercial software without a flexible licensing model. Pay-for-what-you-use licensing poses a problem for vendors like SAS, because if customers only pay for what they use, they invariably pay a lot less than they do under term licensing. Most commercial software customers are over-licensed — they’re paying for a lot of software they don’t use. That is why revenue from on-premises software licensing is declining much faster than revenue from cloud-based subscriptions is rising. In the cloud, you can do more with less.

The bottom line is this: unless Viya is available under an elastic pricing model, nobody cares that it is “cloud-ready, elastic and scalable.”

If you want to have a little fun, the next time your SAS rep touts Viya’s elasticity, ask him what it will cost per hour to license the software. Watch him squirm.

Open analytics coding environment

 

Empower your data scientists with SAS Analytics that are easily available from a variety of programming languages. Whether it’s a Python notebook, Java client, Lua scripting interface or SAS, your modelers and data scientists can easily access the power of SAS for data manipulation, advanced analytics and analytical reporting.

We’ve all been waiting for the ability to run SAS from Lua.

Resilient architecture with guaranteed failover

 

For answers you depend on, you need analytical processing power you can count on. You need all your analytical computations to finish processing without interruption. The fault-tolerant design of SAS Viya automatically detects server failure, even in multiplatform processing environments, and redistributes processing as needed. It also manages several copies of data on the processing cluster. If a machine in the cluster becomes unavailable or fails, the required data is retrieved from another block to quickly continue processing. These self-healing mechanisms ensure high availability for uninterrupted processing and automated recovery.

“It runs on Hadoop.”

Interviewed in Forbes, SAS CEO Jim Goodnight speaks at length about Viya:

We are ready for big data…(we) just released our first version of our new Viya architecture, which is massively parallel computing where we spread the data out over dozens of servers and then use all the cores inside those servers to process the data in parallel. So we might have 500 cores working on the data all at once in parallel, and that allows it to handle some really, really big problems that we’ve never even thought of before. Things like logistic regression.

Someone should feed Dr. G. better talking points. Just for the record, commercially available software for logistic regression running in a massively parallel (MPP) environment first hit the market in 1989. Distributed logistic regression is currently available in multiple software packages, including one introduced by SAS five years ago.

Logistic regression (a non-linear model) is an iterative process. Essentially, you’re trying to estimate the parameters in the model, and so you take a guess, you’ve got to run through the data using that guess, then to refine it and do another guess and run through the data again, and you keep doing this over and over and over until the parameters converged or they don’t change much at all anymore. That can take 25 to 30 passes of the data. Now, in the old days, we used to have to read the data that many times. Now, it’s in memory. We put it in memory and it stays in memory. It’s spread out over 500 cores and then each one just does a little piece of the work, and so we can do those 25 iterations in just a few minutes, whereas it used to take hours.

It’s just like Spark, but with a license key.

(Viya’s) really our third generation of massively parallel computing. We’ve been working on this problem for seven years, and this is our third major crack at doing it, and this time we’ve got everything figured out.

In 2018 he’ll be talking about a fourth crack in nine years.

It’s possible that Viya works better than SAS’ previous cracks at high-performance analytics. That is a weak hurdle, however; SAS needs to demonstrate that its high-cost proprietary distributed framework is better than Apache Spark, which is rapidly emerging as the standard enterprise platform for Big Data.

While SAS supports machine learning techniques in several different products, it lags in deep learning. The SAS Marketing team created some helpful content about deep learning, but look carefully at that page — you won’t find an actual product for deep learning. Yes, I know that SAS Enterprise Miner supports multilayer perceptrons; but SAS does not support GPUs, Xeon Phi, Intel Nervana or any other high-performance architecture that will make it possible for you to train a deep neural net while you’re young.

If you think that an eighteen-year-old product running on one server is sufficient for your deep learning project, you should definitely talk to SAS. Keep in mind, though, that there is a reason that NVIDIA’s DGX-1 GPU-accelerated deep learning box has the power of 250 conventional servers: you actually need that kind of horsepower.

The rest of SAS’ business seems to be chugging along well enough. A combination of renewals, upgrades and upsells in existing accounts should produce low single-digit revenue growth for 2016, which is not a bad track record when you consider the declines reported by IBM, Oracle, and Teradata.

Business Analytics Leaders

The five companies in this group sell at least a billion dollars a year in business analytics software, according to IDC’s most recent worldwide software market share report. However, most of their revenue comes from data warehousing and business intelligence software; they all trail SAS in predictive analytics revenue.

Software licensing revenue is a misleading measure, however, due to the growing presence of open source software. IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle for example, actively use open source machine learning software to extend the reach of their data warehousing and business intelligence platforms, where they both have strong entries. IBM uses Spark as a foundation for many of its products; Microsoft has integrated R with SQL Server and PowerBI, and actively promotes the use of R for its enterprise customers. Oracle has taken a similar approach.

IBM

Unlike SAS, declining tech giant IBM never invested in a proprietary distributed framework for SPSS, its flagship software for advanced analytics. Instead, the company chose to leverage in-database engines (DB2, Netezza, and Oracle) and open source frameworks (MapReduce and Spark.)

IBM contributes to Apache Spark, which it uses in several products, and also to Apache SystemML. IBM Research developed the core of SystemML, which IBM donated to Apache in 2015. IBM has also visibly contributed to the Spark community through its efforts in education and training.

In 2016, IBM continued to market SPSS Statistics and SPSS Modeler, software brands it acquired in 2007. Release 18 of SPSS Modeler, announced in March, includes such things as support for machine learning in DB2 and support for IBM’s General Parallel File System (GPFS) in BigInsights. There aren’t too many data scientists who care about such things, but they appeal to the 150 or so enterprises with CIOs who still believe that nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.

In Part One of this review, I covered IBM’s machine learning moves in IBM Cloud, which I would characterize as Shakespearean, as in Much Ado About Nothing.

Microsoft

Microsoft had quite a year in machine learning and deep learning. As I noted in Parts One and Two, in 2016 MSFT launched cognitive APIs in Azure for vision, speech, language, knowledge, and search; a managed service for Spark in Azure HDInsight; enhancements to Azure Machine Learning and Version 2.0 of its deep learning framework, rebranded as Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit.

That’s just for starters.

In January, Microsoft announced Microsoft R Server, a rebranding of the product it acquired with Revolution Analytics in 2015. Microsoft R Server includes an enhanced R distribution, a scalable back-end, and integration tools. During the year, Microsoft two major releases for R Server. In Release 8, the company added push-down integration with Spark. Release 9 updated the Spark integration for Spark 2.0, and added MicrosoftML, a new R package for machine learning.

Microsoft announced SQL Server 2016 in March with embedded SQL Server R Services. On the Revolutions blog, David Smith reports on the launch. Tomaž Kaštrun explains what you can do with R services in SQL Server.

In November, after an extended preview, Microsoft announced the general availability of R Server for Azure HDInsight, a scale-out implementation of R integrated with Spark clusters created from HDInsight.

Also in Azure, Microsoft added a Linux version of the Data Science Virtual Machine (DSVM). Previously available as a Windows instance, DSVM includes Revolution R Open, Anaconda, Visual Studio Community Edition, PowerBI Desktop, SQL Server Express and the Azure SDK.

PowerBI, Microsoft’s powerful visualization tool, added R support in August. In ComputerWorld, Sharon Machlis, an R user, enthused. More here, on the Revolutions blog.

R Tools for Visual Studio launched to public preview in March, and to general availability in September. Also in September, Microsoft released the Microsoft R Client, a free data science tool that works with Microsoft R Open and the ScaleR distributed back end.

Microsoft data scientists Gopi Krishna Kumar, Hang Zhang and Jacob Spoelstra developed a methodology for data science, which they presented at the Microsoft Machine Learning and Data Science Summit 2016 in September. David Smith reports. The method, which the authors call Team Data Science Process, includes a standard directory structure for managing project artifacts using a system such as Git. It also includes open source utilities to support the process.

Other than that, it was a quiet year in Redmond.

Oracle

Oracle has a surprisingly robust set of machine learning tools that appeal to Oracle-centric organizations. They include:

Oracle Data Mining (ODM), a suite of machine learning algorithms that run as native SQL functions in Oracle Database.

Oracle Data Miner, a client application for ODM with a business user interface.

Oracle R Distribution (ORD), an enhanced free R distribution.

Oracle R Enterprise (ORE), Oracle R Distribution packaged with tools to integrate R with Oracle Database.

Oracle R Advanced Analytics for Hadoop (ORAAH), a set of R bindings with native algorithms and an interface to Spark.

Oracle claims that ORAAH’s native algorithms are faster than Spark, but ORAAH has only two algorithms, so nobody cares. Oracle OEMs Cloudera, so the Spark release is at least one major release behind the rest of the world.

Other than some dot releases for the components cited above, I don’t see a lot of movement for Oracle in 2016.

SAP

SAP introduced an update to its predictive analytics capabilities, now branded as SAP Business Objects Predictive Analytics 3.0. This product includes two separate automation capabilities, one branded as Predictive Factory, the second as HANA Automated Predictive Library. Predictive Factory, like SAS Factory Miner, is a scripting tool that enables a data scientist to create a modeling pipeline and schedules it for execution; it does not automate the data science process itself.  HANA Automated Predictive Library is a set of functional calls that users can include in SQL scripts.

HANA Automated Predictive Library is a set of functional calls that users can include in SQL scripts. It’s a product that might appeal to SAP HANA bigots and nobody else.

SAP acquired KXEN and its InfiniteInsight software in 2014. Customer satisfaction promptly dropped through the floor, and SAP trails all other advanced analytics vendors rated in a Gartner survey. Legacy InfiniteInsight customers fall into two camps: (a) those whose IT organizations are heavily invested in SAP, and (b) everyone else. The former seem to be sticking with the software as SAP integrates it into its product line; the latter are heading for the exits.

Teradata

Declining data warehouse vendor Teradata thinks of itself as an analytics powerhouse. In reality, most of its revenue comes from data warehousing, where the company gets high marks from analysts like Gartner.

You could say that Teradata has a commanding position at the bottom of the analytics stack.

Teradata’s executive leadership — if you can call it that — completely missed the implications of Hadoop and cloud computing. Instead, they bet that the Teradata brand was beloved by IT executives, who would keep on buying boxes in bulk. As a result of that blinkered view of the world, the company today is worth a third of what it was worth five years ago. Its product sales have declined for ten straight quarters, seven in a row at double digits.

After a dismal first quarter, Teradata’s board fired accepted the resignation of CEO Mike Koehler; longtime board member Victor Lund stepped into the breach. In September, at the Teradata Partners conference, Lund announced that Teradata would reposition itself as an “analytics solutions” firm.

That may not sit well with SAS, Teradata’s primary partner for advanced analytics software, which also views itself as an “analytic solutions” firm. The difference, of course, is that SAS has been delivering solutions for a long time and has street cred with executives because it actually has sophisticated business solutions, with actual software and intellectual property, while Teradata appears to have little more than big ideas and PowerPoint.

Pro tip for Teradata management: just because you want to move up the value chain does not mean that you have the ability to do so.

In other developments, the company announced that Aster finally supports Spark, two years after anyone might have cared. Teradata also announced that Aster’s analytics are now available for deployment in Hadoop. Aster on Hadoop is a bladeless knife without a handle — a commercial machine learning library that competes with umpteen open source libraries. Aster also competes with another Teradata partner, Fuzzy Logix, whose dbLytix library is six times richer and more mature.

If someone proposes to bet that “solutions” and unbundled Aster will reverse Teradata’s decline, take the under.

Other Tech Giants

We mention two remaining giants, Dell and HPE, only to note their passing from the scene.

HPE

HPE announced the sale of its software assets (including Vertica and Haven) to U.K.-based Micro Focus for $2.5 billion in cash. Under terms of the deal, Micro Focus also granted equity with a soft valuation of $6.3 billion directly to HPE shareholders. HPE paid almost $20 billion over ten years for these assets. The valuation works out to about 2.4 times revenue, which means that both parties agree the business has little or no growth potential. Micro Focus has a reputation for firing people cutting costs, so if you’re working for Haven or Vertica, this may be a good time to dust off your resume.

In March, HPE announced Haven OnDemand, available on Microsoft Azure. Haven is a loose bundle of software assets salvaged from the train wreck of Autonomy, Vertica, ArcSight and HP Operations Management machine learning suite, initially branded as HAVEn and announced by HP in June 2013.  In 2015, HP released Haven on Helion Public Cloud, HP’s failed cloud platform. So the March announcement is a re-re-release of the software.

Three years into its product life cycle, Haven hasn’t exactly caught on with data scientists. Just 2 out of 2,895 respondents to the KDnuggets 2016 Data Science Software Usage poll and none in the O’Reilly 2016 Data Science Salary Survey said they use the software. Adding insult to injury, Haven failed to make KDnuggets’ list of the top 50 machine learning APIs, a list that includes the likes of Ersatz, Hutoma, and Skyttle.

Vertica still has some traction with data lovers whose analysis needs are simple enough to satisfy with SQL. Currently, it’s the 28th most popular relational database, according to DB-Engines, which is about on par with Netezza and Greenplum and a lot better than Aster. Expect this ranking to drop like a stone in the hands of Micro Focus.

Dell/EMC

Dell entered the advanced analytics business by acquiring Statsoft in 2014, a move that impressed nobody. In 2016, Dell exited by selling its software division to private equity investors.

Goodbye, Dell. We hardly knew ye.

The Year in Machine Learning (Part Two)

This is the second installment in a four-part review of 2016 in machine learning and deep learning. Part One, here, covered general trends. In Part Two, we review the year in open source machine learning and deep learning projects. Parts Three and Four will cover commercial machine learning and deep learning software and services.

There are thousands of open source projects on the market today, and we cannot cover them all. We’ve selected the most relevant projects based on usage reported in surveys of data scientists, as well as development activity recorded in OpenHub.  In this post, we limit the scope to projects with a non-profit governance structure, and those offered by commercial ventures that do not also provide licensed software. Part Three will include software vendors who offer open source “community” editions together with commercially licensed software.

R and Python maintained their leadership as primary tools for open data science. The Python versus R debate continued amid an emerging consensus that data scientists should consider learning both. R has a stronger library of statistics and machine learning techniques and is agiler when working with small data. Python is better suited to developing applications, and the Python open source license is less restrictive for commercial application development.

Not surprisingly, deep learning frameworks were the most dynamic category, with TensorFlow, Microsoft Cognitive, and MXNet taking leadership away from more mature tools like Caffe and Torch. It’s remarkable that deep learning tools introduced as recently as 2014 now seem long in the tooth.

The R Project

The R user community continued to expand in 2016. It ranked second only to SQL in the 2016 O’Reilly Data Science Salary Survey; first in the KDNuggets poll; and first in the Rexer survey. R ranked fifth in the IEEE Spectrum ranking.

R functionality grew at a rapid pace. In April, Microsoft’s Andrie de Vries reported that there were more than 8,000 packages in CRAN, R’s primary repository for contributed packages. As of mid-December, there are 9,737 packages.  Machine learning packages in CRAN continued to grow in number and functionality.

The R Consortium, a Collaborative Project of the Linux Foundation, made some progress in 2016. IBM and ESRI joined the Consortium, whose membership now also includes Alteryx, Avant, DataCamp, Google, Ketchum Trading, Mango Solutions, Microsoft, Oracle, RStudio, and TIBCO. There are now three working groups and eight funded projects.

Hadley Wickham had a good year. One of the top contributors to the R project, Wickham co-wrote R for Data Science and released tidyverse 1.0.0 in September. In The tidy tools manifesto, Wickham explained the four basic principles to a tidy API.

Max Kuhn, the author of Applied Predictive Modeling and developer of the caret package for machine learning, joined RStudio in November. RStudio previously hired Joseph Rickert away from Microsoft.

AT&T Labs is doing some impressive work with R, including the development of a distributed back-end for out-of-core processing with Hadoop and other data platforms. At the UseR! Conference, Simon Urbanek presented a summary.

It is impossible to enumerate all of the interesting analysis performed in R this year. David Robinson’s analysis of Donald Trump’s tweets resonated; using tidyverse, tidytext, and twitteR, Robinson was able to distinguish between the candidate’s “voice” and that of his staffers on the same account.

On the Revolutions blog, Microsoft’s David Smith surveyed the growing role of women in the R community.

Microsoft and Oracle continued to support enhanced R distributions; we’ll cover these in Part Three of this survey.

Python

Among data scientists surveyed in the 2016 KDNuggets poll, 46% said they use Python for analytics, data mining, data science or machine learning projects in the past twelve months. That figure was up from 30% in 2015, and second only to R. In the 2016 O’Reilly Data Science Salary Survey, Python ranked third behind SQL and R.

Python Software Foundation (PSF) expanded the number and dollar value of its grants. PSF awarded many small grants to groups around the world that promote Python education and training. Other larger grants went to projects such as the design of the Python in Education site, improvements to the packaging ecosystem (see below), support for the Python 3.6 beta 1 release sprint, and support for major Python conferences.

The Python Packaging Authority launched the Warehouse project to replace the existing Python Packaging Index (PyPI.) Goals of the project include updating the visual identity, making packages more discoverable and improving support for package users and maintainers.

PSF released Python 3.6.0 and Python 2.7.13 in December.  The scikit-learn team released Version 0.18 with many enhancements and bug fixes; maintenance release Version 0.18.1 followed soon after that.

Many of the key developments for machine learning in Python were in the form of Python APIs to external packages, such as Spark, TensorFlow, H2O, and Theano. We cover these separately below.

Continuum Analytics expanded its commercial support for Python during the year and added commercially licensed software extensions which we will cover in Part Three.

Apache Software Foundation

There are ten Apache projects with machine learning capabilities. Of these, Spark has the most users, active contributors, commits, and lines of code added. Flink is a close second in active development, although most Flink devotees care more about its event-based streaming than its machine learning capabilities.

Top-Level Projects

There are four top-level Apache projects with machine learning functionality: Spark, Flink, Mahout, and OpenNLP.

Apache Spark

The Spark team delivered Spark 2.0, a major release, and six maintenance releases. Key enhancements to Spark’s machine learning capabilities in this release included additional algorithms in the DataFrames-based API, in PySpark and in SparkR, as well as support for saving and loading ML models and pipelines. The DataFrames-based API is now the primary interface for machine learning in Spark, although the team will continue to support the RDD-based API.

GraphX, Spark’s graph engine, remained static. Spark 2.0 included many other enhancements to Spark’s SQL and Streaming capabilities.

Third parties added 24 machine learning packages to Spark Packages in 2016.

The Spark user community continued to expand. Databricks reported 30% growth in Spark Summit attendees and 240% growth in Spark Meetup members. 18% of respondents to Databricks’ annual user survey reported using Spark’s machine learning library in production, up from 13% in 2015. Among data scientists surveyed in the 2016 KDNuggets poll, 22% said they use Spark; in the 2016 O’Reilly Data Science Salary Survey, 21% of the respondents reported using Spark.

The Databricks survey also showed that 61% of users work with Spark in the public cloud, up from 51% in 2015. As of December 2016, there are Spark services available from each of the major public cloud providers (AWS, Microsoft, IBM and Google), plus value-added managed services for data scientists from Databricks, Qubole, Altiscale and Domino Data.

Apache Flink

dataArtisans’ Mike Winters reviewed Flink’s accomplishments in 2016 without using the words “machine learning.” That’s because Flink’s ML library is still pretty limited, no doubt because Flink’s streaming runtime is the primary user attraction.

While there are many use cases for scoring data streams with predictive models, there are few real-world use cases for training predictive models on data streams. Machine learning models are useful when they generalize to a population, which is only possible when the process that creates the data is in a steady state. If a process is in a steady state, it makes no difference whether you train on batched data or streaming data; the latest event falls into the same mathematical space as previous events. If recent events produce major changes to the model, the process is not in a steady state, so we can’t rely on the model to predict future events.

Flink does not yet support PMML model import, a relatively straightforward enhancement that would enable users to generate predictions on streaming data with models built elsewhere. Most streaming engines support this capability.

There may be use cases where Flink’s event-based streaming is superior to Spark’s micro-batching. For the most part, though, Flink strikes me as an elegant solution looking for a problem to solve.

Apache Mahout

The Mahout team released four double-dot releases. Key enhancements include the Samsara math environment and support for Flink as a back end. Most of the single machine and MapReduce algorithms are deprecated, so what’s left is a library of matrix operators for Spark, H2O, and Flink.

Apache OpenNLP

OpenNLP is a machine learning toolkit for processing natural language text. It’s not dead; it’s just resting.

Incubator Projects

In 2016, two machine learning projects entered the Apache Incubator, while no projects graduated, leaving six in process at the end of the year: SystemML, PredictionIO, MADLib, SINGA, Hivemall, and SAMOA. SystemML and Hivemall are the best bets to graduate in 2017.

Apache SystemML

SystemML is a library of machine learning algorithms that run on Spark and MapReduce, originally developed by IBM Research beginning in 2010. IBM donated the code to Apache in 2015; since then, IBM has committed resources to developing the project. All of the major contributors are IBM employees, which begs the question: what is the point of open-sourcing software if you don’t attract a community of contributors?

The team delivered three releases in 2016, adding algorithms and other features, including deep learning and GPU support. Given the support from IBM, it seems likely that the project will hit Release 1.0 this year and graduate to top-level status.

Usage remains light among people not employed by IBM. There is no “Powered By SystemML” page, which implies that nobody else uses it. IBM added SystemML to BigInsights this year, which expands the potential reach to IBM-loyal enterprises if there are any of those left. It’s possible that IBM uses the software in some of its other products.

Apache PredictionIO

PredictionIO is a machine learning server built on top of an open source stack, including Spark, HBase, Spray, and Elasticsearch. An eponymous startup began work on the project in 2013; Salesforce acquired the company earlier this year and donated the assets to Apache. Apache PredictionIO entered the Apache Incubator in May.

Apache PredictionIO includes many templates for “prebuilt” applications that use machine learning. These include an assortment of recommenders, lead scoring, churn prediction, electric load forecasting, sentiment analysis, and many others.

Since entering the Incubator, the team has delivered several minor releases. Development activity is light, however, which suggests that Salesforce isn’t doing much with this.

Apache SINGA

SINGA is a distributed deep learning project originally developed at the National University of Singapore and donated to Apache in 2015. The platform currently supports feed-forward models, convolutional neural networks, restricted Boltzmann machines, and recurrent neural networks.  It includes a stochastic gradient descent algorithm for model training.

The team has delivered three versions in 2016, culminating with Release 1.0.0 in September. The release number suggests that the team thinks the project will soon graduate to top-level status; they’d better catch up with paperwork, however, since they haven’t filed status reports with Apache in eighteen months.

Apache MADLib

MADLib is a library of machine learning functions that run in PostgreSQL, Greenplum Database and Apache HAWQ (incubating). Work began in 2010 as a collaboration between researchers at UC-Berkeley and data scientists at EMC Greenplum (now Pivotal Software). Pivotal donated the software assets to the Apache Software Foundation in 2015, and the project entered Apache incubator status.

In 2016, the team delivered three minor releases. The active contributor base is tiny, averaging three contributors per month.

According to a survey conducted by the team, most users have deployed the software on Greenplum database. Since Greenplum currently ranks 35th in the DB-Engines popularity ranking and is sinking fast, this project doesn’t have anywhere to go unless the team can port it to a broader set of platforms.

Apache Hivemall

Originally developed by Treasure Data and donated to the Apache Software Foundation, 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. The team organized in September 2016 and plans an initial release in Q1 2017.

Given the relatively mature state of the code, large installed base for Hive, and high representation of Spark committers on the PMC, Hivemall is a good bet for top-level status in 2017.

Apache SAMOA

SAMOA entered the Apache Incubator two years ago and died. It’s a set of distributed streaming machine learning algorithms that run on top of S4, Storm, and Samza.

As noted above, under Flink, there isn’t much demand for streaming machine learning. S4 is moribund, Storm is old news and Samza is going nowhere; so, you can think of SAMOA as like an Estate Wagon built on an Edsel chassis. Unless the project team wants to port the code to Spark or Flink, this project is toast.

Machine Learning Projects

This category includes general-purpose machine learning platforms that support an assortment of algorithms for classification, regression, clustering and association. Based on reported usage and development activity, we cover H2O, XGBoost, and Weka in this category.

Three additional projects are worth noting, as they offer graphical user interfaces and appeal to business users. KNIME and RapidMiner provide open-source editions of their software together with commercially licensed versions; we cover these in Part Three of this survey. Orange is a project of the Bioinformatics Laboratory, Faculty of Computer and Information Science, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Vowpal Wabbit gets an honorable mention. Known to Kaggleists as a fast and efficient learner, VW’s user base is currently too small to warrant full coverage. The project is now domiciled at Microsoft Research. It will be interesting to see if MSFT does anything with it.

H2O

H2O is an open source machine learning project of H2O.ai, a commercial venture. (We’ll cover H2O.ai’s business accomplishments in Part Three of this report.)

In 2016, the H2O team updated Sparkling Water for compatibility with Spark 2.0. Sparkling Water enables data scientists to combine Spark’s data ingestion and ETL capabilities with H2O machine learning algorithms. The team also delivered the first release of Steam, a component that supports model management and deployment at scale, and a preview of Deep Water for deep learning.

For 2017, H2O.ai plans to add an automated machine learning capability and deliver a production release of Deep Water, with support for TensorFlow, MXNet and Caffe back ends.

According to H2O.ai, H2O more than doubled its user base in 2016.

XGBoost

A project of the University of Washington’s Distributed Machine Learning Common (DMLC), XGBoost is an optimized distributed gradient boosting library used by top data scientists, who appreciate its scalability and accuracy. Tianqi Chen and Carlos Guestrin published a paper earlier this year describing the algorithm. Machine learning startups DataRobot and Dataiku added XGBoost to their platforms in 2016.

Weka

Weka is a collection of machine learning algorithms written in Java, developed at the University of Waikato in New Zealand and distributed under GPU license. Pentaho and RapidMiner include the software in their commercial products.

We include Weka in this review because it is still used by a significant minority of data scientists; 11% of those surveyed in the annual KDnuggets poll said they use the software. However, reported usage is declining rapidly, and development has virtually flatlined in the past few years, which suggests that this project may go the way of the eponymous flightless bird.

Deep Learning Frameworks

We include in this category software whose primary purpose is deep learning. Many general-purpose machine learning packages also support deep learning, but the packages listed here are purpose-built for the task.

Since they were introduced in late 2015, Google’s TensorFlow and Microsoft’s Cognitive Toolkit have rocketed from nothing to leadership in the category. With backing from Amazon and others, MXNet is coming on strong, while Theano and Keras have active communities in the Python world. Meanwhile, older and more mature frameworks, such as Caffe, DL4J, and Torch, are getting buried by the new kids on the block.

Money talks; commercial support matters. It’s a safe bet that projects backed by Google, Microsoft and Amazon will pull away from the pack in 2017.

TensorFlow

TensorFlow is the leading deep learning framework, measured by reported usage or by development activity. Launched in 2015, Google’s deep learning platform went from zero to leadership in record time.

In April, Google released TensorFlow 0.8, with support for distributed processing. The development team shipped four additional releases during the year, with many additional enhancements, including:

  • Python 3.5 support
  • iOS support
  • Microsoft Windows support (selected functions)
  • CUDA 8 support
  • HDFS support
  • k-Means clustering
  • WALS matrix factorization
  • Iterative solvers for linear equations, linear least squares, eigenvalues and singular values

Also in April, DeepMind, Google’s AI research group, announced plans to switch from Torch to TensorFlow.

Google released its image captioning model in TensorFlow in September. The Google Brain team reported that this model correctly identified 94% of the images in the ImageNet 2012 benchmark.

In December, Constellation Research selected TensorFlow as 2016’s best innovation in enterprise software, citing its extensive use in projects throughout Google and strong developer community.

Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit

In 2016, Microsoft rebranded its deep learning framework as Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit (MCT) and released Version 2.0 to beta, with a new Python API and many other enhancements. In VentureBeat, Jordan Novet reports.

At the Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) Conference in early December, Cray announced that it successfully ran MCT on a Cray XC50 supercomputer with more than 1,000 NVIDIA Tesla P100 GPU accelerators.

Separately, Microsoft and NVIDIA announced a collaborative effort to support MCT on Tesla GPUs in Azure or on-premises, and on the NVIDIA DGX-1 supercomputer with Pascal GPUs.

Theano

Theano, a project of the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms at the University of Montreal, is a Python library for computationally intensive scientific investigation. It allows users to efficiently define, optimize and evaluate mathematical expressions with multi-dimensional arrays. (Reference here.) Like CNTK and TensorFlow, Theano represents neural networks as a symbolic graph.

The team released Theano 0.8 in March, with support for multiple GPUs. Two additional double-dot releases during the year added support for CuDNN v.5 and fixed bugs.

MXNet

MXNet, a scalable deep learning library, is another project of the University of Washington’s Distributed Machine Learning Common (DMLC). It runs on CPUs, GPUs, clusters, desktops and mobile phones, and supports APIs for Python, R, Scala, Julia, Matlab, and Javascript.

The big news for MXNet in 2016 was its selection by Amazon Web Services. Craig Matsumoto reports; Serdar Yegulalp explains; Eric David dives deeper; Martin Heller reviews.

Keras

Keras is a high-level neural networks library that runs on TensorFlow or Theano. Originally authored by Google’s Francois Chollet, Keras had more than 200 active contributors in 2016.

In the Huffington Post, Chollet explains how Keras differs from other DL frameworks. Short version: Keras abstracts deep learning architecture from the computational back end, which made it easy to port from Theano to TensorFlow.

DL4J

Updated, based on comments from Skymind CEO Chris Nicholson.

Deeplearning4j (DL4J) is a project of Skymind, a commercial venture. IT is an open-source, distributed deep-learning library written for Java and Scala. Integrated with Hadoop and Spark, DL4J runs on distributed GPUs and CPUs. Skymind benchmarks well against Caffe, TensorFlow, and Torch.

While Amazon, Google, and Microsoft promote deep learning on their cloud platforms, Skymind seeks to deliver deep learning on standard enterprise architecture, for organizations that want to train models on premises. I’m skeptical that’s a winning strategy, but it’s a credible strategy. Skymind landed a generous seed round in September, which should keep the lights on long enough to find out. Intel will like a deep learning framework that runs on Xeon boxes, so there’s a possible exit.

Skymind proposes to use Keras for a Python API, which will make the project more accessible to data scientists.

Caffe

Caffe, a project of the Berkeley Vision and Learning Center (BVLC) is a deep learning framework released under an open source BSD license.  Stemming from BVLC’s work in vision and image recognition, Caffe’s core strength is its ability to model a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN). Caffe is written in C++.  Users interact with Caffe through a Python API or through a command line interface.  Deep learning models trained in Caffe can be compiled for operation on most devices, including Windows.

I don’t see any significant news for Caffe in 2016.

Disruption: It’s All About the Business Model

This post is an excerpt adapted from my book, Disruptive Analytics, available soon from Apress and Amazon. (Note: under my contract with Apress I am legally obligated to link to their site, but it’s not yet possible to order the book there. Use the Amazon link if you want the book.)

The analytics business is booming. Technology consultant IDC estimates total spending for analytic services, software and hardware exceeded $120 billion in 2015; through 2019, IDC forecasts that spending will increase to $187 billion, an 11% compound annual growth rate.

Powerful forces are at work in the economy today:

  • Digital transformation of the economy and rapidly declining storage costs combine to create a flood of data.
  • The number of data sources is exploding. Data sources are everywhere: on-premises, in the cloud, in consumers’ pockets, in vehicles, in RFID chips, and so forth.
  • The “long march” of Moore’s Law: cheap computing power makes machine learning and deep learning techniques practical.

So, if analytics is such a hot field, why are the industry leaders struggling?

  • Oracle’s cloud revenue growth fails to offset declining software and hardware sales.
  • SAP’s cloud revenue grows, but total software revenue is flat.
  • IBM reports seventeen straight quarters of declining revenue. Mass layoffs
  • Microsoft underperforms analysts’ expectations despite 120% growth in Azure cloud revenue.
  • Predictive analytics leader SAS reports five years of low single-digit revenue growth; Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer departs.
  • Data warehousing leader Teradata shuffles its leadership team after four years of declining product revenue.

Product quality is not the problem. Each company offers products that industry analysts rate highly:

  • Forrester and Gartner recognize IBM, SAS, SAP and Oracle as leaders in data quality tools.
  • Gartner rates Oracle, SAP, IBM, Microsoft and Teradata as leaders in data warehousing.
  • Forrester rates Microsoft, SAP, SAS, and Oracle as leaders in agile business intelligence.
  • Gartner recognizes SAS and IBM as leaders in Advanced Analytics.

The answer, in a word, is disruption. Clayton Christensen of the Harvard Business School outlined the theory of disruptive innovation in 1997. Summarizing the argument briefly:

  • Industries consist of value networks, collections of suppliers, channels, and buyers linked by relationships.
  • Innovations disrupt industries when they create a new value network.
  • Not all innovations are disruptive. Many are introduced by market leaders to sustain a competitive position.
  • Disruptive innovations tend to be introduced by outsiders.
  • Purely technological innovation is not disruptive; what matters is the business model enabled by the new technology.

For a more detailed exposition of the theory, read Christensen’s book.

Christensen identified two forms of disruption. Low-end disruption occurs when industry leaders enhance products faster than customers can assimilate the enhancements; the disruptor enters the market with a “good enough” product and a better value proposition. The disruptor’s innovation makes it possible to serve customers at a lower cost than the industry leaders can deliver.

New market disruption takes place when the disruptor innovates in ways enabling it to serve customers that are not served by the industry leaders.

Technology alone does not disrupt industries; incumbents can and do innovate. New business models enabled by new technology are the cutting edge of disruption. Frequently, incumbents cannot respond effectively to new business models; this is partly due to “blinders” caused by changing value networks, and partly out of fear of cannibalizing existing business arrangements. Two business models, in particular, are disrupting the business analytics world today:

  • Open source software business models offer an increasingly attractive alternative to commercial software licensing. The Hadoop ecosystem displaces conventional data warehousing; R and Python displace commercial software for advanced analytics.
  • The elastic business model made possible by cloud computing undercuts conventional software licensing. When customers pay only for what they use, they pay a lot less.

Disruption does not mean that leading companies like Oracle, IBM and SAS will go out of business. Blockbuster may be the poster child for disrupted businesses, but most cases are less dire; for the business analytics leaders, disruption means they will struggle to grow. Slow growth is less benign than it sounds. As McKinsey notes, the rule today is “Grow or Go”: companies that cannot define a credible growth strategy will be acquired by other companies or by private equity.

The alternative to revenue growth is increasing profitability. But when revenue is flat or declining, that usually means job cuts.

job-cuts
Disruption looks like this.

Consider what happened to Teradata. Late in 2012, the company started missing sales targets; in early 2013, it stunned investors by reporting an absolute decline in sales. Management offered excuses; Wall Street punished the stock, driving it down by half in the face of a bull market for tech stocks.

Teradata’s leadership continued to miss sales and earnings targets; Wall Street drove the stock price down to a fraction of its 2012 peak. While it is tempting to blame the problem on poor leadership, Teradata’s persistent failure to accurately forecast its sales and earnings is a clear sign that its leadership no longer understood the value networks in which they operated. The world had changed; the value networks created in Teradata’s rise to leadership no longer existed; the mental models managers used to understand the market no longer worked.

There are two distinct types of disruption. The first is disruptive innovation within the analytics value chain. Here are two recent examples:

Hadoop. The Hadoop ecosystem disrupts the data warehousing industry from below. Hadoop does not do everything a relational database can do, but it does just enough to offer an attractive value proposition for the right use cases. When first introduced, Hadoop’s capabilities were very limited compared to data warehouse appliances. But Hadoop’s flexibility and low cost were highly attractive for applications that did not need the performance and features of a data warehouse appliance. While established vendors struggle to maintain flat and declining revenue, companies that offer solutions built on Hadoop grow at double-digit rates.

Tableau. Tableau virtually created the market for agile, self-service discovery. The charting and visualization features in Tableau are available in mainstream business intelligence tools. But while business intelligence vendors target the IT organization and continually add complexity to their product, Tableau targets the end user with a simple, easy to use and versatile tool. As a result, Tableau has increased its revenue tenfold in five years, leapfrogging over many other BI vendors.

Disruption within the analytics value chain is pertinent for readers who plan to invest in analytics technology for their organization. Technologies at risk of disruption are risky investments; they may have abbreviated useful lives, and their suppliers may suffer from business disruption. Taking a “wait-and-see” attitude towards disrupted technologies makes good sense, if only because prices will likely decline in the future.

The second type is disruption by innovations in analytics. Examples of disruption by analytics are harder to find, but they do exist:

Credit Scoring. General-purpose credit scoring introduced by Fair, Isaac and Co. in 1987 virtually created a national market in credit cards.  Previously, banks issued credit cards to their local customers, with whom they had an established relationship. Uniform credit scoring enabled a few large issuers to identify creditworthy clients in the general population, without a prior relationship.

Algorithmic Trading. When the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission authorized electronic trading in regulated securities in 1998, market participants quickly moved to develop algorithms that could arbitrage between markets, arbitrage between indexes and the underlying stocks and exploit other short-term opportunities. Traders that most effectively deployed machine learning for electronic trading grew at the expense of other traders.

For startups and analytics practitioners, disruption by analytics is essential. Startups must disrupt their industries if they want to succeed. Using analytics to differentiate a product is a way to create a disruptive business model or to create new markets.

There is a common theme across the four examples: the business model enabled by the technology and not the technology itself drives the disruption. Hadoop and Tableau do less than the legacy products they compete against; what they do, however, is sufficient for a class of use cases, for which they provide a better value proposition. Credit scoring and algorithmic trading created fundamentally new ways to lend and invest; while these applications attracted technological innovations as they expanded, it was the new business models they created that disrupted the lending and investing industries.

To illustrate the importance of the business model, consider the case of columnar serialization, a significant innovation in data warehousing that did not disrupt the industry. In 2005, Vertica introduced a commercial columnar database, a technology that is well-suited to high-performance analytics (as we explain in Chapter Two of Disruptive Analytics). Vertica successfully built a customer base, but did not create a unique business model; by 2010 the leading data warehouse vendors had introduced columnar serialization into their products. HP acquired Vertica in 2011 for about $250 million, a price well below the $1.7 billion IBM paid for Netezza, a competing data warehouse appliance vendor.

Here are some takeaways for the reader to consider.

First, if you want to invest in new business analytics technology, ask yourself:

  • Are we paying for what we use, or for what we might use?
  • What particular value do commercial software options offer over open source alternatives?

Second, if you want to use analytics to create a disruptive innovation, ask yourself:

  • What new business model does this support?
  • Can we disrupt incumbents from below with a better value proposition?
  • Can we reach new markets and new customers who are underserved by existing value networks?

There is one additional takeaway: nobody ever disrupted anything by managing data. Keep that in mind the next time a data warehousing vendor tries to tell you that their Big Box is a “strategic” investment. We’ll explore that in another excerpt from the book.

Big Analytics Roundup (July 25, 2016)

We have some more summer reading this week; plus, Splice Machine announces availability of its open source Community Edition, and Google launches two new machine learning APIs. There are so many Spark stories I’ve created a special section for them. Plus we have the usual explainers, perspectives, and news.

Quant headhunter Linda Burtch repeats her survey of working analysts in her network. Preference for using SAS has steadily declined over the three years she has conducted the poll; this year a clear majority chose R or Python over SAS. Preference for open source correlates with education; the more you know, the less likely you are to use SAS.

Oracle, IBM, SAP, and Microsoft have all reported Q2 revenue and earnings, but Teradata is still crunching the numbers. I’ll do a general earnings roundup when TDC gets around to reporting its numbers. TDC’s stock price has outperformed the others since June 30, which suggests the market expects a good second quarter. Meanwhile, TDC acquires another consultancy and reveals who bought Aprimo.

Summer Reading

Adrian Colyer lists his five favorite papers from the past several months and outlines his philosophy, which you must read. And here is another link to last week’s top paper on data bazaars versus data cathedrals.

Splice Machine Shifts to Open Core

Hadoop-based RDBMS vendor Splice Machine announces general availability for its open source community edition and offers a sandbox hosted on AWS.  Sam Dean approves; Andrew Brust reports; Dave Ramel explains. Jack Germain describes Splice Machine’s changing business model.

Spark Stories

— Databricks’ Spark survey is still accepting responses. Go and fill it out if you have not done so already.

— The Spark PMC has voted favorably on a release candidate for Spark 2.0, which is now in packaging for general availability.

— On the Databricks blog, Jules Damji corrals Spark news from the past two weeks.

— Alex Woodie touts LevyxSpark, an enhanced Spark distribution based on open source Apache Spark. LevyxSpark includes some open source enhancements, plus Levyx Helium, an SSD-based key-value store.

— In a webcast, Alexander Ulanov summarizes options for deep learning on Spark.

— Sam Weaver explains how to use the new MongoDB connector for Spark.

Explainers

— Nita Dembla and Gopal Vijayaraghavan explain improvements in Hive 2.1.

— Siddharth Anand introduces Apache Airflow (Incubating), a platform to author, schedule, and monitor DAGs. Sounds like Apache Beam.

— Data Artisans’ Stephan Ewan explains savepoints in Apache Flink.

Perspectives

— Jack Clark profiles Google’s land grab in deep learning. Short version: TensorFlow is blowing away Caffe, Torch, Theano, dl4j, CNTK, and DSSTNE.

— Greg Satell theorizes about Google’s open source strategy as if a “razor and blades” strategy is something new and brilliant.

— In Fortune, Barb Darrow profiles cloud computing’s disruptive impact.

— Sam Dean confuses machine learning with artificial intelligence.

— Syncsort’s Paige Roberts interviews Dr. Ellen Friedman.

— Drew Breunig poses a theory about the business implications of machine learning.

— BuzzFeed’s Adam Kelleher attempts to explain bias, fails.

— IBM exec Rob Thomas co-authors a blog about machine learning. It’s about what you would expect from an IBM exec.

Open Source News

— Open source columnar storage engine Apache Kudu graduates to top-level status.

— Apache Chukwa announces Release 0.8, with security bug fixes, FWIW. Chukwa captures logs from distributed systems for monitoring and analysis. No, I never heard of it either.

Commercial Announcements

— Google announces open beta for its Cloud Natural Language and Cloud Speech APIs.

Hardware News

— Inspur, which claims to be China’s largest server manufacturer, announces availability of the Memory1 line of servers for big analytics. Inspur uses high-capacity flash DIMMs and memory expansion software to deliver up to 2TB of memory per server and up to 80TB per rack.

— Startup Wave Computing announces plans for a family of deep learning computers. Good luck to them. The history of computing isn’t kind to special purpose machines, which tend to eventually get buried by general purpose machines.

Funding News

— Redis Labs lands a $14 million “C” round led by Bain Capital and Carmel Ventures. Redis claims 6,200 enterprise customers and 55,000 accounts for its cloud service.

— Sift Security emerges from stealth, announces $3.25 million in angel funding. Sift uses graph analytics running on Spark and TitanDB to identify linked threats and incidents.

Big Analytics Roundup (July 18, 2016)

We have lots of fresh material to read on the beach this week — most notably, the “read of the week” below, which might be better labeled as the “read of the year.”  We have another streaming engine to kick around, a slew of earnings releases in the coming week, and some new releases from GraphLab Dato Turi.

If you haven’t already completed Databricks’ Spark survey, stop reading this and go do the survey.

On Wednesday, July 20, Teradata presents results of an “independent” benchmark of SQL on Hadoop engines, including Hive, Impala, Presto, and SparkSQL. Missing from the mix: Teradata Aster.

Call for Papers

CFP is open for Apache: Big Data Europe in Seville. Conference is November 14-16; CFP closes September 9

Read of the Week

Stop building data cathedrals; instead, build data bazaars. Adrian Colyer explains.

Yet Another Streaming Engine

The folks at Concord.io benchmark their product against Spark 1.6; not surprisingly, the results favor Concord.io. In Datanami, Alex Woodie touts the results. He should read his own summary of the recent OpsClarity survey, which contained this nugget:

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 8.26.11 AM

In other words, the whole debate about “true streaming” versus micro-batching is irrelevant to most organizations because they don’t need subsecond performance. It’s like arguing that a Ferrari is better than a Toyota Camry because the sports car can go 180 mph. Here in Mudville, you’ll be arrested if you go that fast, so the Camry’s big trunk and rear seat leg room look pretty good.

Performance is cool. But the current spate of streaming engines will not be resolved by performance tests. Commercial support, integration, depth of features, security and stability will determine which engines survive the shakeout.

Second Quarter Earnings Roundup

Five of the top six Business Analytics software vendors tracked by IDC are public companies, with quarterly earnings reports. (SAS is privately held). Here is the outlook for earnings releases:

— Oracle’s fiscal year ends May 31. Oracle does not report analytics revenue separately. For the fiscal quarter ended May 31, 2016, Oracle reports that growth in revenue from SaaS and PaaS cloud services barely offset a 12% decline in software license revenue, for overall flat software and services revenue.

— SAP expects to release Q2 financial results on Wednesday, July 20.

— Declining giant IBM will announce another quarter of fail on Monday, July 18.

— Microsoft will announce quarterly and fiscal year-end results on Tuesday, July 19.

— Teradata, like SAP, IBM, and Microsoft, closed the second quarter on June 30, but can’t crunch the numbers until Tuesday, August 2. Keep that in mind the next time TDC tries to sell you on their fast number crunching capabilities.

Explainers

— Ravelin’s Stephen Whitworth explains how to real-time fraud detection with Google BigQuery.

— Carol McDonald explains how to use Spark’s Random Forests capability, demonstrating with a loan credit risk dataset.

— Three more papers from Adrian Colyer:

  • Ambry: LinkedIn’s scalable geo-distributed object store.
  • Spheres of influence for viral marketing.
  • Progressive skyline computation.

— On the Hortonworks blog, Roshan Naik and Sapin Amin explain how they benchmarked performance improvements in Apache Storm 1.0.

— Jules Damji explains Spark APIs: RDDs, DataFrames, and Datasets.

— Lewis Gavin offers five tips to improve the performance of Spark apps.

— Qubole’s Rajat Venkatesh explains how to optimize queries with materialized views and Quark, Qubole’s SQL abstraction layer.

— In a recorded webinar, Hossein Falaki and Denny Lee explain how to perform exploratory analysis on large datasets with Spark and R.

— On the Revolutions blog, Joe Rickert explains the capabilities of several new R packages in CRAN.

— Barath Ravichander explains how to use R with SQL.

— Microsoft’s Sheri Gilley explains the ins and outs of SQL Server, PowerBI, and R.

— Roel M. Hogervorst explains how to submit an R package to CRAN. Bob Rudis elaborates.

— The Rcpp package enables R packages to leverage C or C++ code.  Dirk Eddelbuettel reveals that more than 700 CRAN packages now use Rcpp.

Perspectives

— On KDnuggets, deep learning mavens offer predictions about deep learning.

— Daniel Gutierrez interviews MapR’s Jack Norris, who is very excited about MapR.

— Alex Woodie describes Prama, TransUnion’s open source analytics platform built on MapR and Apache Drill.

Open Source Announcements

— Basho donates Riak TS for time series analysis to open source.

— Microsoft announces Microsoft R Client, a free development tool for use with Microsoft R Open.

— Apache Atlas announces version 0.7.0 – incubating.

Commercial Announcements

— GridGain, the company behind Apache Ignite, reports a 300X sales increase in the first half of 2016, which is not too surprising since the company was in stealth mode until last January.

— Microsoft announces GA for Azure SQL Data Warehouse, which may surprise those who thought it was already GA.

GraphLab Dato Turi announces the release of GraphLab Create 2.0, Turi Distributed and Turi Predictive Services. Marketing staff works feverishly to change brand names on all documents.

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.

Big Analytics Roundup (November 2, 2015)

Spark Summit Europe, Oracle Open World and IBM Insights all met last week, as did Cloudera’s Wrangle conference for data scientists.

But in the really important news, KC beats the Mets to take the Series.

Top news from the Spark Summit is Typesafe’s announcement of Spark support, plus some insight into what’s coming in Spark 1.6.  I will publish a separate roundup for the Spark Summit next week  when presentations are available.

Nine stories this week:

(1) Typesafe Announces Spark Support

Typesafe, the commercial venture behind Scala and Akka, announces commercial support for Apache Spark.   Planned service offerings include an offer of one day business hour response to questions for projects in development.  For production, SLAs range from 4 hour turnaround during business hours up to 24/7 with one hour turnaround.

(2) More Funding for Alteryx

The New York Times reports that Alteryx has landed an $85 million “C” round, led by Iconiq Capital.  That makes a total of $163 million in four rounds for the company.

(3) Oracle Adds Spark to Cloud

At Oracle Open World, Oracle announces Oracle Cloud Platform for Big Data, a PaaS offering;  Dave Ramel covers the story.   Key new bits include automated ingestion, preparation, repair, enrichment and governance, all built in Spark; and a DBaaS offering with Hadoop, Spark and NoSQL data services.

(4) IBM Adds Spark Support to Analytics Server

Full story here.  Great news for those who want to use the high-end version of the second most popular data mining workbench with the third and fourth most popular Hadoop distributions.

(5) Ned Explains Zeppelin

Ned’s Blog provides a nice Zeppelin walk-through, noting the UI’s rich list of language interpreters, which currently includesL HiveQL, Spark, Flink, Postgres, HAWQ, Tajo, AngularJS, Cassandra, Ignite, Phoenix, Geode, Kylin and Lens.

(6) IIT and ANL Deliver BSP with ZHT

Researchers from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Argonne Labs and Hortonworks report that they have implemented a graph processing system based on Bulk Synchronous Processing on ZHT, a distributed key-value store.   Nicole Hemsoth reports.   The new engine, called Pregelix, when benchmarked against Giraph, GraphLab, GraphX and Hama, outshines them all.

(7) Wrangle 2015 Meets in SFO

Cloudera’s Justin Kestelyn summarizes the event, which hosted data science teams from the likes of Uber, Facebook and Airbnb.  Tony Baer offers the trite perspective that data science is about people.

(8) MapR Offers Free Spark Training

MapR announces availability of its first free Apache Spark course as part of its Hadoop On-Demand Training program.  No word on quality, but it’s hard to beat the price.

(9) Cloudera Pushes HUE for Spark

On the Cloudera Engineering blog, Justin Kestelyn explains how to use HUE’s notebook app with SQL and Spark.

Forrester “Wave” for Predictive Analytics

Last week, Forrester published its 2015 “Wave” report for Big Data Predictive Analytics Solutions.  You can pay $2,495 and buy it directly from Forrester (here), or you can get the same report for free from SAS (here).

The report is inaptly named, as it commingles software that scales to Big Data (such as Alpine Chorus) with software that does not scale (such as Dell Statistica.)  Nor does Big Data capability appear to impact the ratings; otherwise Alpine and Oracle would have scored higher than they did, and SAP would have scored lower.  IBM SPSS alone does not scale without Netezza or BigInsights; SAS only scales if you add one of its distributed in-memory back ends.  These products aren’t listed among the evaluated software components.

Also, Forrester seriously needs to hire an editor.  Alteryx does not currently offer software branded as “Alteryx Analytics”, nor does SAS currently offer a bundle called the “SAS Analytics Suite.”

Forrester previously published this wave in 2013; key changes since then:

  • Among the Leaders, IBM edged past SAS for the top rating.
  • SAP’s rating did not change but its brand presence improved considerably, which demonstrates the uselessness of brand presence as a measure of value.
  • Oracle showed up at the beauty show this time, and improved its position slightly.
  • Statistica’s rating did not change, but its brand presence improved due to the acquisition by Dell.  (See SAP, above).  Shockingly, the addition of “Toad Data Point” to the Dell/Statistica solution did not move the needle.
  • Angoss improved its ratings and brand strength slightly.
  • TIBCO and Salford switched their analyst relations budgets from Forrester to Gartner and are gone from this report.
  • KXEN and Revolution Analytics are also gone due to acquisitions.  Interestingly, the addition of KXEN to SAP had no impact on SAP’s ratings, thus demonstrating that two plus zero is still two.
  • RapidMiner, Alteryx, FICO, Alpine, KNIME and Predixion are all new to the report.

Gartner issued its “Magic Quadrant” back in February; the comparisons are interesting:

  • KNIME is a “leader” in Gartner’s view, while Forrester considers the product to be decidedly mediocre.  Seems to me that Forrester has it about right.
  • Oracle did not participate in the Gartner MQ.
  • RapidMiner, a “leader” in the Gartner MQ, scores very well on Forrester’s “Current Offering” axis, but less well on “Strategy.”   This strikes me as a good way for Forrester to sell strategy consulting.
  • Microsoft and Alpine landed in Gartner’s Visionary quadrant but scored relatively low in Forrester’s assessment.  Both vendors have appealing strategies, and need to roll up their sleeves to deliver.
  • Predixion trails the pack in both reports.  Reminds me of high school gym class.

Forrester’s methodology places more weight on the currently available software, while Gartner places more emphasis on the vendor’s “vision.”  Vision is certainly important to consider when selecting a software vendor, but leadership tends to be self-sustaining; today’s category leaders are likely to be tomorrow’s category leaders, except when markets are disrupted — in which case analysts are rarely able to pick winners.

Gartner Advanced Analytics Magic Quadrant 2015

Gartner’s latest Magic Quadrant for Advanced Analytics is out; for reference, the 2014 report is here; analysis from Doug Henschen here.  Key changes from last year:

  • Revolution Analytics moves from Visionary to Niche
  • Alpine and Microsoft move from Niche to Visionary
  • Oracle, Actuate and Megaputer drop out of the analysis
Gartner 2015 Magic Quadrant, Advanced Analytics
Gartner 2015 Magic Quadrant, Advanced Analytics

Gartner changed its evaluation criteria this year to reflect only “native” (e.g. proprietary) functionality; as a result, Revolution Analytics dropped from Visionary to Niche.   Other vendors, it seems, complained to Gartner that the old criteria were “unfair” to those who don’t leverage open source functionality.  If Gartner applies this same reasoning to other categories, it will have to drop coverage of Hortonworks and evaluate Cloudera solely on the basis of Impala.  🙂

Interestingly, Gartner’s decision to ignore open source functionality did not impact its evaluation of open source vendors RapidMiner and KNIME.

Based on modest product enhancements from Version 4.0 to Version 5.0, Alpine jumped from Niche to Visionary.   Gartner’s inclusion criteria for the category mandate that “a vendor must offer advanced analytics functionality as a stand-alone product…”; this appears to exclude Alpine, which runs in Pivotal Greenplum database (*).  Gartner’s criteria are flexible, however, and I’m sure it’s purely coincidental that Gartner analyst Gareth Herschel flacks for Alpine.

(*) Yes, I know — Alpine supports other databases and Hadoop as well.   The number of Alpine customers who use it in anything other than Pivotal can meet in Starbucks at one of the little tables in the back.

Gartner notes that Alpine “still lacks depth of functionality. Several model techniques are either absent or not fully developed within its tool.”  Well, yes, that does seem important.   Alpine’s promotion to Visionary appears to rest on its Chorus collaboration capability (originally developed by Greenplum).  It seems, however, that customers don’t actually use Chorus very much; as Gartner notes, “adoption is currently slow and the effort to boost it may divert Alpine’s resources away from the core product.”

Microsoft’s reclassification from Niche to Visionary rests purely on the basis of Azure Machine Learning (AML), a product still in beta at the time of the evaluation.  Hardly anyone uses MSFT’s “other” offering for analytics (SQL Server Analytic Services, or SSAS), apparently for good reason:

  • “The 2014 edition of SSAS lacks breadth, depth and usability, in comparison with the Leaders’ offerings.”
  • “Microsoft received low scores from SSAS customers for its willingness to incorporate their feedback into future versions of the product.”
  • “SSAS is a low-performing product (with poor features, little data exploration and questionable usability.”

On paper, AML is an attractive product, though it maxes out at 10GB of data; however, it seems optimistic to rate Microsoft as “Visionary” purely on the basis of a beta product.  “Visionary” is a stretch in any case — analytic software that runs exclusively in the cloud is by definition a niche product, as it appeals only to a certain segment of the market.  AML’s most attractive capabilities are its ability to run Python and R — and, as we noted above — these no longer carry any weight with Gartner.

Dropping Actuate and Megaputer from the MQ simply recognizes the obvious.  It’s not clear why these vendors were included last year in the first place.

It appears that Oracle chose not to participate in the MQ this year.  Analytics that run in a single database platform are by definition niche products — you can’t use Oracle Advanced Analytics if you don’t have Oracle Database, and few customers will choose Oracle Database because it has Oracle Advanced Analytics.

 

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.