Splunk's big data promise: Google for your visual analytics

Splunk, nominally used for system logs, shows signs of evolving into a data processing platform via Tableau Software partnership

Splunk Enterprise started its life as a log-analysis tool, but it has grown by leaps and bounds to become a broad-reaching platform for analyzing machine-generated data. Now it appears to be on the verge of making another leap and becoming a full-blown software ecosystem for big data.

That's the view taken by Michael Vizard of Programmable Web, when Splunk sent out word it was partnering with Tableau Software. The newest versions of Tableau's visual analytics package, used for creating visualizations of machine-generated data, lets analysts use Splunk Enterprise as a native ODBC data source thanks to Splunk's newly written driver for same.

It'll take more than one company, and more than one data pipe, to make Splunk into a full-blown data platform, but starting by pairing up those two outfits makes sense, since the two companies have a good deal of vision in common. Tableau was described by its own CEO as "the Google of data visualization," and Splunk itself could be described as "Google for your server logs."

How would such a platform shape up against some of the other current big-buzz names in big data -- say, Hadoop? By differentiating on scope and focus, from the look of it. Splunk has remained focused on one particular kind of analysis throughout its lifetime: crunching machine-generated data and making it human-searchable. Even if it remains that tightly focused as a platform -- all signs show it will -- Splunk still ought to find a dedicated audience given the kind of need it fulfills.

Hadoop is more immediately identifiable as a platform because it's a good deal more general. It's better thought of as a framework for widely distributed operations rather than just an engine for MapReduce operations. But it's also less focused, and the varieties of analytics offered by both Splunk and Tableau fill a real and immediate need -- one that doesn't require a lot of heavy lifting to be made useful, either.

Splunk's price tag and closed source code have drawn ire in some circles, driving open source rivals to develop competing products like Graylog2. So far, those products exist mostly as stand-alone items, not as the basis for a whole ecosystem. Ironically, some of the components used to build Graylog2, like Elasticsearch, are on the verge of becoming platforms of their own.

To that end, if Splunk starts taking off as a dedicated analytics platform, it may start experiencing even more open source competition from an entirely different direction, and not as a product to solve a specific need.

This story, "Splunk's big data promise: Google for your visual analytics," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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