IBM's new data tools are low-maintenance, Watson-powered

IBM's data-related services -- dashDB, DataWorks, Cloudant Local, and Watson Analytics -- aim to be easier and more intuitive

Big data analytics hand touchscreen user man

IBM's Insight 2014 conference brought four major announcements, all related to expansions of or revision to IBM's data services.

Foremost among them is IBM dashDB, billed as "a fully managed data warehouse service in the cloud." The provisioning and management of the service are handled automatically, with IBM claiming the use of in-memory technology for accelerated performance.

DashDB's functions are strongly reminiscent of Snowflake, a (theoretically) no-maintenance data-warehouse-as-a-service system created by ex-Oracle engineers and helped by ex-Microsoftie Bob Muglia. Snowflake doesn't include analytics, but dashDB makes a point of including them through "an ecosystem of partner BI and ETL tools," including scripting powered by the R analytics language.

IBM also announced DataWorks, a data access and refinement tool that "provides access to clean data anytime and anywhere -- so you can put it to good use," as described on IBM's site. The service ingests, cleans, and provides data via a set of APIs, which can then be embedded by developers into applications as needed.

Third, IBM is releasing Cloudant Local, an on-premises, fully supported version of its Cloudant DBaaS software. It can run as-is, or it can replicate to (or from) another instance of the software, whether cloud-hosted or local.

Cloudant, originally a privately held company, was a DBaaS outfit that offered its own hosted variant of the NoSQL Apache CouchDB application and was already running on IBM's SoftLayer cloud infrastructure platform. IBM bought Cloudant earlier this year and planned to tie Cloudant into its existing analytics and big data products.

Finally, there's IBM Watson Analytics, an extension of IBM's Watson machine-learning service to the analytics tools space. The idea is to allow users to ask plain English questions about data, then Watson will generate statistics and visualizations from them. IBM is trying hard to move Watson past the gimmick phase, recently exposing APIs for several of its most business-applicable functions; Watson Analytics appears to be even more immediately business-oriented than the previous offerings.

All of the above services will be made available in some form through IBM's Bluemix PaaS. Introduced earlier this year, IBM touts Bluemix as a single, service-based point of access for all its business software and middleware.