Last year, Salesforce showed off Wave, a way to pull data into Salesforce's cloud and generate business-friendly analytics from it.
Now comes the next step: Using Wave as an analytics service for data that companies already have stored in Hadoop or similar repositories. Assuming, that is, those same big-data customers haven't already gone with an existing self-service analytics solution.
A new way to swim in your own (data) lake
Salesforce Wave for Big Data is a set of integrations between Salesforce's Analytics Cloud (in Wave) and major big data offerings: Hadoop vendors Cloudera and Hortonworks, analytics vendor New Relic, and Google by way of the data services offered through its Google Cloud Platform.
It's a twofold move for Salesforce. For one, it affords the company a new way to be valuable to those investing in any one of those other services or platforms. It also helps extend Salesforce's appeal (and longevity) into new but not wholly unfamiliar territory -- a big part of what Wave was intended to do all along.
Salesforce is wisely not trying to build a me-too data-lake solution, which it would have trouble getting even its own customers to dive into this late in the game. Instead, it's building live data-service utilities -- ways of extracting value from data that's already been stashed somewhere or is pouring in from a whole bunch of somewheres in real time (read: IoT), without performing laborious ETL transformations on it.
Salesforce also seems aware of how those already building on top of big data solutions want to have fine-grained control over how that data can be prepared and accessed. Two other companies involved with the deal, Trifacta and Informatica, offer solutions of that kind, ostensibly meaning that anyone not comfortable with one of Salesforce's stock varieties of connectivity can roll their own.
The enemies in these waters
The partnerships Salesforce has set up for this deal have a lot of the same flavor as the deal it struck with Microsoft last year. There, Microsoft got to integrate Salesforce tools into Office 365, but only by way of using Office as a presentation front end for Salesforce's own back end. Here, though, it's the other way around: Salesforce is offering its analytics and business-insight tools as the front end for other back ends.
Creative as that approach is, it puts Salesforce in competition with smaller, more nimble adversaries -- not other clouds, but the self-service analytics solutions that have already been tackling these problems for a while now. Salesforce prides itself on making it easy to deliver good-looking reportage, but Tableau also quickly generates visual analytics from a broad variety of data -- Salesforce included -- and aims to be not much harder to work with than PowerPoint.
It's less likely that the vendors who provide big-data solutions, like the aforementioned Google, will also start offering self-service analytics of this variety -- they're more interested in, and better at, infrastructure than they are end-user solutions. But the challenge presented by the Tableaus of the world is enough to keep anyone on their toes.