Microsoft Azure welcomes R language, with more to come

Revolution Analytics' professional R language package is now available on Azure, a first step toward deeper integration with Microsoft

Microsoft Azure welcomes R language, with more to come
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Revolution R Enterprise (RRE), a version of the R statistics language produced by a company recently acquired by Microsoft, is making its way to Microsoft Azure in a technical preview.

Speculation has abounded regarding how Microsoft would handle Revolution and its associated products, post-acquisition. One likely scenario was to offer R as a service -- a cloud-hosted resource for scientific and statistical number-crunching. Now both Microsoft and Revolution are a step closer to doing exactly that.

A blog post by Revolution Analytics described its product's debut in Azure. Initially, RRE will be made available to users through Linux and Windows VMs hosted in Azure, with the former accessed by SSH and the latter via virtual desktop. Users with a suitable IDE such as RStudio can bring their own license. Data can be stored in Azure's BLOB store or SQL Server or accessed with a generic ODBC connection. Pricing starts at $1.50 per four cores per hour (up to 32 CPUs).

Microsoft could take Revolution's products in several directions, but one statement in Revolution's blog post is eye-opening: "Availability in Azure Marketplace is the first step in Microsoft’s plan to integrate Revolution’s products with the Azure and, in the bigger picture, Cortana Analytics."

Cortana has in turn already been used to enrich Microsoft's existing business analytics products. Making R-type analyses easier through a Cortana-style interface seems in line with what Microsoft has already unveiled.

Even further out and more speculative is the possibility that Microsoft is producing its own version of the R language. Such a project wouldn't be licensed under the GPL and thus easier to integrate into products like SQL Server (as Microsoft has explicitly stated it'll do). Under the current license terms for Revolution's version of R, the only way to do so would be by running R in a separate process -- a potential performance killer. A complete rewrite of R wouldn't be out of reach for Microsoft, but would constitute a major investment of energy and time.

For now, the RRE package has found a home in Azure -- where it's likely to grow and take root over time, in whatever form it assumes.