Big data visualization: A big deal for eBay

As one of the world's largest e-commerce websites, eBay analyzes huge quantities of data -- with data visualization providing valuable insight across the company

An online marketplace with 108 million active users and $68 billion of goods sold last year, eBay generates a lot of data. Employees can access 52 petabytes of data on everything from user behavior to online transactions to customer shipments and much more -- with access controls in place to ensure users see only what they're authorized to see.

To make all that data understandable, eBay turned to Tableau, which provides visualization software to turn large, complex data sets into intuitive, interactive pictures. At any given time, eBay employees can visualize search relevance and quality, for example, or monitor the latest customer feedback and sentiment analysis.

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eBay has constructed three separate analytic environments: Two are data warehouses built on Teradata software with tight security access, and the third is for unstructured data workloads processed using Hadoop. Data processed using Hadoop is not made broadly accessible to employees, in part due to the difficulty of creating adequate access control around it.

eBay's 10-petabyte enterprise data warehouse (EDW) is designed for structured data such as orders, shipments, listings, bids, payments, customer records, and so on. The whole organization can connect to the EDW via SQL, and this is where most people pose the bulk of their queries.

A second data warehouse, which eBay calls "Singularity," is 42 petabytes and used for more specialized analytics and storage of structured and semi-structured data, including logs from eBay sites. Singularity is used to understand shopper behavior on website and has about 30 percent of the number of EDW's concurrent users.

Advanced analytics tools require specialized skills. Interactive data visualization tools like Tableau's, on the other hand, enable almost any business user to become an analyst and identify trends on the fly. eBay uses Tableau to visualize search relevance and quality of the site; monitor the latest customer feedback and meter sentiments on; and achieve operational reporting for the data warehouse systems. This has helped an analytic culture flourish within eBay.

Tableau's dashboards unlocks big data value with visualization
Tableau's dashboards unlocks big data value with visualization

Gary Dougan, senior manager of business intelligence platform and architecture at eBay, notes: "Tableau brings value of data to nearly everyone internally. We've seen phenomenal growth; its usage doubles every six months. It lets users explore data across variety of platforms and is used more and more to support strategy."

Everyone in the organization is allowed to access a license of Tableau Desktop on Microsoft Windows to visualize a data set. A subset with "publish" rights can share data sets via Tableau Server using a browser-based interface.

To make Tableau and data sets even more easily accessible, eBay created a Joomla Web portal called Data Hub, a secure, centralized resource for employees to view existing data sets and request virtual data marts. Greater accessibility makes sense, since eBay has little question that visualization has helped a broad swath of the company optimize its operations.

This article, "Big data visualization: A big deal for eBay," was originally published at Read more of Andrew Lampitt's Think Big Data blog, and keep up on the latest developments in big data at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.