Tableau, Splunk Partnership Aims at Fast-Growing Unstructured Data

3/7/14Follow @bromano

A terabyte log of clicks on your Web site isn’t particularly useful in its raw form. That starts to change when it’s indexed and searchable. It’s more useful still when non-experts can easily combine it with other data and visualize the story the data is telling.

That process should be easier thanks to a technology partnership announced this week between Seattle-based Tableau Software (NYSE: DATA), which makes tools to analyze and visualize large data sets, and San Francisco-based Splunk (NASDAQ: SPLK), a leader in processing machine data. Executives at the two high-flying big data companies say the deal—which includes no financial arrangement—underscores the growing importance of unstructured data to businesses.

This is a pretty straightforward technology integration. Tableau users will now be able to directly access machine data from Splunk, and to do so in real time. Machine data includes things like Web site clickstreams, network traffic logs, industrial control system reports, sensor data, and more as everything is connected and the Internet of things takes hold.

In January, Splunk released an application programming interface to allow third-party technologies—including Tableau and Microsoft Excel—to connect to machine data indexed on its platform.

“This brings machine data to Tableau as a first class citizen data source,” Tableau product manager Ted Wasserman says of the Splunk partnership. Splunk is now a native datasource within Tableau alongside structured data in spreadsheets, databases, and cloud applications like Salesforce.com and Google Analytics.

Previously, a Tableau user would have had to move machine data out of Splunk into a spreadsheet or relational database that Tableau could already work with. That’s cumbersome, probably requires help from the IT department, and sacrifices data currency, Wasserman says.

Using the clickstream data example, this new capability could allow a business analyst at an e-commerce company using Tableau to see during the course of the day how customers are responding to certain offers and whether a particular part of the Web site is causing people to abandon it.

“Splunk is reading in real time what’s happening on that online property and making sense of it and storing it,” Wasserman says.

Companies can gain further insight about their customers by using Tableau to correlate that real-time Splunk data with structured data such as demographics, says Tapan Bhatt, Splunk vice president of business analytics.

Business intelligence systems have focused on structured data, and were often optimized around specific datasets, he says.

“While structured data is growing, data outside of that is growing at an exponential rate,” Bhatt says. “How do you make this other data that is growing so fast and has huge value be a core part of how companies do business analytics?”

This partnership, he says, is a step toward answering that question.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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