EMC gets it: big data needs apps, too

Scott Yara

EMC’s (s emc) acquisition of Pivotal Labs proves the company really understands the big data market. Namely, that big data won’t go anywhere without great applications, and EMC isn’t the company to help customers figure out how to build theirs. It should probably thank its Greenplum division for showing the way.

At an event at the Pivotal office in New York today, EMC Greenplum SVP of Products (and Greenplum co-founder) Scott Yara let the world in on a dirty little secret: systems software company can’t build apps that users want to use. That’s why Greenplum actually contracted Pivotal to help it build the Greenplum Chorus product on which the company is placing a great deal of emphasis. Greenplum was so impressed with Pivotal, it decided the company needed to join the growing EMC empire, Pivotal Founder and CEO Rob Mee told me.

Of course, there’s more to the acquisition than just helping EMC build apps; Pivotal can help EMC customers build apps, too. Yara noted he’d heard of other application-development shops trying to position themselves as the “Pivotal of big data,” but now Pivotal itself is going to be the Pivotal of big data. Whoever’s playing that role, it’s critically important to the future of big data.

If it’s ever going to move outside the realm of data scientists and skilled analysts, big data has to underpin applications that are intuitive, easy and — dare I say — fun for everyday users. Those could be intra-company applications designed specifically for internal users, or consumer-facing apps that just happen to use the EMC Greenplum database and Hadoop products at the data-management layer. It doesn’t really matter as long as the target users can actually use the apps.

EMC Greenplum is trying to leverage Chorus — the software that Pivotal helped it build — to grow the application ecosystem, too. Yara said Greenplum is open sourcing the Chorus platform to help build a community of developers that can build apps atop the platform, which is a Facebook-plus-style platform for sharing data and data models within a company.

That EMC is making such a strategic push around applications isn’t so surprising. What is somewhat surprising is that EMC, a relative big-data newcomer, is the first one to do it in  a meaningful way. Most big data companies (with the exception of IBM (s ibm), maybe) that play at the infrastructure level seem content to stay there. This includes Cloudera, Hortonworks, MapR and pretty much everyone doing Hadoop distributions. Maybe seeing EMC getting into the application space will spur them to do the same.

I expect we’ll hear a lot more about this starting tomorrow at our Structure: Data conference, where Om will be speaking on stage with EMC Greenplum’s Yara, and where Cloudera CEO Mike Olson and others will be presenting on the future of Hadoop and big data, in general. Application development has to be a part of it; now it’s just a matter of who’s going to capitalize on that need.