Microsoft buys data science specialist Revolution Analytics

Microsoft has agreed to acquire Revolution Analytics, a company built around commercial software and support for the popular R statistical computing project. The open source R project is hugely popular among data scientists and research types, and having Revolution’s R experts in-house could be a big deal for Microsoft as it tries to establish itself as the go-to place for data science software.

Among Revolution’s additions to the standard R capabilities were simplifying the use of the program and engineering it to run across big data systems such as Hadoop. Here’s how Joseph Sirosh, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for machine learning, explains what the deal means in a blog post:

As their volumes of data continually grow, organizations of all kinds around the world – financial, manufacturing, health care, retail, research – need powerful analytical models to make data-driven decisions. This requires high performance computation that is “close” to the data, and scales with the business’ needs over time. At the same time, companies need to reduce the data science and analytics skills gap inside their organizations, so more employees can use and benefit from R. This acquisition is part of our effort to address these customer needs.

. . .

This acquisition will help customers use advanced analytics within Microsoft data platforms on-premises, in hybrid cloud environments and on Microsoft Azure. By leveraging Revolution Analytics technology and services, we will empower enterprises, R developers and data scientists to more easily and cost effectively build applications and analytics solutions at scale.

Sirosh will be speaking at Gigaom’s Structure Data conference, which takes place March 18-19 in New York.

A simple example of a plot using R.
A simple example of a plot using R.

In the blog post, Sirosh also promised to continue contributing to the open source R community, as well as to continue developing Revolution’s products. He reiterated Microsoft’s renewed (or just plain new) commitment to open source software, which includes contributions to various Hadoop-related projects and support for many open source technologies on the Azure platform.

In a separate blog post, Revolution’s David Smith detailed Microsoft’s specific commitment to R, including within the Azure Machine Learning service it announced in June:

And Microsoft is a big user of R. Microsoft used R to develop the match-makingcapabilities of the Xbox online gaming service. It’s the tool of choice for data scientists at Microsoft, who apply machine learning to data from Bing, Azure, Office, and the Sales, Marketing and Finance departments. Microsoft supports R extensively within the Azure ML framework, including the ability to experiment and operationalize workflows consisting of R scripts in MLStudio.

When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella went on a cloud computing road show in October, touting the scale of Microsoft’s cloud efforts, I argued that applications, not scale, would always be Microsoft’s big advantage in that space. The same holds true for the world of big data and data science.

Revolution Analytics and the R project might not be household names in most circles, and they certainly won’t be a major driver of Microsoft revenue any time soon, but they are a big deal in the world predictive analytics and machine learning. That’s an emerging market that Microsoft wants to get in on early, while so many other vendors are still pushing yesterday’s technologies or focused on building out infrastructure to store all the data companies want so badly to analyze.