When a giant company acquires a smaller one, there's always a question about whether the new owner is fully committed to the vision that drove the smaller company's early success. Microsoft sought to answer that question Tuesday with a series of announcements around last year's acquisition of Revolution Analytics.
Revolution Analytics was a software and services provider distributing the widely-used open source statistical modeling language R. Microsoft's acquisition of the company announced in January 2015 was seen as both a an effort to fill a hole in its advanced analytics toolbox and also a nod to the growing importance of open source projects.
Microsoft announced in Jan. 12 blog post that a number of updates that more deeply align R with its existing portfolio of products.
[Looking for more on Microsoft's big data and analytics strategy? Read Microsoft Azure Data Lake Offers Enhanced Analytics Tools.]
The announcements include some rebranding, some additional support capabilities added to the newly-rebranded versions of products, and the addition of Microsoft R Server Developer Edition to the Microsoft Data Science Virtual Machine.
Plus, Microsoft is offering certain versions of the newly branded tools for free to students and individuals.
Microsoft's Vision for R
"When we made the acquisition of Revolution Analytics last year the vision behind that was to make R an enterprise-ready open source language for statistical modeling and programming," Herain Oberoi told InformationWeek in an interview. Oberoi is Microsoft's director of product management for advanced analytics.
"We saw it was already established as the de facto standard language by the statistical modeling community," he said. "At the time of the acquisition we articulated we wanted to propagate R across the Microsoft product portfolio also invest in supporting the R community itself and help to grow in that community."
Microsoft's announcements this week go towards fulfilling those goals.
First, Microsoft is rebranding Revolution R Enterprise as Microsoft R Server and making it available for Hadoop, Linux, and Teradata platforms. These new versions add Microsoft's enterprise security, scalability, and global features to the server software.
Second, Microsoft is offering Microsoft R Server Developer Edition, which provides all the features of the commercial version. It's available as a free download (sign-in required).
"We have focused on and will continue to focus on the developers," Oberoi said.
Pre-Configured Microsoft Data Science Virtual Machine in Azure
In addition, Microsoft will include a version of Microsoft R Server Developer Edition pre-installed and pre-configured with the Microsoft Data Science Virtual Machine. The Microsoft Data Science Virtual Machine was announced in November. This VM is a Windows Server 2012-based custom virtual machine image on the company's Azure cloud marketplace that incorporates several tools for analytics. It includes an Anaconda Python distribution with Jupyter notebook server, Visual Studio Community Edition, Power BI Desktop, SQL Server Express edition, and Azure SDK.
Microsoft also announced that Revolution R Open has been rebranded as Microsoft R Open, that it's available as a free download, and that Microsoft R Server is available to all students for academic use within the Microsoft DreamSpark program.
The announcements underscore the importance of R to Microsoft's vision for supporting the big data efforts of developers, enterprises, and other practitioners. They build on a few other announcements Microsoft has made over the last year. For instance Microsoft joined as an inaugural member of the R Consortium, an organization launched by the Linux Foundation last June.
They also build on some key differentiators for Revolution Analytics' distribution of R. Open source R requires data to exist in-memory. The Revolution Analytics team, however, created scalable R libraries that allowed execution, not just against in-memory data, but also against disk, which enabled R to run with much greater performance. Microsoft is now enabling R processing against data that would live in a Hadoop cluster, Oberoi told InformationWeek.
Microsoft R Product Roadmap
Microsoft also provided a peek at its roadmap for R in its blog post Tuesday.
In addition to plans to integrate Revolution's R distribution into Microsoft's Hadoop distribution on Azure, on HDInsight, and into Azure Machine Learning, the company also plans to deliver Microsoft R Server as an Azure Marketplace Virtual Machine. The company is looking to enable faster development of R models through R Tools for Visual Studio that will have capabilities similar to Python Tools for Visual Studio, Microsoft said. Microsoft has included R Services as part of its Community Technology Preview version of SQL Server 2016, a component of its Azure Data Lake plan.
"These announcements reinforce our commitment to making it easy for enterprises, R developers, and data scientists to cost-effectively build applications and advanced analytics solutions at scale, both on-premises and in the cloud," wrote Joseph Sirosh, Microsoft Data Group corporate vice president, in the blog post.
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