Salesforce unveils Wave, its play in cloud analytics

Wave uses a search-like medium along with extensive visualizations

The knock against Salesforce.com has long been for its lack of robust analytics, but the company is hoping to change that perception and challenge the competition with Wave, its sixth discrete cloud service.

"The legacy analytic tools out there are not made for today's data," claimed Stephanie Buscemi, senior vice president, Salesforce.com Analytics Cloud, in an interview prior to the company's Dreamforce conference, which kicks off Monday.

Wave is the product of two years' worth of engineering and runs on top of Salesforce's core platform, Buscemi said. That means it's integrated with Salesforce's applications for CRM (customer relationship management), support and other areas from the get-go, and can also be embedded into apps built with the platform.

The new service is different from other approaches to analytics: It's search based, with data stored in a schema-less fashion. This allows for rapid, iterative exploration by users who are in search of answers to questions, according to Buscemi. It also means IT departments don't have to pull together traditional data marts for users before they can get started.

But Wave's interface isn't simply a text-based list of search results. Rather, the system applies layers of dynamic visualization over underlying data sets, as Salesforce showed during a demonstration. The visualizations are optimized for users working on mobile applications, with screens resized for varying device types.

Salesforce is launching Wave with more than 30 partners, ranging from consulting firms such as Accenture and Deloitte to data-integration companies Informatica and Dell Boomi.

Wave users will be able to pull in data sets from third-party applications, such as an Oracle ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, for analysis.

Salesforce has no intention of positioning Wave as a be-all, end-all analytics platform that can replace large investments in systems such as SAP Business Objects or Oracle Hyperion, Buscemi said.

"We are not trying to go to the CIO and say this is an enterprise BI sale," she said.

Instead, Salesforce will focus its own efforts on Wave around its "key customers" in sales, service and marketing departments, she said. However, partner companies will be working on other domains, such as human resources and finance, she added.

Wave's approach isn't necessarily novel, according to analyst Curt Monash of Monash Research. It's similar to the technology that was pushed by Fast Search and Transfer, which Microsoft acquired in 2008, as well as Attivio, he said.

There are also similarities to Oracle's Endeca Information Discovery tool, Monash said.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether Wave, which will be sold separately from Salesforce's other applications, will garner a similar reaction to the Analytics Edition product it rolled out a couple of years ago.

At first, Salesforce wanted to charge customers additional money for Analytics Edition, drawing protests from some who believed the capabilities should have been included in their existing subscriptions given the long-standing shortcomings in core reporting.

Salesforce quickly relented, saying Analytics Edition would be added at no charge.

"None of us missed that little episode two years ago," Buscemi said. "We continue to enrich and significantly move forward the Salesforce1 reporting. Customers will continue to get it at no charge to them. That continues to get better."

"What's important to know is that while we will charge for [Wave] separately it's going to be clear to customers there's a sizable incremental value," she added.

Salesforce's reporting is suitable for a single organization, while Wave is meant for analytic scenarios that cover multiple organizations as well as third-party data. It's also possible to extensively customize Wave, she said.

Wave will be generally available this month. Customers will be able to go to the Apple store and download a "playground" version which contains some sample data sets, Buscemi said.

The paid version will have explorer and builder user types, along with a Wave platform subscription fee. Platform pricing is based on the number of users. There will be no limit on data storage nor will the data storage count against customers' allotments for their main Salesforce applications.

Specific pricing will be announced during Dreamforce, which continues through Thursday in San Francisco.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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