Microsoft has agreed to acquire open-source software company Revolution Analytics, heavily embracing the R programming language, a data analysis tool widely used by both academics and corporate data scientists.
The software giant announced the deal on Friday, but did not disclose the terms.
Revolution Analytics is best known for offering developer tools for use with the R language, and though Microsoft already works with R, this represents a new bet on the language, reflecting the company’s wider interest in data science.
Just as IBM’s Netezza appliance, SAP’s HANA database, Oracle’s Big Data appliance are designed for use with R, so too is Microsoft’s Azure ML cloud service, a service for building machine learning applications. And Microsoft uses R for its own projects. “We have a data science community inside Microsoft that uses R to analyze business data across a variety of things, and even build models for quite a few applications,” says Microsoft vice president for machine learning Joseph Sirosh.
In this sense, the company is not unusual. Inside the corporate world, R has become a de facto means of analyzing data, and it’s often used in the data science competitions run by startup Kaggle, competitions that have become a popular way for companies to tap independent data scientists for help with particularly thorny problems.
Revolution was founded in 2007 by Yale University computer scientists to create a suite of tools for working with R, and it hired CEO Norman H. Nie, the co-creator of SPSS—one of R’s main competitors—in 2009. In addition to contributing to the continued development of the R programming language, the company develops both a free, open source community version of its Revolution R suite of developer tools, as well as paid commercial versions of the software.
Most importantly, Revolution Analytics has created tools that help extend the abilities of the open source version of the R language, Sirosh says. “There are seriously limitations to how it can be used with big data, because all of the data has to be loaded in memory.”
By bringing Revolution into the fold, Sirosh says, Microsoft will gain access to all of that technology and be able to make it available to all of its own customers on all of its development platforms. He emphasizes that Microsoft will continue to support Revolution’s existing products and customers.
The move deepens Microsoft’s investments in open source as well. Last fall Microsoft open sourced its .NET development platform, and the company has helped support a range of open source development, big data and analytics tools in recent years, including Node.js, Hadoop, and MongoDB. Traditionally, the company did not play so nicely with open source. But times have changed, with open source coming to dominate the software world.