The second of the four official themes around which Microsoft organized content at this year's Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) was Big Data. In a world containing "an internet of things" where 90% of all of the world's on-line data has been created in the last two years (per Ballmer's keynote, evoking Al Gore-ish hockey stick graphs), Microsoft seeks to stake out high ground in the world of big data.
Microsoft's strategy for Big Data is oriented around two key themes, as related in the keynotes:
1. "Unite the world's data" via Bing, Azure Data Marketplace, and Hadoop, which Microsoft has embraced with surprising alacrity.
2. Provide the best, most familiar tools for business insight (Excel and SQL Server).
The best Big Data content of WPC 2013 was not typical keynote bloviation, however: Amir Netz's breathless demo of PowerBI, a new suite of BI tools for Office 365, was perhaps the highlight of the entire conference. He showed, in about 12 frenetic minutes:
- natural-language search for data sources inside (private) and outside (public/commercial data sources such as the Azure data marketplace) the firewall for queries
- use of PowerView to visualize and animate BI reports
- using mobile devices to consume BI
- visualization of data sets, using popular music, a topic a global audience can relate to, using animation of a time series of data ("king of the hill" view to explain changes over time)
Unfortunately, the data supported Jason Mraz (>?!) and Mariah Carey in best song/artist queries, so it's hard for me to get behind the empirical results, but the demo was exciting and exhausting due to Amir's relentless and infectious energy. I have to admit that at first I was put off by his somewhat "out of breath" delivery, but he grew on me, and the combination of his enthusiasm and humor with the visually beautiful data visualization of PowerBI ultimately won me over. This is "must see TV," WPC-style: