Microsoft Azure Offers Apache Hadoop Alternative, Appeals to SMBs

Microsoft Research announced the availability of a free technology preview of Project Daytona MapReduce Runtime for Windows Azure. Using a set of tools for working with big data based on Google’s MapReduce paper, it provides an alternative to Apache Hadoop.

Project Daytona is designed to support a wide class of data analytics and machine-learning algorithms. It can scale to hundreds of server cores for analysis of distributed data. Project Daytona was developed as part of the eXtreme Computing Group’s Cloud Research Engagement Initiative.

“Daytona’ has a very simple, easy-to-use programming interface for developers to write machine-learning and data-analytics algorithms,” said Roger Barga, an architect in the eXtreme Computing Group.  “They don’t have to know too much about distributed computing or how they’re going to spread the computation out, and they don’t need to know the specifics of Windows Azure.”

Daytona was created by the eXtreme Computing Group at Microsoft Research. It’s designed to help scientists take advantage of Azure for working with large, unstructured data sets.  Daytona is also being used to power a data-analytics-as-a-service offering, which the team calls Excel DataScope.

Microsoft also recently released the second beta of its other Hadoop alternative LINQ to HPC, formerly known as Dryad. LINQ/Dryad has been used for Bing for some time, but now the tools are available to users of Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008 clusters.  Instead of using MapReduce algorithms, LINQ to HPC enables developers to use Visual Studio to create analytics applications for big, unstructured data sets on HPC Servers. It also integrates with several other Microsoft products such as SQL Server 2008, SQL Azure, SQL Server Reporting Services, SQL Server Analysis Services, PowerPivot, and Excel.  Moreover, Microsoft also offers Windows Azure Table Storage, which is similar to Google’s BigTable or Hadoop’s data store Apache HBase.

This could be a good move for Microsoft in terms of attracting more small business users to Azure, which currently has many large applications, including, among other things, the Xbox Live Network.  But we’re hearing anecdotal reports of Azure gaining traction within the SMB sector.  Appealing to this space would allow Microsoft an easy way to jump into “big data” utility that wasn’t available to them before without a layout of significant hardware resources.

Microsoft’s working on cloud services on a few different fronts, further establishing its presence in the health and education fronts as well.  Aside from benefiting from Google’s downsizing in its health-related cloud services, there’s  HealthVault, Microsoft’s electronic medical records service. Patients, caregivers, family members, physicians and others (with the patient’s consent) can enter health information into a repository that is hosted on Windows Azure.