For Big Data, It’s Not Your Grandfather’s Excel

Microsoft, ever alert to strategies to prolong the shelf life of some of its aging products, is touting Excel as an analytics engine for Big Data. As Scotty said in that famous Star War’s episode in which he time traveled back to the 20th century and had to use a keyboard to access a computer, “How quaint.”

Michael Fitzgerald, writing in Information Week’s Global CIO section about a Microsoft press conference he attended last week, had a similar reaction. He heard the head of Microsoft’s New England district say that Excel has a major role in the use of Big Data. It seems that two years ago the venerable spreadsheet could only handle 64,000 rows of data. Today Excel has been supercharged to manipulate more than 100 million rows of data in computer memory, making it a candidate for the role of analytic engine for the masses.

Fitzgerald’s response: “How trivial.”

It was almost painful sitting in a Microsoft conference room Thursday listening to executives say that Excel — Excel! — was going to help the corporate masses put the capital letters on Big Data.”

To reinforce its message, Microsoft had a customer, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, tell the assembled journalists about its experience with Microsoft’s version of Hadoop and the use of Excel to build predictive analytical models.

Unimpressed, Fitzgerald asks, “Has Excel become an afterthought in corporations? For Microsoft the answer is not trivial.”

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