Monday | April 12, 2021

The 2020 knowledge and AI panorama

When COVID hit the world a couple of months in the past, an prolonged interval of gloom appeared all however inevitable. But many firms within the knowledge ecosystem haven’t simply survived however the truth is thrived.

Maybe most emblematic of that is the blockbuster IPO of knowledge warehouse supplier Snowflake that passed off a few weeks in the past and catapulted Snowflake to a $69 billion market cap on the time of writing – the largest software program IPO ever (see the S-1 teardown). And Palantir, an usually controversial knowledge analytics platform targeted on the monetary and authorities sector, grew to become a public firm through direct itemizing, reaching a market cap of $22 billion on the time of writing (see the S-1 teardown).

In the meantime, different lately IPO’ed knowledge firms are performing very nicely in public markets. Datadog, for instance, went public nearly precisely a yr in the past (an attention-grabbing IPO in some ways, see my weblog publish here). Once I hosted CEO Olivier Pomel at my month-to-month Data Driven NYC occasion on the finish of January 2020, Datadog was price $12 billion. A mere eight months later, on the time of writing, its market cap is $31 billion.

Many financial elements are at play, however in the end monetary markets are rewarding an more and more clear actuality lengthy within the making: To succeed, each fashionable firm will have to be not only a software program firm but additionally an information firm. There may be, after all, some overlap between software program and knowledge, however knowledge applied sciences have their very own necessities, instruments, and experience. And a few knowledge applied sciences contain an altogether totally different method and mindset – machine studying, for all of the dialogue about commoditization, remains to be a really technical space the place success usually comes within the type of 90-95% prediction accuracy, relatively than 100%. This has deep implications for learn how to construct AI merchandise and firms.

In fact, this basic evolution is a secular pattern that began in earnest maybe 10 years in the past and can proceed to play out over many extra years. To maintain observe of this evolution, my staff has been producing a “state of the union” panorama of the info and AI ecosystem yearly; that is our seventh annual one. For anybody taken with monitoring the evolution, listed here are the prior variations: 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 (Part I and Part II).

This publish is organized as follows:

  • Key developments in knowledge infrastructure
  • Key developments in analytics and enterprise AI
  • The 2020 panorama — for many who don’t wish to scroll down, here is the landscape image

Let’s dig in.

Key developments in knowledge infrastructure

There’s loads occurring in knowledge infrastructure in 2020. As firms begin reaping the advantages of the info/AI initiatives they began over the previous couple of years, they wish to do extra. They wish to course of extra knowledge, quicker and cheaper. They wish to deploy extra ML fashions in manufacturing. They usually wish to do extra in real-time. And many others.

This raises the bar on knowledge infrastructure (and the groups constructing/sustaining it) and affords loads of room for innovation, significantly in a context the place the panorama retains shifting (multi-cloud, and so on.).

Within the 2019 edition, my staff had highlighted a couple of developments:

  • A transfer from Hadoop to cloud companies to Kubernetes + Snowflake
  • The rising significance of knowledge governance, cataloging, and lineage
  • The rise of an AI-specific infrastructure stack (“MLOps”, “AIOps”)

Whereas these developments are nonetheless very a lot accelerating, listed here are a couple of extra which can be prime of thoughts in 2020:

1. The fashionable knowledge stack goes mainstream. The idea of “modern data stack” (a set of instruments and applied sciences that allow analytics, significantly for transactional knowledge) has been a few years within the making. It began showing way back to 2012, with the launch of Redshift, Amazon’s cloud knowledge warehouse.

However during the last couple of years, and maybe even extra so within the final 12 months, the recognition of cloud warehouses has grown explosively, and so has an entire ecosystem of instruments and firms round them, going from forefront to mainstream.

The overall concept behind the fashionable stack is identical as with older applied sciences: To construct an information pipeline you first extract knowledge from a bunch of various sources and retailer it in a centralized knowledge warehouse earlier than analyzing and visualizing it.

However the massive shift has been the large scalability and elasticity of cloud knowledge warehouses (Amazon Redshift, Snowflake, Google BigQuery, and Microsoft Synapse, particularly). They’ve grow to be the cornerstone of the fashionable, cloud-first knowledge stack and pipeline.

Whereas there are all types of knowledge pipelines (extra on this later), the business has been normalizing round a stack that appears one thing like this, at the very least for transactional knowledge:

2. ELT begins to exchange ELT. Knowledge warehouses was once costly and inelastic, so that you needed to closely curate the info earlier than loading into the warehouse: first extract knowledge from sources, then rework it into the specified format, and eventually load into the warehouse (Extract, Rework, Load or ETL).

Within the fashionable knowledge pipeline, you may extract massive quantities of knowledge from a number of knowledge sources and dump all of it within the knowledge warehouse with out worrying about scale or format, after which rework the info instantly inside the info warehouse – in different phrases, extract, load, and rework (“ELT”).

A brand new era of instruments has emerged to allow this evolution from ETL to ELT.  For instance, DBT is an more and more well-liked command line device that permits knowledge analysts and engineers to rework knowledge of their warehouse extra successfully. The corporate behind the DBT open supply mission, Fishtown Analytics, raised a few enterprise capital rounds in fast succession in 2020. The house is vibrant with different firms, in addition to some tooling supplied by the cloud knowledge warehouses themselves.

This ELT space remains to be nascent and quickly evolving. There are some open questions particularly round learn how to deal with delicate, regulated knowledge (PII, PHI) as a part of the load, which has led to a dialogue about the necessity to do mild transformation earlier than the load – or ETLT (see XPlenty, What is ETLT?). Persons are additionally speaking about including a governance layer, main to at least one extra acronym, ELTG.

3. Knowledge engineering is within the means of getting automated. ETL has historically been a extremely technical space and largely gave rise to data engineering as a separate discipline. That is nonetheless very a lot the case at this time with fashionable instruments like Spark that require actual technical experience.

Nevertheless, in a cloud knowledge warehouse centric paradigm, the place the primary aim is “just” to extract and cargo knowledge, with out having to rework it as a lot, there is a chance to automate much more of the engineering activity.

This chance has given rise to firms like Phase, Sew (acquired by Talend), Fivetran, and others. For instance, Fivetran affords a big library of prebuilt connectors to extract knowledge from lots of the extra well-liked sources and cargo it into the info warehouse. That is performed in an automatic, totally managed and zero-maintenance method. As additional proof of the fashionable knowledge stack going mainstream, Fivetran, which began in 2012 and spent a number of years in constructing mode, skilled a robust acceleration within the final couple of years and raised a number of rounds of financing in a brief time period (most lately at a $1.2 billion valuation). For extra, right here’s a chat I did with them a couple of weeks in the past: In Conversation with George Fraser, CEO, Fivetran.

4. Knowledge analysts take a bigger function. An attention-grabbing consequence of the above is that knowledge analysts are taking up a way more outstanding function in knowledge administration and analytics.

Knowledge analysts are non-engineers who’re proficient in SQL, a language used for managing knowledge held in databases. They could additionally know some Python, however they’re usually not engineers. Generally they’re a centralized staff, generally they’re embedded in numerous departments and enterprise models.

Historically, knowledge analysts would solely deal with the final mile of the info pipeline – analytics, enterprise intelligence, and visualization.

Now, as a result of cloud knowledge warehouses are massive relational databases (forgive the simplification), knowledge analysts are in a position to go a lot deeper into the territory that was historically dealt with by knowledge engineers, leveraging their SQL expertise (DBT and others being SQL-based frameworks).

That is excellent news, as knowledge engineers proceed to be uncommon and costly. There are numerous extra (10x extra?) knowledge analysts, and they’re much simpler to coach.

As well as, there’s an entire wave of recent firms constructing fashionable, analyst-centric instruments to extract insights and intelligence from knowledge in an information warehouse centric paradigm.

For instance, there’s a new era of startups constructing “KPI tools” to sift via the info warehouse and extract insights round particular enterprise metrics, or detecting anomalies, together with Sisu, Outlier, or Anodot (which began within the observability knowledge world).

Instruments are additionally rising to embed knowledge and analytics instantly into enterprise purposes. Census is one such instance.

Lastly, regardless of (or maybe because of) the massive wave of consolidation within the BI business which was highlighted within the 2019 model of this panorama, there may be lots of exercise round instruments that can promote a much wider adoption of BI throughout the enterprise. To at the present time, enterprise intelligence within the enterprise remains to be the province of a handful of analysts skilled particularly on a given device and has not been broadly democratized.

5. Knowledge lakes and knowledge warehouses could also be merging. One other pattern in direction of simplification of the info stack is the unification of knowledge lakes and knowledge warehouses. Some (like Databricks) name this pattern the “data lakehouse.” Others name it the “Unified Analytics Warehouse.”

Traditionally, you’ve had knowledge lakes on one facet (massive repositories for uncooked knowledge, in quite a lot of codecs, which can be low-cost and really scalable however don’t help transactions, knowledge high quality, and so on.) after which knowledge warehouses on the opposite facet (much more structured, with transactional capabilities and extra knowledge governance options).

Knowledge lakes have had lots of use circumstances for machine studying, whereas knowledge warehouses have supported extra transactional analytics and enterprise intelligence.

The web result’s that, in lots of firms, the info stack features a knowledge lake and generally a number of knowledge warehouses, with many parallel knowledge pipelines.

Corporations within the house at the moment are attempting to merge the 2, with a “best of both worlds” aim and a unified expertise for every type of knowledge analytics, together with BI and machine studying.

For instance, Snowflake pitches itself as a complement or potential alternative, for an information lake. Microsoft’s cloud knowledge warehouse, Synapse, has built-in knowledge lake capabilities. Databricks has made a big push to place itself as a full lakehouse.

Complexity stays

Lots of the developments I’ve talked about above level towards higher simplicity and approachability of the info stack within the enterprise. Nevertheless, this transfer towards simplicity is counterbalanced by an excellent quicker enhance in complexity.

The general quantity of knowledge flowing via the enterprise continues to develop an explosive tempo. The variety of knowledge sources retains rising as nicely, with ever extra SaaS instruments.

There may be not one however many knowledge pipelines working in parallel within the enterprise. The fashionable knowledge stack talked about above is essentially targeted on the world of transactional knowledge and BI-style analytics. Many machine studying pipelines are altogether totally different.

There’s additionally an rising want for actual time streaming applied sciences, which the fashionable stack talked about above is within the very early phases of addressing (it’s very a lot a batch processing paradigm for now).

For that reason, the extra advanced instruments, together with these for micro-batching (Spark) and streaming (Kafka and, more and more, Pulsar) proceed to have a vibrant future forward of them. The demand for knowledge engineers who can deploy these applied sciences at scale goes to proceed to extend.

There are a number of more and more necessary classes of instruments which can be quickly rising to deal with this complexity and add layers of governance and management to it.

Orchestration engines are seeing lots of exercise. Past early entrants like Airflow and Luigi, a second era of engines has emerged, together with Prefect and Dagster, in addition to Kedro and Metaflow. These merchandise are open supply workflow administration techniques, utilizing fashionable languages (Python) and designed for contemporary infrastructure that create abstractions to allow automated knowledge processing (scheduling jobs, and so on.), and visualize knowledge flows via DAGs (directed acyclic graphs).

Pipeline complexity (in addition to different concerns, comparable to bias mitigation in machine studying) additionally creates an enormous want for DataOps options, particularly round knowledge lineage (metadata search and discovery), as highlighted final yr, to grasp the circulation of knowledge and monitor failure factors. That is nonetheless an rising space, with to this point largely homegrown (open supply) instruments constructed in-house by the massive tech leaders: LinkedIn (Datahub), WeWork (Marquez), Lyft (Admunsen), or Uber (Databook). Some promising startups are rising.

There’s a associated want for knowledge high quality options, and we’ve created a brand new class on this yr’s panorama for brand spanking new firms rising within the house (see chart).

General, knowledge governance continues to be a key requirement for enterprises, whether or not throughout the fashionable knowledge stack talked about above (ELTG) or machine studying pipelines.

Traits in analytics & enterprise ML/AI

It’s increase time for knowledge science and machine studying platforms (DSML). These platforms are the cornerstone of the deployment of machine studying and AI within the enterprise. The highest firms within the house have skilled appreciable market traction within the final couple of years and are reaching massive scale.

Whereas they got here on the alternative from totally different beginning factors, the highest platforms have been step by step increasing their choices to serve extra constituencies and handle extra use circumstances within the enterprise, whether or not via natural product growth or M&A. For instance:

  • Dataiku (through which my agency is an investor) began with a mission to democratize enterprise AI and promote collaboration between knowledge scientists, knowledge analysts, knowledge engineers, and leaders of knowledge groups throughout the lifecycle of AI (from knowledge prep to deployment in manufacturing). With its most up-to-date launch, it added non-technical enterprise customers to the combination via a collection of re-usable AI apps.
  • Databricks has been pushing additional down into infrastructure via its lakehouse effort talked about above, which apparently places it in a extra aggressive relationship with two of its key historic companions, Snowflake and Microsoft. It additionally added to its unified analytics capabilities by buying Redash, the corporate behind the favored open supply visualization engine of the identical title.
  • Datarobot acquired Paxata, which allows it to cowl the info prep section of the info lifecycle, increasing from its core autoML roots.

A couple of years into the resurgence of ML/AI as a significant enterprise know-how, there’s a broad spectrum of ranges of maturity throughout enterprises – not surprisingly for a pattern that’s mid-cycle.

At one finish of the spectrum, the massive tech firms (GAFAA, Uber, Lyft, LinkedIn and so on) proceed to point out the way in which. They’ve grow to be full-fledged AI firms, with AI permeating all their merchandise. That is actually the case at Fb (see my conversation with Jerome Pesenti, Head of AI at Facebook). It’s price nothing that massive tech firms contribute an incredible quantity to the AI house, instantly via basic/utilized analysis and open sourcing, and not directly as workers go away to begin new firms (as a current instance, was began by the Uber Michelangelo staff).

On the different finish of the spectrum, there’s a massive group of non-tech firms which can be simply beginning to dip their toes in earnest into the world of knowledge science, predictive analytics, and ML/AI. Some are simply launching their initiatives, whereas others have been caught in “AI purgatory” for the final couple of years, as early pilots haven’t been given sufficient consideration or sources to supply significant outcomes but.

Someplace within the center, a lot of massive companies are beginning to see the outcomes of their efforts. They usually embarked years in the past on a journey that began with Massive Knowledge infrastructure however developed alongside the way in which to incorporate knowledge science and ML/AI.

These firms at the moment are within the ML/AI deployment section, reaching a stage of maturity the place ML/AI will get deployed in manufacturing and more and more embedded into quite a lot of enterprise purposes. The multi-year journey of such firms has regarded one thing like this:

AI Transformation at Scale

Supply: Dataiku

As ML/AI will get deployed in manufacturing, a number of market segments are seeing lots of exercise:

  • There’s loads occurring within the MLOps world, as groups grapple with the fact of deploying and sustaining predictive fashions – whereas the DSML platforms present that functionality, many specialised startups are rising on the intersection of ML and devops.
  • The problems of AI governance and AI equity are extra necessary than ever, and this can proceed to be an space ripe for innovation over the following few years.
  • One other space with rising exercise is the world of choice science (optimization, simulation), which could be very complementary with knowledge science. For instance, in a manufacturing system for a meals supply firm, a machine studying mannequin would predict demand in a sure space, after which an optimization algorithm would allocate supply workers to that space in a method that optimizes for income maximization throughout all the system. Choice science takes a probabilistic final result (“90% likelihood of increased demand here”) and turns it right into a 100% executable software-driven motion.

Whereas it would take a number of extra years, ML/AI will in the end get embedded behind the scenes into most purposes, whether or not supplied by a vendor, or constructed inside the enterprise. Your CRM, HR, and ERP software program will all have components working on AI applied sciences.

Identical to Massive Knowledge earlier than it, ML/AI, at the very least in its present kind, will disappear as a noteworthy and differentiating idea as a result of it is going to be in every single place. In different phrases, it would now not be spoken of, not as a result of it failed, however as a result of it succeeded.

The yr of NLP

It’s been a very nice final 12 months (or 24 months) for pure language processing (NLP), a department of synthetic intelligence targeted on understanding human language.

The final yr has seen continued developments in NLP from quite a lot of gamers together with massive cloud suppliers (Google), nonprofits (Open AI, which raised $1 billion from Microsoft in July 2019) and startups. For an incredible overview, see this speak from Clement Delangue, CEO of Hugging Face:  NLP—The Most Important Field of ML.

Some noteworthy developments:

  • Transformers, which have been round for a while, and pre-trained language fashions proceed to realize reputation. These are the mannequin of selection for NLP as they allow a lot greater charges of parallelization and thus bigger coaching knowledge units.
  • Google rolled out BERT, the NLP system underpinning Google Search, to 70 new languages.
  • Google additionally launched ELECTRA, which performs equally on benchmarks to language fashions comparable to GPT and masked language fashions comparable to BERT, whereas being way more compute environment friendly.
  • We’re additionally seeing adoption of NLP merchandise that make coaching fashions extra accessible.
  • And, after all, the GPT-3 launch was greeted with a lot fanfare. This can be a 175 billion parameter mannequin out of Open AI, greater than two orders of magnitude bigger than GPT-2.

The 2020 knowledge & AI panorama

2020 Data and AI Landscape

A couple of notes:

  • To view the panorama in full measurement, click here.
  • This yr, we took extra of an opinionated method to the panorama. We eliminated a lot of firms (significantly within the purposes part) to create a little bit of room, and we selectively added some small startups that struck us as doing significantly attention-grabbing work.
  • Regardless of how busy the panorama is, we can not probably match each attention-grabbing firm on the chart itself. Because of this, we now have a whole spreadsheet that not solely lists all the businesses within the panorama, but additionally tons of extra.

[Word: A distinct model of this story originally ran on the creator’s personal web page.]

Matt Turck is a VC at FirstMark, the place he focuses on SaaS, cloud, knowledge, ML/AI and infrastructure investments. Matt additionally organizes Data Driven NYC, the most important knowledge neighborhood within the US. 

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