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NYT: Bigger, Cheaper, Faster Data in the Cloud

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The kind of data science that worked for President Obama is coming to cloud computing, and working at a speed faster than the president ever saw.

A company called Civis Analytics, financed by a group of data wranglers who worked on Mr. Obama’s 2012 campaign, is announcing on Wednesday a comprehensive set of big data tools available through Amazon Web Services.

Civis Analytics, which is presenting the service at anAWS event in Chicago, says it can eliminate much of the time and cost associated with figuring out things like marketing campaigns, much as it found and targeted likely Obama voters.

“In a presidential campaign, the outcome is an action,” said Dan Wagner, the founder and chief executive of Civis. “Companies want to do much the same thing.”

Civis does not claim to be breaking new ground in data science. Instead, the company says it can automate a lot of expensive processes in large scale pattern-finding. When the team was working for Mr. Obama it used regular computers, and the problems increased as the amount of data it had grew. Cloud computing better handles such growth.

The company’s selling point is in adapting the services to generalized cloud tools, in particular the AWS Redshift data analysis service, to handle big analysis tasks with little of the customization otherwise required.

Mr. Wagner said Civis’s service will start at about $5,000 a month. “In many cases we will be 80 percent cheaper,” he said. In terms of time, he said, Civis could begin delivering information within 15 seconds of uploading the data.

Ethical Electric, a vendor of clean energy for the home, with nearly 70,000 customers, has been a client of an earlier version of the service for the past two years. Among the uses was locating potential prospects by estimating their future energy consumption, down to hourly use.

Daniel Murray, the vice president for data services at Ethical Electric, said that using this kind of automation saved the company from having to hire at least three expensive engineers. “It put us a year ahead of our plans” in finding customers, he said. Other customers include Airbnb and Boeing.

The move to automate data science and make it accessible to a broader public has been going on for some time, with companies like Tableau working on the visual consumption of results, and ClearStory Data creating multistep data “journeys” to explore information. Google is showing off more of its impressive analytic workings to potential customers ofGoogle Cloud Platform, an AWS competitor.

Civis may be taking that further with its automation and speed. This is also something of a win for AWS, which has recently been promoting its own prediction services.

One of Civis’s board members, as well as an investor in the company, is Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman. “When the company was founded, Google didn’t offer what Redshift does,” Mr. Schmidt said. “I’m trying to shift them to Google Cloud Platform now.”

Whether or not that happens, Mr. Schmidt said, the kind of analysis that Civis offers will most likely affect much of the advertising and marketing business. “They have an unfair share of smart people,” he said. “If you need to find 25-year-old Hispanic males who are working and have one or more children, they can find you a set.”

Read More at the New York Times