Why Oracle bought big data veteran Endeca

Oracle (s orcl) has acquired Endeca, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that analyzes and provides business intelligence for unstructured data. Endeca, which has been around since 2001, represents an expansion of the big data focus Oracle unveiled at its OpenWorld conference earlier this month.

I spoke with Endeca Chief Strategist Paul Sondregger about a month ago, and he explained that Endeca’s flagship Latitude product is like “BI beyond the data warehouse,” in that it takes into account a wide variety of unstructured sources and lets users derive insights from it even if they don’t know what questions to ask.

Endeca’s technology doesn’t rely on algorithms to detect patterns, but tries to enable a “dialogue” between the user and the data. Sondregger used the analogy of looking for something in a Home Depot brick-and-mortar store versus searching for something on the company’s site. Whereas the store is like a collection of unstructured data that requires customers to know what they’re looking for, and then do lots of wandering and asking questions of employees to find what they want, the web site lets them start with a broad category and drill down.

For Oracle, Endeca will be more valuable as a component of an interconnected big data suite rather than as just a standalone product. Earlier this month, Oracle announced forthcoming appliances focused on analyzing unstructured data, including via Hadoop and a NoSQL database. Endeca’s product could mesh well with that broader strategy, or maybe could help Oracle do large-scale enterprise search. In fact, Sondregger told me that several intelligence-industry customers are running Endeca on top of Hadoop, one of them in an environment containing 24 billion records.

With one acquisiton under its belt just a few weeks after officially getting into the big data space, one has to wonder what else Oracle has planned. If it wants to go “all in” on big data, there is no shortage of interesting companies out there that could bring real value to Oracle’s strategy.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Chika.