Hadoop analytics startup Platfora raises $38M

Platfora, the startup that sells an analytics and visualization application designed to run on Hadoop, has raised a $38 million series C round of venture capital. Tenaya Capital led the round, with participation from new investors Citi Ventures, Cisco and Allegis Capital, and prior investors Andreessen Horowitz, Battery Ventures, Sutter Hill Ventures and In-Q-Tel. The company has raised $65 million since launching in 2011 and helping usher in a new generation of tools designed to simplify the process of exploring big data.

Platfora is often compared with Tableau because of its visualization capabilities — and perhaps because Tableau often is cited as the de facto front end for running business analyses on Hadoop data — but they’re actually much different. Whereas Tableau and most other business intelligence products can connect to data stored in Hadoop, Platfora runs on top of Hadoop. That means no time spent loading large datasets into a different product, no time transforming the data and no need to sample the data at all.

The Platfora architecture.

The Platfora architecture.

Furthermore, the types of analysis Platfora allows were designed with large, unstructured datasets in mind. It’s this design feature that really separates Platfora and the companies if its ilk, regardless of whether they’re focused on Hadoop, from traditional analytics and BI products. Whether it’s ClearStory’s focus on data harmonization or ZoomData’s mobile-first visualization emphasis, there’s an understanding that companies want to analyze different types of data more easily and more frequently, and to consume the results on different devices.

Platfora has been able to score some big-name customers already, including Citi, Disney and Comcast. Founder and CEO Ben Werther (pictured above) attributes the company’s success so far to its capabilities, but also to the fact that it’s able to sell to line of business buyers who don’t have to know much at all about Hadoop in order to use Platfora. In theory, once Platfora is plugged into the Hadoop file system, users should be able to focus all their attention on Platfora.

“Hadoop is going to be part of the equation,” he said, “… but it doesn’t mean the customer has to be a Hadoop advocate.”

Still, in the short term at least, companies like Platfora are going to have an uphill battle convincing customers to replace their old BI tools. They probably have a system in place to transform Hadoop data into something readable by those products, and the SQL-on-Hadoop trend might make it seem even less necessary to replace the old system. Even if Platfora is truly better, it has to be good enough and different enough to make the choice clear.