Google BigQuery: Self-service cloud data analysis, from your iPad or desktop

Google BigQuery: Self-service cloud data analysis, from your iPad or desktop

Summary: Google made its BigQuery service publicly available last month. So I decided to put it through its paces, and compare it to Microsoft’s Excel and PowerPivot.


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  • BigQuery isn’t just for big desktop and laptop computers.  It runs very well on the iPad, for example, as shown here.  And BigQuery is hip to tablet use too: rotate your iPad from landscape to portrait and the page rendering adjusts, showing you several extra rows of data (illustrated nicely here).

  • You can create your own tables too, of course.  Just hover over your dataset and click the “+” sign that appears to the right of its name to bring up the “Create Table” form, shown above.  In the form, you need only supply an ID (name) for the table, its schema (expressed as a list of column names and data types) and point to the source file containing the data.  Then click OK.

    If the file is 10MB or below in size, you can select it right from your own computer’s hard drive. If it’s bigger, you’ll need to push it up to Google Cloud Storage first, and then supply a link to the file, using “gs://” at the beginning of the URI, as seen here.

    BigQuery assumes it will be importing from a CSV (comma separated values) text file with no initial row containing column names.  If your file uses a non-comma delimiter, or its first row contains column names instead of data, you can tell BigQuery what delimiter to expect and to skip the first row (or first several rows).

    This particular CSV file has historical baby name data for six states in the USA.  The data was taken from the U.S. Social Security Administration’s data collection file, which contains data for all fifty states, each one in a separate file.  The single file I built with the just the six states’ data nonetheless has over 1 million rows.

  • While your table’s being created, you can monitor the progress of the data load task by clicking the “Job History” link at the upper-the left of the screen.  This brings up the "Recent Jobs" screen pictured here.  Despite the reference to “history” in the link, you can view running jobs too.  Click one and you’ll get the detail shown here.

Topic: Enterprise Software

Andrew Brust

About Andrew Brust

Andrew J. Brust has worked in the software industry for 25 years as a developer, consultant, entrepreneur and CTO, specializing in application development, databases and business intelligence technology.

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  • Data privacy?

    BigQuery provides big-data analytics in a completely hosted offering. Hope there is no issue on the front of data privacy. Any idea?

    - Lisa
  • BigQuery or PowerPivot

    What exactly was this article about?

    So I can load data into BigQuery using CSV, export it out as CSV, import the CSV into Excel, then use PowerPivot to actually do analytics.

    Why not just go from CSV directly into Excel? What value is BigQuery bringing to the process; other than turning over my data to Google and giving me a query interface (but not a visualization interface) that will work on an iPad?
    Marc Jellinek
    • PowerPivot or BigQuery

      @Mark, my goal was to show you how BigQuery works, and to contrast that with how you might do similar work in Excel. I wasn't suggesting that you use one and then move the output to the other, although that would work.

      When you ask "Why not just go from CSV directly into Excel?", I suppose that is one of the questions I wanted to provoke you to think about. Would you rather use something like PowerPivot + Excel on your desktop, or would you prefer to stay cloud + browser (and SQL) based and use BigQuery? What's your take? Does the cloud trump the desktop + Excel?