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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  • Of course, if you’ve got data in CSV format, nothing stops you from opening it in Excel.  From there, you could save the data in Excel’s own file format, then start crunching its numbers.

  • Google describes BigQuery as a column store database that works well for OLAP (OnLine Analytical Processing) queries.  Microsoft PowerPivot, a free add-in for Excel 2010, precisely fits that description as well and can import from CSV files just fine.  Here’s what the data looks like once it’s in PowerPivot.  Throwing large datasets in PowerPivot will give you far better performance than storing the same data directly in a spreadsheet.

    One very powerful aspect of PowerPivot is its use of data compression.  The CSV file containing the six states’ baby data was over 20MB. The Excel workbook containing the PowerPivot model with that same data was less than 1MB.

  • Once your data is in PowerPivot, you can easily visualize it back in Excel using PivotTables, charts or both.  Here we see a chart bound to the PowerPivot model with our baby name data, featuring several “slicers” above and to the left of the chart.

    Slicers let you filter your data and see the chart update automatically.  Here we have filtered the query to show data only for the names Abigail and Allison, in the states of AZ, CA, CO and NY, between 1995 and 2005.  The slicer at the top contains only girls’ names because we selected “F” (female) in the "Gender" slicer toward the upper-left.

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?