R language finds its way into commercial analytics applications

The scripting language was once relegated to academic stats labs but is now branching out into business analytics uses. Limitations remain, though.

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The R language is an open source programming language for developing statistical analyses, predictive analytics models and data visualizations. Created in the 1990s, it was long used mainly for small-scale data analysis in academic circles. In recent years, vendors have picked up on R for its large user base and are now offering products that can scale up to meet business analytics needs.

The buzz: A February 2014 Gartner Magic Quadrant report on advanced analytics tools put R vendor Revolution Analytics in its "visionaries" category. R-based software is often cheaper than statistical analysis tools from the likes of SAS and IBM. And because so many universities use R to teach budding data scientists, its user base has come to be seen as a virtual talent pool by businesses. Another plus is an online library of ready-to-use code sets that can save data analysts programming time.

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The reality: Commercial applications built on the R programming language are still in their infancy. It's desktop-based and processes data in memory, so it can handle only limited data volumes, and analyses can be slow. Though many vendors now offer workarounds to distribute jobs across multiple servers, using R is still coding-intensive. Businesses should have programmers who know R and make sure the tools they buy can handle their data sets before implementing anything -- or else their projects might become a statistic.

R programming language scotch map

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