While there are many other challengers, most notably Microsoft's Power BI, the choice for buyers of self-service business intelligence and analytics tools often still comes down to Tableau vs. Qlik Sense.
So what separates the two rival BI and data visualization software technologies from one another?
"It's an emphasis on a different perspective," said David Menninger, an analyst at Bend, Ore.-based Ventana Research. "Qlik is more suited for building dashboards that show the same information each day. Tableau is more suited to poking around and seeing what's going on."
He added, though, that the products offered by the two companies are more similar today than they were in the past. With its earlier QlikView software, Qlik initially emerged more as the vendor of a governed enterprise BI platform built on a strong data processing engine, while Tableau was seen mostly as a tool for ad hoc queries; it usually was sold to business units and departments on the basis of its strong self-service and data visualization capabilities, a so-called land-and-expand strategy that often bypassed IT departments.
But Qlik has invested heavily in visualization functionality for Qlik Sense, which it first released in 2014; doing so has pullied it nearly even with Tableau on support for visualizing data, Menninger said. Meanwhile, Tableau has introduced a host of enterprise-oriented technologies -- including its new Hyper data engine -- in an effort to make its software more IT-friendly and scalable enough to handle big data applications.
"Over the years, they've become more and more similar," Menninger said. "In the grand scheme of things, they are more similar than they are different."
Tableau vs. Qlik Sense: What's the difference?
Nonetheless, although Tableau and Qlik Sense have had the same general development targets over the last couple of years, that doesn't mean there's no daylight between them.
Former Qlik executive Donald Farmer, who now heads analytics consultancy TreeHive Strategy in Woodinville, Wash., said Qlik still has the edge on enterprise functionality. In particular, he said it has strong capabilities for setting up repeatable reports, managing data access and scaling to handle large workloads.
Donald Farmerprincipal, TreeHive Strategy
On the other hand, he said, Tableau has more data connectors, enabling users to connect live to data sources like Teradata and SAP HANA. The Tableau software also still has an edge in data visualization features, according to Farmer. In addition, he said customers typically report positive experiences working with the company, which has helped Tableau develop a strong and devoted fan base among its users.
"Qlik has been much more scalable than Tableau, and that's been a strong differentiator," Farmer said. "Tableau's advantage is that people love it. It's well designed."
How does Hyper change the equation?
Over the past few years, Qlik's Associative Engine gave it a clear advantage for higher-end applications. The company built its software around the data engine specifically to help it support enterprise-class BI and data visualization use cases.
But Tableau claims that Hyper, which it added earlier this year, will enable its software to also scale to much larger use cases, including things like internet of things analytics. Tableau executives have been explicit about how the new data engine is intended to position Tableau for more enterprise adoption -- and put the company on par with Qlik at the engine level as part of the Tableau vs. Qlik Sense battle.
Menninger said it remains to be seen if Hyper will succeed in that regard. The fundamental limiting factor is that it's still an in-memory engine. he added.
Hyper does appear to offer substantial performance improvements compared to Tableau's previous data engine, according to Menninger. However, he expects data volumes to continue to grow at a fast pace. As a result, what functions as a robust in-memory engine today may come to look sluggish in a couple years.
"I see [Hyper] as extending the life of in-memory technologies to the new world of larger data sets, but I believe it's still an intermediary," Menninger said. "We will continue to see data volumes grow and outpace the Hyper engine."
That isn't necessarily just an issue for Tableau, though. Because much of Qlik's technology is also built around an in-memory data engine, Menninger said the limitation of in-memory technology on big data could eventually bite Qlik as well.
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