Looker platform update adds new app development capabilities

Looker 21, which the vendor unveiled July 21, features the general availability of Looker's new portal for application developers and support for hosting on Microsoft Azure.

New application development capabilities highlight the latest Looker analytics platform update.

Looker, founded in 2012 and based in Santa Cruz, Calif., unveiled Looker 21 on Wednesday. Included in the new version of the vendor's platform is the general availability of the Looker Extension Framework.

First introduced in preview in 2020, the Extension Framework includes a software development kit (SDK) and enables developers to build applications that can be embedded either inside Looker or an external website and will be part of the new Looker Developer Portal, which the vendor said is expected to go live the first week of August.

The Extension Framework isn't Looker's first set of tools to enable developers, but a particular benefit of the toolset over previous capabilities is that it eliminates some of the more mundane tasks associated with building an application, according to Pedro Arellano, head of product marketing for Looker at Google.

Google acquired Looker in June 2019 for $2.6 billion.

In particular, the Extension Framework handles all the hosting, security and DevOps aspects of application development, freeing up developers to focus on working with data.

"Fundamentally, it removes friction," Arellano said. "A lot of things developers had to do to stand up the infrastructure of their application are things they don't have to worry about before. The SDK does all of those things for them, so the developer can focus on the user experience for their application."

An organization's customer information is displayed on a sample dashboard from Looker.
A sample dashboard from Looker displays an organization's customer information.

Customers, meanwhile, want more tools that enable application development and embedded analytics, Arellano continued.

From June 2020 to June 2021, the number of Looker customers taking advantage of the vendor's embedded analytics capabilities increased fourfold, he said.

That increase in demand, combined with Looker's longtime focus on developers, was the impetus for developing the Extension Framework.

"When we look at what our customers are doing, developing data-rich applications and experience is an important use case," Arellano said. "That, combined with the fact that from its inception Looker was designed as a development platform more than a BI tool, reaffirmed the idea that we have to invest in capabilities like the Extension Framework."

Analysts' perspective

The new application development capabilities show that Looker is attempting to enable all organizations that want to build embedded analytics applications -- not only independent software vendors and SaaS vendors who use Looker -- to build applications they subsequently sell to their own clients, said Doug Henschen, principal analyst at Constellation Research.

The app development capabilities are very important. It's well apparent that Looker is looking … toward any company that wants to build data-driven applications and experiences.
Doug HenschenPrincipal analyst, Constellation Research

"The app development capabilities are very important," he said. "It's well apparent that Looker is looking ... toward any company that wants to build data-driven applications and experiences."

The capabilities are in line with those being delivered by other vendors, but nevertheless represent Looker's approach to enabling business intelligence beyond traditional reports and dashboards, Henschen continued.

"Looker was an early champion of looking beyond reports and dashboards and supporting ways to deliver data and insights through a cloud-first, API-oriented approach," he said.

Similarly, Mike Leone, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, a division of TechTarget, noted that Looker's continued focus on application developers is a good direction for the vendor. In addition, he said it indicates some influence from Google.

"Google Cloud has prioritized the developer persona from the beginning, and while Looker has been relevant to developers for a while through offering embedded analytics capabilities, these announcements highlight them doubling, if not tripling down on their support for what developers want," Leone said.

And what they want, he continued, is the ability to quickly build and utilize data-centric applications that provide end users with fast access to data and advanced BI capabilities within those custom applications.

Support for Azure

Beyond the updated version of the Extension Framework, the latest Looker platform update includes support for hosting on Microsoft Azure.

Despite being acquired by Google, Looker has continued to enable customers to store their data on premises or in the cloud data warehouse of their choice, operating under the assumption that most customers have their data stored in multiple clouds rather than just one, and on premises as well.

Before the release of Looker 21, Looker supported hosting on Google Cloud and AWS.

"Looker has always been deployable, as software, on AWS and Azure, but Google has doubled down by delivering Looker as a managed service on AWS and now Azure," Henschen said. "That's consistent with Google Cloud's commitment to making its services available on multiple clouds."

Google's commitment to a multi-cloud strategy, he added, is a differentiator for Looker. Amazon Quicksight and Microsoft Power BI are not similarly available on rival clouds, he noted.

In addition to the new Extension Framework and support for hosting on Azure, Looker 21 includes:

  • an interactive API explorer that enables users to prototype APIs without writing code;
  • a cloud cost management system designed so that users can get started quickly with Looker's reporting and BI capabilities and ramp up their usage of the platform in the cloud in phases;
  • an upgraded mobile app that is now available in 22 languages and supports face identification and touch ID;
  • filtering capabilities that enable developers to bring the filters they set on dashboards into embedded applications and extensions; and
  • new incremental persistent derived tables designed to reduce the load on databases and increase query performance.

Among the additional capabilities, Leone said the interactive API explorer will be particularly useful to customers.

"Now that it's interactive, developers can find all the details they need to rapidly build data-rich applications without writing code," he said. "Examples are readily available, and properly formatted code can be copy and pasted directly into applications. The efficiency gains and time savings has the potential to be massive."

Roadmap

While Looker 21 doesn't include any major new integrations with Google, more integrations with Google will be included in future platform updates, according to Arellano.

Looker 21 did include the new cloud cost management system, which Arellano said represents collaboration with Google. The latest platform update did not, however, include any new integrations such as Looker's full support for the Google Marketing Analytics Suite, which was unveiled in August 2020.

A particular focus for integrations will be Google Workspace, a suite of cloud computing, productivity and collaboration tools.

"We believe very strongly that there is a community of Workspace users that can benefit from having Looker capabilities integrated into Workspace," Arellano said. "That's an area that's aligned with our vision of reaching people with insights in the experiences they use today."

In addition to further collaboration with Google, Arellano said Looker's roadmap includes investments in augmented intelligence capabilities, including natural language processing and anomaly detection, and improvements to the user experience.

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