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Microsoft Buys Company That Helps Crunch Messy Data

Microsoft is acquiring Metanautix, a startup founded by Google and Facebook engineers to help more people crunch big data.

Terms were not disclosed, but Palo Alto, California-based Metanautix had raised about $7 million in venture funding from Sequoia Capital and others since its founding in 2012.

One company founder is Theo Vassilakis, who led the development of Dremel, an open-source system for querying data scattered among different systems. Dremel became the core of Google’s (GOOG) highly regarded BigQuery data analytics service. His co-founder is Apostolos Lerios, a former Facebook (FB) senior engineer who worked on that company’s photo service, which is home to billions of our own photos and other images.

Metanautix applied the standard SQL (the initials stand for structure query language) used to ask questions of traditional relational databases to wild-and-wooly data that doesn’t fit into that row-and-column mold. SQL is the standard language used to ask questions of relational databases like Oracle (ORCL) and Microsoft SQL Server.

Being able to apply that same tool to messy non-relational data, in theory means that businesses can learn much more from their diverse data sources in one fell swoop. And that the tens of thousands of SQL experts already in the field can apply their existing skills to new types of data.

So a business analyst for a product manufacturer could ask how much of Product A sold in the second quarter, but also parse posts on Twitter or Facebook to see how customers liked or didn’t like what they bought. One set of information is traditional database stuff, the other set is messy social networking data.

In a blog post announcing the deal, Joseph Sirosh, Microsoft (MSFT) corporate vice president for data, didn’t provide much in the way of detailed plans for Metanautix other than to say that Microsoft would incorporate its technology into Microsoft’s overall data platform. Those include the aforementioned SQL Server database and Cortana data analytics products.

It was unclear whether Metanautix’s year-old product, the Quest Data Engine, which claimed HP, Shutterfly, and the University of Chicago as customers, will still be offered separately or whether its technology will be integrated into Microsoft’s offerings. I’m guessing the latter.

For more on big data and analytics, check out this Fortune video.

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