Snowflake: The Cloud Data Platform
The next era of business belongs to the Modern Enterprise, an agile workplace built on data and powered by AI. Underpinning all this is the Cloud Data Platform, the very foundation upon which the Modern Enterprise is built.
Data has become an essential business asset. The direct connection between data and enterprise value is obvious in the consumer sector (e.g. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix). The same phenomenon is sweeping the enterprise.
With data assuming such a foundational role, data layer decisions are among the most strategic. Snowflake has emerged as the leader of a new generation of Cloud Data Platforms that unlock a host of other opportunities, including the AI-powered applications at the top of the enterprise stack.
Snowflake was born at the peak of the “Big Data” hype around Hadoop. The Big Data crowd correctly identified the limitations of current relational database products and put forward distributed computing approaches as alternatives. The Snowflake team saw the same limitations but took a different approach, harnessing the transformative power of the cloud while building upon the strengths of relational technology.
The team had the benefit of a unique starting point: founders Benoit Dageville, Thierry Cruanes and Marcin Zukowski had helped lead the prior generation of data warehousing developments. I was introduced to this trio by friend and co-investor Mike Speiser and was immediately impressed by the clarity with which they saw the future of their market. They had a deep understanding of the existing technologies, and a keen appreciation of where these fell short. As the public cloud’s capabilities expanded, they spotted the opportunity to use it to overcome the well-known roadblocks in data warehousing without sacrificing enterprise functionality—a trade-off that is still a fact of life in the Big Data camp. We were incredibly pleased to invest in their seed financing in 2013 and have been proud to continue to invest in every financing since then. Bob Muglia was an inspired addition as CEO and led Snowflake from seductive vision to commercial reality and growth juggernaut. The legendary Frank Slootman took the reins in 2019 and is building a company poised to create enduring value for years to come.
The first things one might hope for when imagining a cloud data warehouse are the fundamental properties of scalability and elasticity, and Snowflake certainly delivers these impressively. This alone would constitute a breakthrough. A few years into the Snowflake journey I heard a revealing comment from a top data infrastructure executive at a leading web-scale giant: “The data tier is actually anti-cloud,” he told me, lamenting the barriers he faced to realizing true agility. Snowflake broke these technical barriers and went further to build an end-to-end service that removed the need for data warehouse implementation and management. The customer sees massive workflow compression, including the elimination of traditional ETL (one of the most hated aspects of a conventional enterprise data warehouse project), and expansion of the data types that can be processed directly (e.g. JSON stored in S3).
Some of these capabilities sound a lot like what the industry is hoping to achieve with Big Data technologies. However, Snowflake has delivered them in true cloud fashion without compromising on key enterprise requirements, most importantly native SQL support and performance. This last point was particularly important to our investment thesis at Wing. The world seems to be filled with SQL layers bolted atop various distributed computing frameworks. But an elastically scalable, on-demand data warehouse service with the interactivity that users of SQL-based tools demand? We believed that to be a very rare and important thing indeed.
It is the cloud that enables Snowflake’s distinctiveness. But simply porting an existing data warehouse to the cloud would never have been enough. The core technology had to be broken apart and recomposed—a re-architecture catalyzed by, and beautifully adapted to, the new cloud environment. Snowflake today has gone well beyond its original positioning as an “elastic data warehouse” and has become a true Cloud Data Platform. Diverse data from across the enterprise is aggregated in Snowflake, transformed in place and shared (safely, selectively and compliantly) with business partners. Operational workloads are running at scale alongside the analytics that originally pulled Snowflake into the market. As these trends continue, Snowflake increasingly becomes its customers’ central source of truth and unified data processing resource, and the foundation of the entire Modern Enterprise concept. At Wing, we are pleased to have supported the team’s efforts from the very beginning and look forward to the impact this company will have on the future of enterprise technology.