Splunk EMEA Boss James Murray is Inside the Tornado

Splunk, a service for analysing machine data, is collecting believers from across the IT and business

Crazy name, crazy company and Splunk’s EMEA boss James Murray is more than keen to show me how crazy when I call on him at his striking London office. Splunk is based in San Francisco, the Kapital of Kalifornian Kookiness where tech companies often compete to show how far from corporate cubicle uniformity they can get. Segways traverse offices, low-flying Frisbees cross the campus, pinball machines get a second life, décor and colour schemes are from the wendy-house class of subtlety, dress code is skate-wear rather than Brooks Brothers. Splunk is very much in this mould even if its London space is in Paddington Basin rather than Shoreditch, preferred location of the Cameron UK State-Approved Centre for Silicon Valley Imitation.

So the demo booth resembles Dr Who’s Tardis, furniture takes its cues from a Schrager hotel and a meeting room is a mocked-up railway carriage that was rescued from Pinewood Studios and might once have been the shell of the late Arthur Fowler’s shed in EastEnders. Art is from the school of Banksy. Graffiti festoons the walls with gnomic proverbs: the Alan Turing-inspired ‘Can Machines Think?’ and, what could almost be Splunk’s mission statement: ‘Taking the SH out of IT’.

It’s schticky but well (and expensively, you suspect) executed and it’s emblematic of a company doing very well, thank you, and with every prospect of doing even better. To use the Web 1.0-generation term, Splunk (named after spelunking or caving) is a company inside the tornado, enjoying hypergrowth with upside and gravy everywhere you look.

The secret sauce: an ability to search machine data and identify correlations. This has two distinctly different purposes: fixing issues such as systems not performing optimally and identifying corporate trends. One is a boon for IT, the other for business intelligence.

According to Murray, “the American business is a runaway train, going gangbusters”. The EMEA business is no slouch either with 1,330 customers out of about 5,500 globally and adding several hundred more per quarter on top.

The appeal is horizontal rather than vertical: pharmaceuticals, financial services, retail, telecoms, gambling are all buying in. Local customers include luminaries such as BT, IG Index, Vodafone, Orange, KPN, Belgacom, Carrefour and Tesco. Splunk users, Murray says, are “technically competent but business-aware” and they are keen to gain insights in much the same way that Google delivers search results – via a single pane of glass. Quite often zealots go on to evangelise the faith and Splunk doesn’t lag far behind the likes of Apple in Net Promoter score.

Like many a strong service today, Splunk often begins with a cult following and grows virally from small, sometimes skunkworks, projects. Buyers pay by throughput volume so deals that start small can grow quickly.

Murray once worked at Autonomy, another company centred on extracting meaning from abstruse sources. But he says the difference is that Splunk is a universal platform for machine data that is able to blend structured data from, say, an Oracle system, with social data and do correlations. Its timing is immaculate as the age of what Murray calls ‘data-fication’ (making use of data generated everywhere by anything) delivers unusual insights. It might, for example, be used by a car maker to take data from an electric car battery, correlate that with destinations and then look at the location of recharging points. Or it could be used to identify a rogue trader by going back in time and comparing holidays with suspicious trading activities.

The net result is a service “as disruptive as TomTom was to the world of maps”. Usage models are growing organically with a strong showing emerging among security professionals.

Today it is predominantly used on-premise but Murray agrees that it seems a natural fit for use in the cloud. As with its office space, the writing is on the wall: Splunk is just getting started.