How big data project Presto started at Facebook led to Starburst Data - Business Insider

  • Engineers at Facebook built the big data engine Presto in 2012 because using its existing data warehouse was such a "terrible experience."
  • Facebook ultimately open sourced Presto in 2013 and it quickly become so popular that a group of engineers from data analytics firm Teradata decided to launch a startup to offer enterprise services around it. 
  • Their company, Starburst Data, has swelled to 200 employees and a $351 million valuation while Presto is loved by the likes of Amazon, Netflix, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Uber 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Prior to 2012, using the internal tool for processing batches of data at Facebook was a "terrible experience," according to Martin Traverso, who was a software engineer there at the time. 

The so-called data warehouse could only run a few queries per day, slowing down the process of analyzing large amounts of information. To save themselves from frustration, Traverso and some fellow Facebook engineers set out to build something that was just as powerful but much faster.

Their efforts became Presto, a big data engine that allowed Facebook to query large datasets in a matter of seconds. Presto allows engineers to analyze how Facebook's products are used and to make predictions based on that data. 

In 2013, Facebook made Presto publicly available as open source software to give outside people and companies access to it. The original team, including Traverso, didn't expect it to become popular, but companies like Netflix, Amazon, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Uber started integrating it into their own processes. 

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The project gained so much steam that a group of engineers who were avid users of Presto at the data analytics company Teradata decided to launch their own startup — Starburst Data —  in 2017 that sells additional enterprise features for for the project, including support and more features for security and management. 

The startup has since swelled to nearly 200 employees — including original Presto co-creator Traverso, who joined the company as a CTO last year. 

"We saw how popular it had become, saw how big the community had gotten, and the breadth of adoption and use cases: We want to make sure we build something that's catered to everyone else," Traverso told Business Insider of the startup's ambitions. 

In June, Starburst Data raised a $42 million in Series B at a $351 million valuation, according to PitchBook, with the pandemic having a positive effect on its growth, Starburst Data cofounder and CEO Justin Borgman says. 

"Fortunately for us business has been good, largely driven by the fact that the world has sort of accelerated its digital transformation," Borgman told Business Insider. "A lot of people have talked about how we've gone through many years of digital transformation as consumers have really shifted their own habits."

The Presto open source project has continued growing, too, and Traverso says that nurturing that continued development is a priority. 

"For the project, I want to continue to grow the community, get more people involved," Traverso said. "The project becomes more successful when more people are involved and it satisfies the needs of more companies." 

Presto's Slack community of contributors and users has about 3,000 people and 500 members who are active every week, and conferences about Presto have also emerged worldwide.  

As to why the community may be seeing solid growth, even now, Traverso has one theory: "With shelter-in-place rules, people have more time writing code."

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