Tableau vs. Qlik Sense: Pros and cons of the rival analytics tools

Tableau vs. Qlik Sense: Pros and cons of the rival analytics tools

Products from the two top data visualization vendors are starting to resemble each other as the need for strong visualizations and scalability has crystalized.


While there are rising challengers, the battle for No. 1 among self-service business intelligence and analytics tools still comes down to Tableau vs. Qlik Sense.

So what separates the two data visualization software applications?

"It's an emphasis on a different perspective," said David Menninger, an analyst at Ventana Research. "Qlik is more suited for building dashboards that show the same information each day. Tableau is more suited to poking around and seeing what's going on."

He added that the two applications are more similar today than they have been in the past. Qlik initially emerged as more of a governed enterprise platform with a strong data processing engine, while Tableau was seen mostly as a tool for ad hoc queries, and it was sold more to lines of business on the basis of its strong visualization capabilities.

But Qlik has invested heavily in its visualization capabilities, pulling it nearly even with Tableau, Menninger said. Meanwhile, Tableau has introduced a host of enterprise capabilities — including its new data engine, Hyper — that company officials say enable the application to scale to truly big data.

"Over the years, they've become more and more similar," Menninger said. "In the grand scheme of things, they are more similar than they are different."

Tableau vs. Qlik Sense: What's the difference?

Though the two products have had the same target over the last couple of years, that doesn't mean there's no daylight between them.

Former Qlik executive Donald Farmer, currently the principal at TreeHive Strategy, said Qlik still has the edge on enterprise functionality. In particular, he said it has strong capabilities for setting up repeatable reports, managing data access and scaling to large workloads.

On the other hand, he said, Tableau has more data connectors, enabling users to connect live to data sources like Teradata and SAP HANA. The software also has an edge in visualization capabilities, and customers typically report positive experiences working with the company, Farmer said. This has helped Tableau develop a strong and devoted fan base among its users.

"Qlik has been much more scalable than Tableau, and that's been a strong differentiator," Farmer said. "Tableau's advantage is that people love it. It's well designed."

How does Hyper change the equation?

In the past few years, Qlik's data engine gave it a clear advantage. The company built its product around its data engine specifically to help it scale to enterprise use cases.

But, earlier this year, Tableau introduced Hyper. The company says the new data engine will enable its software to scale to much larger use cases, including things like internet of things analytics. Tableau executives have been explicit about how the move is intended to position Tableau for more enterprise adoption. This may have helped pull them even in the Tableau vs. Qlik Sense battle over data engines.

Menninger said it remains to be seen if Hyper will succeed in this regard. The fundamental limiting factor is that it's still an in-memory engine. Hyper does appear to offer substantial performance improvements compared to Tableau's previous engine, he added.

However, he expects data volumes to continue to grow. What functions as a robust in-memory engine today may come to look sluggish in a couple years.

"I see [Hyper] as extending the life of in-memory technologies to the new world of larger data sets, but I believe it's still an intermediary," Menninger said. "We will continue to see data volumes grow and outpace the Hyper engine."

Because much of Qlik's technology is also built around an in-memory data engine, Menninger said the limitation of in-memory technology on big data could eventually bite Qlik as well.


By Ed Burns