It’s the time of year when magazine editors can’t resist the urge to fill their glossy wares full of ‘thing of the year’ articles, the print equivalent of the mid-season “clip show” that has plagued many a TV series. Well, if it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for me so here’s my rather unstructured and unscientific take on Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing in the year that was – 2010…
To start, I’ve taken a series of snapshots from the excellent Google Trends showing global search volumes for each of the Big Four offerings to measure the level of interest. It’s reasonably clear to see from the graph below that interest in OBIEE shows a small but steady growth whilst Reporting Services shows a marked decline and the other two offerings remains roughly static (maybe a small decline?), this surprised me given that with the release of 2008 R2 I think that Reporting Services is really getting to the point where it offers a legitimate choice in the BI marketplace. Perhaps the issue that Microsoft have fragmented their BI offering to include a mixture of terms with Excel, PowerPivot, SharePoint, Analysis Services and Reporting Services all making up the BI stack and nobody really knows what to call it?
|Cognos||OBIEE||Business Objects||Reporting Services|
This year has also brought an increased emphasis on Mobile BI with the iPad and iPhone fast becoming common executive playthings, Business Objects making it’s Explorer and Xcelsius products available on Android in addition to the iPhone (Explorer only). MicroStrategy took the mobile emphasis a step further (perhaps to help stick their head above the crowd) by announcing a strong focus on the mobile BI market and offering a free 25-seat licence for their Mobile Suite. Despite a strong focus on marketing Mobile BI I’m still not convinced that any of the vendors have really hit the nail on the head with their solutions in that whilst many offer pretty visualisations and slick interfaces most seem to lack the kind of simplicity that helps to present information quickly and succinctly, even the frankly beautiful independent product RoamBI just feels a little overdone when it comes to actually using it.
Major Product Releases
It’s been quite a year in the BI & Database world with the launch of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) 11g and IBM’s Cognos 10…
Microsoft’s launch is effectively a moderate evolution of SQL Server 2008 in most areas with little change to the database engine, it’s ETL tool Integration Services and it’s OLAP engine Analysis Services. That said, R2 did bring some handy incremental features which will be especially welcomed by the budget-conscious with an increase in the DB size of the free Express Edition from 4GB to 10GB and the addition of Backup Compression to Standard Edition. There were some interesting additions with PowerPivot, Master Data Services and StreamInsight thought I’m not sure that either will find a natural home for a good year or so as busy DBAs and developers struggle to find the time to try these new features out.
Despite the major jump in the version number Oracle’s release too seems to be mainly an evolution and as a great fan of the product I’m quite considerably relieved since Oracle could quite easily have been over-zealous in integrating their ‘own’ tools like Discoverer and Warehouse Builder with bought-in technologies like Siebel Analytics (which became the bedrock of OBIEE), Hyperion’s Essbase and Sunopsis (now Oracle Data Integrator). One of the less exciting but fundamentally important additions is that the semantic layer employed in OBIEE will be directly and immediately compatible with future releases of other Oracle products in the CRM, ERP and Finance application spaces.
I’m not as familiar with Cognos as the other two tools having only experimented with Cognos 8 for a couple of weeks but from everything I’ve read it seems that Cognos 10 was certainly a major milestone in the product’s lifecycle. Aside from the shiny sounding features such as Social Networking and iPad support (actually a very serviceable looking mobile BI app) there are some very cutting-edge additions to the product including a statistical engine drawn from SPSS and Active Reports which allows users to explore and analyse offline data including interactive email reports.
No good review and roundup article ends without a nod to the future and whilst I’m not keen on making absolute predictions there are a few developments I’ll be keeping my eye on for 2011 and beyond.
The main event I’m anticipating is the release of Business Objects XI Release 4, I’ve not seen too many concrete details about functionality but over the last few years Business Objects have seen themselves distracted by the Crystal acquisition (including the shoe-horning of their core product into Crystal Enterprise) and in turn their acquisition by SAP. As a regular and long-term user of Business Objects I’m really hoping that they’ll blow away some of the cobwebs and deliver some new functionality as well as rounding off some of the edges that in previous versions feel a little unfinished, it would be great too if they finally included the key functionality from the legacy desktop client (which many long-term customer still rely on) in their core Web Intelligence product (Freehand-SQL & Grouping – I’m looking at you).
Another area to watch in Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing as well as the wider enterprise market is cloud computing, Informatica’s ETL in the Cloud offering has seen improvements and adoption throughout 2010 and it’s almost a given that Microsoft will be adding some degree of ETL capability to their SQL Azure platform. I’d expect an announcement if not a release along these lines in the coming year, though it’s possible that ETL comes behind providing cloud based analytics (something SSIS guru Jamie Thomson suggests).
In a broader sense I’m expecting to see a little more interest and pickup in the open source BI market, I’ve been saying this for a while (“this time next year, Rodders…“) and I might be wrong for some time to come but I always keep an eye on companies using an Open Source model such as the ETL vendor Talend who recently acquired Sopera (a middleware and SOA vendor), BI vendor Jaspersoft and all-rounder Pentaho. With the global economy still suffering a hangover from the sub-prime mortgage crisis and banking collapse people have been looking for cheaper alternatives and open source companies provide a great way to achieve that, though some of Talend’s high-end offerings are almost comparable in price with other commercial products.
Another possible area to watch out for is the area of Personal Intelligence, essentially Business Intelligence for the individual. A colleague and I spoke about this back in 2008 and we could both see that as people increasingly become data-aware they’ll start to look inwards and aim to measure things about themselves, one obvious starting point is fitness and we already have sites to log and chart your weight and calorie intake as well as the brilliant Nike+ product that measures your pace, time and distance during a run using either a sensor in your shoe or GPS (iPhone app), see the sidebar of this blog or below (one of my runs on the Nike+ site) for examples of the output.
Categories: Business Intelligence, Business Objects, Microsoft SQL Server, Open Source, Oracle, PostgreSQL, Reporting Services, Security, SSIS, Windows Tags: 2008 R2, analytics, Android, BI, BI Trends, Business Intelligence, business objects, cloud, Cognos, IBM, informatica, iPhone, Jaspersoft, Microsoft, Mobile BI, Nike+, OBIEE, Open Source, Oracle, OSS, Pentaho, Personal Intelligence, Reporting Services, RoamBI, SAP, SQL Server, SSIS, Talend
I had a conversation with a colleague recently about how to start teaching yourself SQL Server skills outside of the workplace, he’d read an article on SQL Server Central that recommended buying the Developer Edition of Microsoft SQL Server which I think is a great idea but if you’re really just starting out with SQL Server why not do it for free?
Luckily, there are a number of ways that Microsoft helps us to do this…
Microsoft SQL Server Express 2008 is a cut-down (but not time-limited) version of the full SQL Server 2008 product restricted to 1 CPU, 1GB RAM and one single 4GB database. The express edition contains the core database engine as well as the excellent Management Studio (IDE) and if you download the “Runtime with Advanced Services” version you also get Reporting Services, enabling you to build, deploy and run a small-scale BI solution. Please note that the express edition does not come with SQL Server Agent (scheduling) or Integration Services (ETL) but you do get the Import/Export wizard to help move data around – check out the full comparison for more detail.
Alternatively, if you want to run with the big dogs you could try SQL Server 2008 Evaluation Edition which contains all the features of the Enterprise Edition but has a time limit of 180 days.
If you’re just starting out and want to get the hang of basic data manipulation, writing queries, creating tables, etc. then you’re probably better off with the Express version. It’s smaller and won’t use up as much space/RAM on your PC and you won’t have to worry about the time running out – there’s also a chance that you’d be overwhelmed by all of the other features and products that are bundled with the Evaluation version and in the beginning it’s always better to keep things simple. If you’re already an intermediate-advanced user of SQL Server or another database platform, or you already know that you’re interested in SSIS or Analysis Services then you might as well get hold of the evaluation version but don’t forget that it’s time limited!