Microsoft’s big BI push

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Overall, Kilimanjaro is Microsoft’s attempt to bolster its presence and visibility in the end-user BI market, move up the business value chain and bring Microsoft one step closer to delivering on its promise of ‘BI for the masses’. Will it succeed? We believe if Microsoft can get its timing and pricing right then other BI vendors have a lot to be worried about.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is a tough challenge

Understanding the different components within Kilimanjaro is a challenge itself, much like climbing the mountain from which the project takes its name. Despite market confusion, Kilimanjaro does not equate to the next version of SQL Server but does in fact relate to a number of features and functionality included in the next release of SQL Server 2008 that will make the platform more scalable and help it appeal to a wider pool of business users.

There are three different project names to get your head around. Firstly, the company has introduced self-service reporting capabilities within the next release of Microsoft SQL Server – codenamed Kilimanjaro. Secondly, it has announced new managed self-service analysis capabilities – codenamed Project Gemini. And finally, the company aims to deliver advanced data warehousing functionality within SQL Server under the project codenamed Madison.

Gemini is Microsoft’s BI power-user play

Project Gemini – believed by many to be the standout announcement at the conference – constitutes a number of different client and server BI components. It has three main elements: an update to the Analysis Services engine; an Excel add-in client component for in-memory, on-the-fly sorting, filtering and slicing & dicing of large data sets; and deeper integration with Sharepoint.

Project Gemini is clearly targeted at the power users that require the familiarity of Excel but with the scale and power of a heavy-duty multidimensional tool – SQL Server Analysis Services. Excel plays a front and centre part in Microsoft’s ‘bring BI to the masses’ strategy; the Excel add-in component, for example, has been designed to overcome some of the technical limits to crunching data within Excel, and allows users to download millions of rows of data from disparate sources and present and compare data within its interface.

The add-in component also alleviates the need for users to understand and become proficient with the design, build and population of a multidimensional structure. It can, for instance, automatically infer relationships between data sets brought into the spreadsheet and join them using Analysis Services behind the scenes. Furthermore it can empower users to model, build and test their own BI applications without impacting on live BI systems. If users then want to share or ‘productionise’ the multidimensional model, Gemini integrates with SharePoint for sharing, collaboration and management of the application. However, Excel isn't the only client application Microsoft plans to leverage; users will be also able to access BI data from Microsoft’s Dynamics 2009.

Project Madison, on the other hand, is designed to support high-end, large-scale data warehousing deployments through the integration of technology assets it acquired from Datallegro in September. As we have detailed previously, Madison will be a data warehousing appliance solution built in collaboration with hardware vendors Dell, HP, Unisys, Bull Systems and EMC. Madison will be available via a community technology preview in the next 12 months, with full availability in 2010.

And finally, the Kilimanjaro component of SQL Server will include a new version of Report Builder (first introduced within SQL Server 2005) that helps simplify the development, deployment and maintenance of reports, and supports data delivery into Microsoft Word and Excel.

Microsoft must buck the trend for late releases

Unlike some of its cautious competitors, Microsoft has openly shared details of the SQL Server roadmap it aims to deliver over the next two years. This is a brave and bold move by the company, as Microsoft isn’t always known for its reliability on release dates (SQL Server 2008 was six months late and SQL Server 2005 was even later). Let’s hope Microsoft manages to buck this trend with Kilimanjaro.

Helena Schwenk is a Senior Analyst at Ovum

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