Microsoft touts business intelligence for the masses

Microsoft Corp. with the planned Yukon version of its SQL Server database intends to bring business intelligence to the masses, an executive of the software company said during a keynote presentation at the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) Community Summit.

Business intelligence should be in the hands of users enterprisewide, stressed Bill Baker, Microsoft general manager for SQL business intelligence and SQL Server. He expressed frustration at hearing, for example, of a company with 125,000 employees that only has 500 to 1,000 workers using business intelligence software.

“The goal is to drive this out to more users, literally every user in the company,” Baker said. Microsoft also wants to extend business intelligence across organizational boundaries, including customers and partners in the mix, as well as extend it to small and midsize businesses, he said.

Microsoft believes corporate quality and results are driven by the quality of decisions by all employees. To achieve its goal of business intelligence for the masses, Microsoft is preparing to boost business intelligence functions in Yukon, which is due in a beta release in the first half of 2003. Business intelligence investments in Yukon exceed what was spent on this function for the SQL Server 7 and SQL Server 2000 releases combined, according to Baker.

Yukon will feature OLAP and data mining engines, a development workbench, and data extraction, transformation, and loading. Baker also spoke of an unrevealed feature dubbed “Act III,” which is expected to be a followup to OLAP and data mining.

The OLAP engine in Yukon will scale better, and calculations and analysis on the OLAP engine will be centralized to cut down on network traffic. Calculations will be cached as well. Write-back data performance will be improved tenfold, according to the company.

Security also is a focus of business intelligence in Yukon. The database will feature fine-grained administrative permissions. HTTP access for anonymous users is disabled. Services run with the lowest level of permissions possible and there is a separate user ID for data access. Encryption also is featured, as are audit records of server events.

Yukon also will sport an integrated management function for relational and OLAP servers. “There’s a single management shell,” Baker said.

Additionally, the XML for Analysis (XML/A) protocol for building business intelligence services becomes native in Yukon.

A SQL Server user attending the PASS Summit event said his organization has just begun using query tools and reporting, but that upper-level executives have not needed query functions.

“Upper-level management doesn’t seem to need ad hoc analysis services as much as they need one-time [answers],” said Dale Curtis, at database administrator at publisher RBC Ministries in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Also planned for Yukon is failover clustering. Additionally, administrators can synchronize build and query-supporting servers. Full support is provided for existing programming models, such as MDX, DSO, and OLE DB for OLAP.

Multi-instance server staging backup and restore also is planned for Yukon, and there is no 2GB limit, according to Baker.

SQL Server users currently can avail themselves to SQL Server Accelerator for Business Intelligence (SSABI), which is available as a download, for building business intelligence applications. SSABI features predefined content, schemas, report type formats, and a tool to customize content.

Also at the PASS event:

* Unisys Corp., of Malvern, Pa., provided details of OLAP tests done on early versions of the planned 64-bit Liberty release of SQL Server and 64-bit SQL Server Analysis Services on Unisys hardware running Intel Itanium 2 64-bit processors. The tests found that a 16-processor Unisys ES7000 Aries 130 server was able to process a 32 million-member OLAP dimension in 230 minutes. Unisys also found it could process a 64-million-member dimension successfully with the 64-bit system. A 32-bit system could not have processed such a large operation, according to Unisys. The company listed advantages of 64-bit analysis including the support of huge dimensions in memory, more parallelism in partition processing, and faster aggregation processing.

* Gatsby Software Inc., of Hillsborough, N.C., announced the release of Gatsby Design Assistant 4.0, which helps identify design problems early in the development process for SQL Server 2000 applications. With Version 4.0, a prototype is dynamically produced from the underlying database schema. A one-year single seat license of Gatsby Design Assistant 4.0 is available for US$995 and includes five support incidents. Additional support may be purchased separately.

* Temtec, which has U.S. offices in Chapel Hill, N.C., showcased its Executive Viewer application’s connectivity to the Microsoft Analysis Services OLAP capability in SQL Server 2000. Executive Viewer provides a Web interface for dynamically viewing, analyzing, and reporting relationships between data items. The combination of Microsoft Analysis Services and Executive Viewer enables companies of all seizes to increase the untapped value of OLAP functionality and enable non-technical staff to use OLAP analysis, according to Temtec.