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Big Data BI Inside Stormy Clouds

Comments made this week by open source business intelligence (BI) software provider Jaspersoft Brian Gentile point to some interesting implications for developers working with technologies that have been traditionally very inflexible and brittle. Suggesting that BI has previously suffered badly from hampering rigidities, Gentile says that cloud BI represents a way for software engineers to build reporting and analysis solutions more easily.

A recent IDC survey and presentation, The Maturing Cloud: What the Grateful Dead Can Teach Us About Cloud Economics, April 6, 2010, showed that 50 percent of respondents said it was highly likely they would pursue the public cloud for BI and analytics -- and nearly 70 percent said it was likely they would pursue a private cloud deployment.

Jaspersoft defines a cloud-based BI platform as one that makes use of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), complements and extends today's platform-as-a-service (PAAS), uses an on-demand, virtualized, elastic software and hardware environment, and delivers application-level functionality as a service (commonly referred to as software-as-a-service).

Gentile says that typically, a cloud-based BI platform is used to solve one of three primary customer needs:

  1. As a horizontal BI tool: to deliver standalone, internally facing reporting and analysis applications -- probably using a traditional relational database (or data mart) as the primary source data system.
  2. As an application framework: or pre-built reporting and analysis template for systems integrators to use for assembling customer-specific solutions more quickly. These solutions are probably function- or domain-specific and contain reusable components and application logic (but are assembled uniquely for each customer).

  3. As a development platform: that enables embeddable, externally-facing applications that solve a function-specific data analysis problem (for example, CRM analytics, financial analytics, or supply chain analytics). In this case, an ISV (or an enterprise IT team with appropriate skills) would probably use the BI platform to deliver reporting and analytics as a well-defined and well-featured layer within its larger application. The result is an analytic application that solves a customer problem with minimal customization and that is ideally delivered using a software-as-a-service architecture on top of a cloud infrastructure.

"Many large enterprises are interested in cloud BI as a horizontal tool to provide a simple, distinct, affordable 'IT sandbox' where software developers can work on project experimentation and evaluation can occur far from the production environment. The organization may also want to use cloud BI to develop and deliver a departmental BI project more quickly and inexpensively than other options. In both cases, avoiding the time and expense of buying and configuring server hardware, operating software, and database software holds a strong appeal and greatly accelerates the evaluation-to-deployment cycle," said Gentile.

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