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Microsoft to release new self-service business intelligence tools

Microsoft plans to release a set of managed self-service data analytics and reporting tools as part of a SQL Server upgrade in 2010.

Microsoft today released new details about its business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing initiatives, including plans for integrating data warehouse appliance technology from recently acquired DATAllegro and new tools to expand BI further throughout the enterprise.

However, the release is unlikely to appeal to companies that are not already Microsoft shops, according to analysts.

Code named "Gemini," Microsoft said the set of managed self-service analytics and reporting tools will be released with the next upgrade of SQL Server, code named "Kilimanjaro" and set to debut sometime in the first half of 2010. The news was timed to coincide with the first day of Microsoft's BI conference, being held today in Seattle.

The tools will allow business users to download "literally hundreds of billions of rows of data" from corporate systems onto the desktop for analysis in an "Excel-like tool" without IT assistance, according to Herain Oberoi, product manager for Microsoft's SQL Server group.

Users will also be able to create custom reports against larger company- and department-wide-level reports in SharePoint Server. Both the resulting analysis and reports can then be published through SharePoint so other workers can access and manipulate them.

In addition to a lightened workload, IT departments will also gain greater monitoring and management capabilities over user-created analytics and reports, Oberoi said. IT will be able to identify which analytics and reports are most popular and provision more hardware to support them, or retire those that are not used.

"IT now starts managing these solutions like they would SharePoint workspaces," Oberoi said.

Microsoft, which plans to make Kilimanjaro available to customers and partners for testing through a community technology preview within a year, believes it is in an ideal position to spread BI capabilities to regular business users, thanks to its ubiquitous Office suite.

"Microsoft's goal is to transform the way companies think of BI through familiar and intuitive business-friendly tools that help them unlock the power of BI across their organizations," said Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft Business Division, in a statement. "If you know how to use Word and Excel, then you'll be able to use our BI -- that's our commitment to customers."

Extending BI throughout the enterprise, also called pervasive BI, is high on the agenda of the major BI vendors. SAP, for example, which acquired Business Objects earlier this year, released an Excel transformation tool and has made Crystal Reports available to Business One customers.

Likewise, "Microsoft is trying to piggyback on their already pervasive desktop nature" to expand its BI customer base, said John Hagerty, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. in Boston. "If [Microsoft] can bring the tool set that people are already using up to the next level, I think that's reasonable."

Boris Evelson, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said average business users, however, will benefit most not from the ability to create their own analytics and reports, but from the ability to access analytics and reports created by more sophisticated, so-called power users via SharePoint Server.

Microsoft's new in-memory, Excel-like tool will fill a "gaping hole" in functionality, Evelson said, allowing power users to add new dimensions to analytic and reporting models, or even to build brand-new models.

Still, Microsoft's BI and data warehouse offerings are not likely to appeal to potential customers who are not otherwise Microsoft-centric, Evelson said. "You can't develop in Java or Eclipse. Its has to be done in .NET," he said. "And you're not going to put Microsoft BI on top of non-Microsoft databases if that's what you have."

Microsoft said it will also release new capabilities letting customers create data warehouses with "hundreds of terabytes of data and thousands of concurrent users," thanks in part to massive parallel processing technology integrated from DATAllegro.

The new data warehousing capabilities will also be available via a community technology preview within the next 12 months, with a full release scheduled for 2010, Microsoft's Oberoi said.

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