Microsoft Unleashes a Deluge of BI Goodies

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2004-09-29

Microsoft Unleashes a Deluge of BI Goodies

ORLANDO, Fla.—Microsoft Corp. is flooding the BI market yet again.

This time around, the company is announcing new SQL Server Report Packs for Exchange and Business Solutions CRM; Report Builder, a tool that opens up simple report creation to the masses; and a rechristened version of DTS (Data Transformation Services) that will reach into nonpersistent data stores such as those found in RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds or Web services.

Bill Baker, general manager for SQL Server Business Intelligence for the Redmond, Wash., company, is expected to announce the trio of business intelligence announcements during his opening keynote at the PASS (Professional Association for SQL Server) Community Summit here on Wednesday.

The report packs, which are available for free download starting on Wednesday, provide users with modifiable templates of commonly used Reporting Services reports. According to Alex Payne, senior product manager for SQL Server, the report packs include templates for commonly run reports in the current version of Exchange and in Microsoft CRM 1.2. For example, common reports for Exchange include queries into which users send the largest e-mail files, whose in-box is of a certain size or who receives the most e-mail. Common reports in CRM include those concerning account details or a report on sales pipelines that shows customer details. The Exchange Report Pack includes 13 templates, and the CRM Report Pack contains six, Payne said.

Microsoft intends to make more Report Packs available based on customer requests, but Payne declined to say what applications they would pertain to.

Baker also is expected to confirm in his keynote that the company is putting the ActiveViews Inc. BI technology it acquired in April into SQL Server 2005 Beta 3. The technology, which has been dubbed Reporting Services Report Builder, is geared to enable end users to build reports in an ad hoc environment. End users will be able to build reports from scratch or to modify existing reports within a simple drag-and-drop environment, without having to understand the intricacies of database schema, database connection strings or the construction of SQL queries, Payne said, as is now the case with building reports in Reporting Services.

Do you really want users to start cranking out reports en masse? Some IT managers say no. Read more here.

"It hides the complexity of underlying database schema so they can more easily build reports," Payne said. Reports will be generated from either the SQL Server relational database or off of Analysis Services, which is Microsofts OLAP (online analytical processing) engine. "What it means for the end user is building your report with freedom of thought. You dont have to call somebody and say, Build me a report for sales for the last quarter. I can drag and drop in a Microsoft environment, and I can build my own business report."

Baker also is expected to announce that additional Microsoft products will embed Reporting Services into their applications. Both MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager) and the next version of CRM will have Reporting Services for a reporting environment, Payne confirmed.

Next Page: The renaming of Data Transformation Services.

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Finally, Baker is expected to confirm that DTS (Data Transformation Services) has been renamed SQL Server Integration Services and that it will appear as a beefed-up version in SQL Server 2005 Beta 3.

Payne said that the new version of DTS is a completely revamped product that doesnt share a single line of code with its predecessor. Beyond the ETL (extraction, transformation and loading) capabilities DTS now features, Integration Services will be able to source data from Web services or RSS feeds. That represents a significant evolutionary leap because it encompasses nonpersistent data that resides outside of the database. The new capabilities will enable users to snare data flows coming from Web services or RSS feeds and to perform text mining on it, searching for keywords routed into an XML file or database, for example.

Lou Ann Leary, director of merchandise systems for Barnes & Noble Inc., in New York, said that the company has performed a proof of concept with SQL Server 2000 in order to develop a full BI solution. Barnes & Noble is using Reporting Services and Analysis Services along with DTS in the beta of SQL Server 2005, which is code-named Yukon. Leary said that Barnes & Noble determined that SQL Server 2000, along with Microsofts BI tools, could indeed process the retailers holiday volume and run sales and inventory and produce reports for users every morning.

After determining Microsoft BI tools could handle the 1.2-terabyte data warehouse, the next issue was price shopping. Barnes & Noble is an Oracle Corp. database shop and so, naturally, the company priced out a BI solution using Oracle technology. "Were an Oracle operations shop, and it would be a natural solution for us, but Microsoft was cheaper to do," Leary said. Microsofts BI platform was 20 percent less costly, she said—the figure that clinched the deal.

Thats not a surprising scenario, according to Rob Helms, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, in Kirkland, Wash. "My sense of the SQL Server group is that BI, broadly defined, is deeply important to them," he said. "They were crediting BI for 40 percent of SQL Server sales" recently, he said. "It was a way for SQL Server to sneak into shops that are traditionally Oracle shops."

Indeed, the transformation of DTS into Integration Services means that Microsoft is deadly serious as it launches its latest assault on the data warehousing market and as it prepares the market for Yukon, Helms said. "Microsoft today has a set of utilities called DTS that are supposed to be for getting data out of operational systems, cleaning it up and putting it into data warehouses," he said. "Theyve completely rewritten that. It will make use of the .Net framework and be much more scalable because of that. … This is probably for the BI side of SQL Server the biggest release since SQL Server 7.0. … Theyre really counting on those improvements to get people to move to Yukon."

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