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E-Guide: Improving Business Intelligence Performance
E-Guide: Improving Business Intelligence Performance
E-Guide: Improving Business Intelligence Performance
E-Guide: Improving Business Intelligence Performance
E-Guide: Improving Business Intelligence Performance
E-Guide: Improving Business Intelligence Performance
E-Guide: Improving Business Intelligence Performance
E-Guide: Improving Business Intelligence Performance
E-Guide: Improving Business Intelligence Performance
E-Guide: Improving Business Intelligence Performance
E-Guide: Improving Business Intelligence Performance
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E-Guide: Improving Business Intelligence Performance

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More and more organizations are implementing business intelligence (BI) systems, including many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that previously considered BI tools to be out of their reach. …

More and more organizations are implementing business intelligence (BI) systems, including many small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that previously considered BI tools to be out of their reach. As these companies make their forays into the world of BI, often with SQL Server as the underlying database, one of the most common concerns they have is about system performance. This SearchSQLServer.com E-Guide offers expert insight about what organizations can do to improve the performance of their BI system and new ways to improve BI performance and scalability.

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  • 1. E-GuideImproving Business IntelligencePerformanceMore and more organizations are implementing business intelligence(BI) systems, including many small and medium-sized businesses(SMBs) that previously considered BI tools to be out of their reach. Asthese companies make their forays into the world of BI, often with SQLServer as the underlying database, one of the most common concernsthey have is about system performance.This SearchSQLServer.com E-Guide offers expert insight about whatorganizations can do to improve the performance of their BI systemand new ways to improve BI performance and scalability. This E-Guideaddresses how to meet BI performance challenges: • SQL Server business intelligence performance baked in for most SMBs • Deployment options increase for meeting BI performance challenges • SQL Server BI in the Cloud Sponsored By:
  • 2. SearchSQLServer.com E-Guide Improving Business Intelligence Performance E-Guide Improving Business Intelligence Performance Table of Contents SQL Server business intelligence performance baked in for most SMBs Deployment options increase for meeting BI performance challenges SQL Server BI in the cloud: feasible or fantasy? Resources from Dell, Inc. and IntelSponsored By: Page 2 of 11
  • 3. SearchSQLServer.com E-Guide Improving Business Intelligence PerformanceSQL Server business intelligence performancebaked in for most SMBsBy Don JonesMore and more organizations are implementing business intelligence (BI) systems, includingmany small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that previously considered BI tools to beout of their reach. As these companies make their forays into the world of BI, often withSQL Server as the underlying database, one of the most common concerns they have isabout system performance -- and with good reason.Large enterprises often can devote millions of dollars in IT resources to their BI systems:powerful software, mega-sized servers, massive amounts of disk storage, dedicated teamsof technical workers, and so on. Those things can significantly improve the performance of aBI system – but they’re definitely not in scope for most SMBs. So, what can smallerorganizations do?BI systems are designed to provide answers to business questions, typically byconsolidating disparate information from systems across a company and letting end usersrun queries or reports against the data. For example, you might be able to take a discretefact -- perhaps customer satisfaction metrics are falling -- and trace the reason for thatback to its source. Let’s say your company has been heavily marketing a particular productand its sales are increasing, but the product is easily damaged in shipping and customersare obviously unhappy -- and your shipping insurance claims are going up. It’s the ability toconsolidate all of that information into a single tool set that makes BI so powerful.There are, broadly speaking, two ways of working with a BI system. The most traditionalway is via a data warehouse. Structured specifically to respond quickly to queries thatinvolve a number of different criteria, most data warehouses are updated at pre-set times,meaning they don’t act against live data but instead operate with snapshots of informationfrom specific points in time. The performance of these systems is primarily derived from theunderlying database design and from the processes that load data into the data warehousefrom various organizational sources.Sponsored By: Page 3 of 11
  • 4. SearchSQLServer.com E-Guide Improving Business Intelligence PerformanceThe in-memory approach to SQL Server business intelligenceA somewhat newer technique is in-memory analytics. It can also be used to pull data frommultiple sources, but the BI connections between disparate data can be made in real time,and the information is stored in the memory of an analysis server. In addition, in-memorysystems can support hybrid approaches that combine real-time data with historicalinformation from a data warehouse.Microsoft Corp.’s PowerPivot for Excel software, which operates in conjunction with SQLServer, is one example of a tool with in-memory analysis capabilities. In-memory analyticsperformance is mostly a function of how powerful the analysis server itself is: The morememory and the more (and faster) processors that a server has, the faster it should be ableto process queries.To improve the performance of an existing BI system, you really have only two options: • Design a more efficient system, or • Run it on faster and more powerful hardwareThe first option isn’t something that most SMBs are likely to have under their control. Often,SMBs with limited internal IT resources purchase pre-built BI systems that combine a datawarehouse and BI software in what is effectively a black-box server. Or else they deploysystems that were designed and built for them by a consultant.The second element is easier to manage: Buy a bigger server. Or, for larger and morecomplex BI systems, split the workload across multiple servers. But scaling out in that wayis complex and often requires a certain amount of redesign work to take advantage ofdatabase techniques such as data federation and data partitioning -- which may put itbeyond the budgets and IT capabilities of many SMBs.System design may dictate SQL Server business intelligence performanceOf course, scaling up a single server also costs money. The bottom line is that unless you’reable to invest in new or upgraded hardware, the upper limits of your BI performance areSponsored By: Page 4 of 11
  • 5. SearchSQLServer.com E-Guide Improving Business Intelligence Performanceoften determined in advance by the design of the packaged BI system you choose, includinghow well it makes use of SQL Server or whatever other database platform it’s built upon.As a result, if you’re the buyer or architect of a BI system for an SMB, performance shouldbe your top concern after the data analysis features your organization needs in order tomeet its business goals. Make performance a real focus of your technology evaluationefforts: Ask to see demonstrations of packaged systems running workloads with a data setthat’s representative of the amount of information you anticipate having in your BI system.You also can grill the vendors about their system designs. The process, though, is likebuying a car: Its interesting to ask about the kind of engine that a vehicle has -- butultimately, you need to take it on a test drive because theres more than just the engine atplay. With BI systems as well, there are a lot of complex, interconnected components, andthe only way to check their combined performance is to try them.ABOUT THE AUTHORDon Jones is a senior partner and principal technologist for strategic IT consulting firmConcentrated Technology LLC.Sponsored By: Page 5 of 11
  • 6. SearchSQLServer.com E-Guide Improving Business Intelligence PerformanceDeployment options increase for meeting BIperformance challengesBy Don JonesAs an increasing number of companies look to implement business intelligence (BI)systems, new ways of meeting their BI performance and scalability needs are emerging, inthe process giving potential technology buyers additional deployment options to evaluateand consider.At a basic level, most organizations -- especially those less-than-gigantic companies oftenclassified as small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) -- have three very simple goals fortheir BI systems: • They have to provide reliable answers to business questions, meeting the overall promise of BI itself. • They have to perform queries quickly while also enabling users to interactively drill through data sets as much as possible. • They have to be easy to deploy, without years-long planning, design and implementation cycles.More specific capabilities differ from company to company. Everyone wants dashboards andreports, but what people want to see in them varies. Those kinds of features are the majorpoints on which BI system vendors compete. But how can you ensure that the underlyingperformance and deployment issues are addressed as part of a BI project?One way is to focus on the combination of BI systems and database engines. Microsoft SQLServer, for example, includes an Analysis Services component that is specifically designedto handle BI workloads, and it’s entirely possible to build both custom and packaged BIsystems on top of that platform.Sponsored By: Page 6 of 11
  • 7. SearchSQLServer.com E-Guide Improving Business Intelligence PerformanceBetter system design begets better BI performanceThere are some advantages to such approaches. The platform vendor (Microsoft, in thisexample) often builds up significant experience in BI system design over time through all ofits dealings with customers and BI vendors. That shared experience can lead to bettersystem designs, and better-designed BI systems are better-performing BI systems.Microsoft, to continue using it as an example, has a wealth of publicly accessible best-practices information and system design patterns, along with in-the-trenches studies onhow to wring the best performance from BI systems built on SQL Server Analysis Services.Another potential option is a Software as a Service (SaaS) approach to BI. Just ascompanies are moving email, customer relationship management (CRM) and other ITfunctionality into the cloud, you can purchase cloud-based BI technology from a growing listof vendors.SaaS BI systems offer the promise of rapid deployments along with access to a back-endarchitecture that most SMBs couldn’t afford to build out on their own. That creates thepotential for Fortune 50-class performance -- but the cost of the SaaS BI architecture isdivided across numerous customers, making the capital and operational investment moreaffordable for individual organizations.Internal hurdles for SMBs on BI performance, functionalityAs mentioned above, system design is the prime driver of business intelligenceperformance. However, few SMBs can afford to employ a full-time BI design expert. Thatmeans homegrown BI systems are often built for them by consultants, who may or may notfully understand what a company needs from its BI system. They also may or may not bearound later to tweak the design to accommodate ongoing changes in the businessenvironment or correct initial design errors or misconceptions.Packaged BI systems seek to avoid that problem by creating preconfigured product offeringsthat are designed around common business concepts and practices, instead of requiring acustomized system for each customer. At a certain level, this out-of-the-box approach canSponsored By: Page 7 of 11
  • 8. SearchSQLServer.com E-Guide Improving Business Intelligence Performancework well. After all, most companies use packaged software for email, accounting, humanresources, enterprise resource planning, CRM and other functions. Because BI systems drawmuch of their data from those kinds of operational systems, it stands to reason that -- forcertain companies -- packaged BI tools will meet business needs.Such systems may be designed and tweaked by BI vendors or systems integrators foroptimal performance on SQL Server or another chosen database platform. Although theblack-box nature of preconfigured systems makes it hard for users to modify them forincreased BI performance, they often are easier and less expensive to implement than built-from-scratch systems are, helping to address the deployment concerns that many SMBshave about BI technology.The good news is that with the rapid growth of BI as a product category, businesses nowhave more choices than ever for obtaining or building a high-performance BI system.Solutions to the BI performance challenge are out there -- you just need to find the rightone for your organization.ABOUT THE AUTHORDon Jones is a senior partner and principal technologist for strategic IT consulting firmConcentrated Technology LLC.Sponsored By: Page 8 of 11
  • 9. SearchSQLServer.com E-Guide Improving Business Intelligence PerformanceSQL Server BI in the cloud: feasible or fantasy?By Don JonesAs surely as business intelligence (BI) and cloud computing have become marketingbuzzwords, the two IT trends have indeed come together. An increasing number of vendorsare offering cloud-based business intelligence systems, including SQL Server BI in the cloud,often targeting them squarely at small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).Whatever you think of “the cloud,” BI in the cloud is something you have to pay attention toif you’re considering implementing a BI system. Essentially, you’re looking at a Software asa Service (SaaS) technology not unlike SalesForce.com, which is arguably the poster childfor cloud services. The advantages of a BI system in the cloud are numerous: • You don’t install or implement anything (well, almost -- keep reading) in your own data center. You just “turn on” the service one day and you’re up and running. Sort of. • You don’t need to worry about outfitting the right kind of server with tons of memory, storage and processors -- the service provider handles it. • You don’t need to know a thing about building a BI system, because it’s already built. You’re buying a more-or-less “prepackaged” solution, in much the same way that you probably bought your accounting and customer relationship management (CRM) software. • You will often be looking at a smaller -- possibly zero -- capital investment. Instead, you simply pay monthly or annual service fees based on your usage of the SQL Server BI system in the cloud.That last bit is where you need to be careful: How is usage metered, and what will you payfor it? Some providers charge based on the number of users who will be utilizing the BIsystem; others charge based on how much data you’re storing, while still others use somecombination of these and possibly other factors. The cost factor is always the big warningpoint in a SaaS system, because it isn’t always as straightforward as the host-it-yourselfsolutions we’re all used to.Sponsored By: Page 9 of 11
  • 10. SearchSQLServer.com E-Guide Improving Business Intelligence PerformanceAnother point of caution -- or at least an area you need to learn -- concerns the fact that BIsystems, by definition, need to integrate pretty tightly with your data center, somethingSaaS solutions haven’t typically needed to do.A cloud-based CRM system, for example, may not need to integrate with any of your otherback-end systems (although more of them are gaining the ability to do so). A BI system, bycontrast, is useless if it can’t access a wide range of your existing corporate data.Today, cloud BI providers often achieve this integration by requiring some infrastructure tobe deployed in your data center -- often in the form of agents that collect data from yourexisting systems.Some BI providers are capable of collecting data from cloud-based storage, such asWindows Azure or Amazon’s EC2/S3 infrastructure, but not many companies are storingtheir back-end data (things like sales figures and financials) in the cloud -- at least not yet.Some providers require you to do a traditional extract, transform and load (ETL) cycle toupload your data to their servers for analysis; others enable your live data to be connectedto the BI system through agents, connectors and other software components.How your data gets to the cloud is the big question, and it’s the main area where today’scloud BI vendors differentiate themselves. Make sure you focus on that area whenevaluating systems, along with the more obvious user functionality like dashboards, reports,scorecards and the like.ABOUT THE AUTHORDon Jones is a co-founder of Concentrated Technology LLC, the author of more than 30books on IT and a speaker at technical conferences worldwide. He can be reached throughhis website at www.ConcentratedTech.com.Sponsored By: Page 10 of 11
  • 11. SearchSQLServer.com E-Guide Improving Business Intelligence PerformanceResources from Dell, Inc. and IntelImproving Data Center Performance through Virtualization of SQL ServerDatabasesSQL Server 2008 Upgrade Series: Business StrategiesSQL Server 2008 Upgrade Series: PerformanceAbout Dell, Inc. and IntelDell and Intel are strategic partners in delivering innovative hardware solutions to solveyour most challenging IT problems. Together we are delivering virtualization optimizedsolutions to maximize the benefits of any virtualization project.Sponsored By: Page 11 of 11

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