Although my major BI interest is in micro-BI (or is that workgroup-BI?) i.e. data, perhaps cleansed and packaged elsewhere, available locally on a datasmith’s PC,with most likely an in-memory OLAP as the analysis tool; the possibilities of the “cloud” as a BI platform have not escaped me.
From a micro-BI perspective, the ability to act as a backup/mirroring tool or as ETL/marshaling tool (anybody for Hadoop and SQLite?) attracts. I’ve yet to make up my mind on BI delivered as a cloud PaaS but obviously many others believe it has a future.
My main worry with PaaS is not lock-in (which exists equally for in-house proprietary solutions) but the dangers of a Coghead-like lock-out. My other doubts are more technical; believing, as I do, that in-memory offers significant advantages over traditional ROLAP (simplicity been the main one) and multi-tenant in-memory architectures are not yet a runner. But last week I had a demo of new Spanish BI PaaS service, LiteBI, which might just change my mind.
Javier Giménez Aznar and his team previously worked on delivering Pentaho based datawarehouses to large Spanish corporations and government agencies, so they have a deep understanding of Mondrian ROLAP and are using that knowledge to build the LiteBI service, but this time with SMBs as the target customers rather than corporates. Pricing starts at €145 per month and is based on number of concurrent users, number of analytical spaces and the data volumes, so it’s not for very small firms more for the Medium in SMB.
Impressions? The cube designer, dashboard builders and the general UI are all very good and I would think would appeal to end-user datasmiths and, as such, will be a major up-front aid to selling this product. But it was LiteBIs approach to the thorny issue of ETL and data loading that impressed me and also helped ease some of my Coghead-induced-fears.
BI technology stacks consist of three elements:
- The “fancy” front-end; graphs,animated dashboads and so on.
- The pivot engine; ROLAP or MOLAP or both.
- The ETL process.
- (Many would say there’s an important 4th, the data-warehouse, but not every BI effort requires one, but that’s another issue)
LiteBI is continuing to build yet more functionality into their UI and this “fancy” front-end is essential as it’s their “shop window”.
Mondrian provides their pivot engine, and again they continue to work on optimisations such as column-based datastores to increase speed and automate responsiveness tuning (end-users are very unforgiving of slow pivots).
But it’s in the 3rd area, that of the ETL process, that you realise the LiteBI team has real-world BI experience. Data is loaded into LiteBI via an API, but with the ETL process itself happening on the customer side.
“Well,so what?” you may ask. The extraction of data has to obviously happen customer-side (even though not in the case of data being sourced from the likes of SalesForce.com). Yes, but it’s the transformations and data cleansing that adds true value to the ETL process and subsequently determines the quality and usefulness (as opposed to the speed or the “prettiness” of delivery) of the solution.
Part of the process of adopting LiteBI, is an ETL consultancy stage where a LiteBI partner company will provide on-site services to build this ETL layer, handling not just transformations but initial load and automating the subsequent delta uploads.
So the cost mounts up, but in reality you can’t do BI without this investment; there’s no ETL magic bullet. Even still, Javier says the typical go-live time for a LiteBI project would be in the order of 3-4 weeks rather than the 3-4 months of similar on-site Pentaho projects.
The end-user ‘owning’ the ETL process makes the prospect of a service lock-out slightly less worrying as, at least, one would still have a good starting point for moving to another provider or back in-house. What I would really like to see would be the option to self-host LiteBI, which I guess would involve open sourcing large parts of the service (the automated optimisation strategies could, for example, be excluded from this open source version).
The load API comes packaged as a plugin to Kettle (aka PDI) and the intention is to offer a similar add-on for Talend in the near future. LiteBI also offers a white-label offering whereby 3rd party OLTP solution providers can use the service as their product’s BI suite.
Like the Skibbereen Eagle keeping its eye on the Czar of Russia, I too will be keeping a watchful eye on LiteBI and the march of on-demand BI in general.
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