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MicroStrategy Dresses to the 9s
MicroStrategy 9, the business intelligence company's first major release in nearly four years, boasts enhanced features and an increase in both scalability and flexibility.
Posted Jan 21, 2009
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Business intelligence (BI) platform provider MicroStrategy recently announced the availability of its latest product upgrade, MicroStrategy 9 -- the first major release in nearly four years. Company executives say that, in addition to an ongoing focus on large enterprises -- ensuring that the solution can scale to client's demands -- the new release simplifies BI by reducing the number of servers required. MicroStrategy 9 boasts an improved memory performance, a multisource relational online analytical processing (ROLAP) engine, and an evolutionary roadmap for users to span the entire enterprise.

Unlike the acknowledged migration challenges that plagued MicroStrategy's last significant update -- from version 6 to version 7 -- the new release's compatibility with MicroStrategy 8 ensures that the installation process is very "quick and easy," says Eric De Roos, the company's director of product management.

"The release plugs some significant gaps that relegated [MicroStrategy] to the high-end market," says Wayne Eckerson, director of research for The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI). Most notably, he says, were gaps in MicroStrategy's "lack of multisource support and a global federated semantic model."

Version 9, Eckerson adds, indicates MicroStrategy's commitment to supporting global deployments of BI, specifically with the "ability to present every report, dashboard, or OLAP analysis in the local language of each business user viewing the information," a feature that will automatically adjust based on the user's predefined settings.

According to De Roos, BI often exists in distinct departments, or small workgroups, that store data in Excel spreadsheets or various other databases. When attempting to extract data, departments are searching for data from various sources, some of which may contain information that is either overlapping or conflicting. "We found that the interdepartmental databases and workgroup databases do evolve over time," he says. "That's when IT gets concerned about how people are managing the data." The concerns also go up the chain of command, he adds. "CIOs [are] concerned about how many tools they've implemented," he says. "They have relationships with many vendors, no connection between any systems, no synchronicity between systems. Now, with multisource, we can go across these systems."

Version 9's multisource ROLAP "eliminates the requirement to move data from multiple source databases into a purpose-built data warehouse or data mart," according to company documents. In other words, in response to an end-user query, the tool's multisource ROLAP engine extracts information from all existing data sources, and then aggregates that information into a single format presented to the user.

While previous iterations of the solution had an aggregating capability, De Roos says that it wasn't available in the same way. "[Information] was not really merged together at the data model level," he says. The new offering, he says, is attractive not only for its ability to migrate data from very unstructured environments to a structured one, but also for its ability to not disrupt previously designed reports. "It's very easy to take an existing report and point it to a different data source," De Roos says. "Take a few of the metadata objects, point them to new data sources, and the reports work exactly the same [way]."

Without having to rework existing databases, MicroStrategy 9 is designed to open these pockets of information and make them accessible to the entire enterprise. "It's more flexible [and] more agile, and thus is better-suited to departmental implementations," Eckerson says.

De Roos says that, as MicroStrategy deployments expand from the departmental level to the enterprise, the company expects to see an evolutionary approach to BI among its users, especially those looking to jettison legacy applications. He reports that, with 90 percent of MicroStrategy users operating through a Web-based environment, the release offers a self-service component that's more efficient, easier to use, and less technology-dependent. Additional administrative capabilities have been introduced to the Web interface, giving users more features there for designing reports, dashboards, and applications.

MicroStrategy's in-memory ROLAP capability, De Roos says, enables companies to "handle more users on a single Web server." That, in turn, allows users to develop BI initiatives that are more robust with fewer servers and fewer administrators. An in-memory ROLAP operates directly on the main server, minimizing disk-access delays and improving query-response times, the company says. The feature comes standard with MicroStrategy 9, requiring no additional installation or data modeling.

"The in-memory option will help performance significantly," Eckerson says.

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