LogiXML Enhances Integration, Web-Based BI

Thanks to its new ETL component, LogiXML's Web-based BI suite can address many common integration difficulties -- all in a Web-based context

Ask any IT organization or data management group and they'll consistently cite implementation and management as two of the foremost challenges associated with supporting business intelligence (BI) in the enterprise.

It's for this reason that several vendors now tout software-as-a-service (SaaS) or Web-based BI solutions. Their pitch is enticing: they say they'll handle the implementation, integration, and ongoing management so IT organizations -- or business units -- become straight-up consumers in this model, accessing BI reporting and other services over the Web.

To what degree does it actually deliver as promised? Even in an age of widespread Web service connectivity, after all, integration difficulties still bedevil many organizations.

LogiXML Inc. is a comparative newcomer to the world of Web-based BI, starting out as a conventional reporting tools vendor. Last year, however, the company introduced its most ambitious deliverable to date -- a Web-based BI suite. Designed primarily for (but not limited to) small- and mid-sized organizations, LogiXML's suite has since been through a second major platform release. The most recent revision, Logi 9, introduced support for Web 2.0-style elements, a Widget building tool, and beefier integration, thanks to a then-still-in-the-pipeline ETL offering.

That product, Logi ETL, shipped late last month. It's a data-source-neutral and browser-independent Web-based ETL tool, according to LogiXML officials, and uses OLEDB/ODBC to reach into Oracle, Sybase, SQL Server, DB2, MySQL, Access, and other data sources. It also boasts SOAP/REST Web service connectivity, support for XML data files, and the requisite flat-file support (e.g., CSV or Excel).

In addition, LogiXML officials say, Logi ETL can be extended via a Logi Connector Pack, which facilitates connectivity to, Amazon SimpleDB, RSS/ATOM feeds, Google Docs, and Google Spreadsheets.

"We've taken our core engine and improved how we process data. In previous versions, we were seeing the reporting needs around fast data results and fast response times, getting that data very quickly back into the browser. When we want to get data from all these different data sources and bring that to the user into the browser, we can really leverage the fast in-memory processing that's being done by the web server," explains LogiXML product manager David Abramson.

"We can now leverage XML-based data processing as well. While we've been introducing other pieces to the platform, we want to be able to utilize our core data engine for things like ETL. We've created this hybrid model that allows us to switch when we want to use this in-memory and when we want to scale out to use the XML-based approach."

LogiXML has always dealt with XML data, Abramson concedes; but Logi ETL ups the ante, he argues. "Dealing with XML as we do, we've always had support for different types of Web services connectivity. XML files or flat files," he asserts. "[With Logi ETL], we've expanded that to include other Web-centric types of data sources as well, so we're working with things like RSS feeds, or Atom feeds. [We're] working with things like Google Apps online; working with online databases, [working with] -- [we're] able to connect into those and bring that data for reporting, behind our Web-oriented connector environment."

Integration is the rock on which many well-provisioned BI expeditions founder, LogiXML officials claim. Thanks to its new ETL component, they argue, Logi 9 can credibly claim to redress many common integration issues -- all in a Web-based context.

"Everything is 100 percent Web from the ground up. Everything we're doing is fully integrated with whatever types of apps you want to create in the browser," Abramson says.

"We're really producing pure HTML output content that [users] can fully interact with and it's fully dynamic. We can fully integrate with any of their existing apps. It makes it easier to deploy and it's very navigable." Abramson reiterates, it is purely browser-based, which helps give it a degree of client independence, too. "Being that it's browser-based, the user doesn't have to install anything and create any components. It's highly dynamic," he argues.

Logi 9 gives users or administrators a fair degree of latitude, especially when it comes to reporting, Abramsom claims.

"There are two approaches that we can take towards building reports. There's the managed environment, which is really a development toolkit. What you're doing is you're creating a report definition, or really a definition file that's actually an XML file, which describes what this report is going to do inside of your browser," he explains.

"These report definition files that are XML consist of our XML element language, [which describe things such as] pie charts, analysis grids, etc., so you use [our development toolkit] to build this set of XML elements."

There's also what Abramson calls an "ad hoc environment," which makes the most of the connectivity provided by Logi ETL.

"In the ad hoc environment, what the end user would typically do is connect into the system inside their browser, and they would be presented with a list of data objects that they can work with. That list of objects is really our metadata layer. It's already been pre-configured, [that is,] an administrator has already configured what data sources [users] can connect to, and then the user loads up their objects. We're giving them maybe 10 different tables, two different databases that they can work with, and they can pick and choose which fields they want to work with, and they're going to navigate this wizard that's fully browser-driven."

In this scheme, he continues, users can cobble together dashboard views, too. "Some of them are going to build dashboards, which are one of the new features in version 9, where they can actually create this highly customizable dashboard. They're going to add these elements through this Web user interface, and then when they click 'Save,' it's going to save that to the Web server, and then they can load that report," Abramson explains. "Meanwhile, what's happening is that each time they load that report [Logi 9 goes] out to the data sources and automatically construct the SQL behind the scenes for them." The Logi Web platform was originally based on .NET, but LogiXML has since introduced a developer-friendly J2EE variant, too. It retains at least one function-specific tie to Microsoft, however: its OLAP platform of choice is SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), which ships with Redmond's SQL Server 2000 and SQL Server 2005 databases.

"The original engine is based on a .NET architecture … [but] starting with version 9, we've also increased our platform support to support a J2EE version of the engine for our developer-based reports and tools. Now users of the developer-based solutions are going to be able to work with both deployment methods as an option," Abramson says.

"For working with cube data, right now we're sort of SQL Server Analysis Services-specific. We can utilize protocols [such as] XML/A to connect into [non-SSAS] data sources and make it very easy. So, yes, right now, it's focused on Analysis Services, but we are looking at opportunities to expand that in the future."

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