Microsoft Revamps SQL Analytic Development Toolkit

Company updates popular tool for creating custom analytic applications for SQL Server

Last week, Microsoft Corp. updated a tool that makes it easier for integrators, ISVs and enterprise developers to build business intelligence (BI) applications on top of its SQL Server database.

Version 1.2 of SQL Server BI Accelerator introduces support for Office 2003—still in beta—along with new XML data import capabilities and support for SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition. The first iteration of the tool supported only Microsoft’s SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition database.

Microsoft released version 1.0 of the SQL Server Business Intelligence Accelerator, which it developed in tandem with Symmetry Corp., in May 2002. The toolkit features a rapid application development (RAD) tool, along with a number of other components that Microsoft said were designed to allow developers to map out a BI solution on an Excel worksheet, including data sources and targets. The software giant claimed that BI Accelerator could facilitate the rapid creation of tools capable of exploiting SQL Server and its integrated Analysis Services.

Although it garnered endorsements of support from a variety of partners, including Hewlett-Packard Co., Panorama Software Systems, and ProClarity Corp., Microsoft claims that SQL Server Business Accelerator has also been very popular among enterprise developers. Since it released the first iteration of the product last year, Microsoft says that the BI Accelerator has been downloaded more than 10,000 times.

There good reason for that, suggests Mike Schiff, a principal with data warehousing consultancy MAS Strategies, who says that the BI Accelerator includes features which automate the generation of code for SQL Server data warehouses. In addition, Schiff says, the SQL Server BI Accelerator lets developers more easily expose relational data stored in SQL Server, or analytic data stored in multidimensional cubes in Microsoft’s Analysis Services repository, to front-end tools such as Microsoft’s own DataAnalyzer or Excel. “Microsoft is trying to raise its appeal for developers, making it easier for them to use analysis services for their OLAP applications,” he observes.

Notwithstanding its commitment to enterprise developers, there’s another method to Microsoft’s madness. Market research firm International Data Corp. (IDC) pegged the market for packaged analytic applications at just under $4 billion in 2002. Nevertheless, wrote IDC analyst Henry Morris in a research paper published last year, “IDC believes that the ‘build’ market for custom analytic applications is far larger” than the market for packaged analytic tools.

Elsewhere on the custom analytics front, Microsoft’s BI Accelerator bundles a so-called Analytics Builder Workbook, a RAD tool based on an Excel spreadsheet that lets developers modify or create analytic applications based on business requirements. Using Analytics Builder Workbook, develops can set up and trigger services from SQL Server, including Analysis Services and Data Transformation Services, to build their BI applications. In addition, the BI Accelerator includes integrated data models, client views, demos, and starter templates.

The upshot is that Microsoft’s BI analytic development kit automates much of the tedious legwork—such as the development of analytical data models and the population of a data warehouse—that are typically associated with the construction of a data warehouse. According to IDC’s Morris, warehouse-generation is typically the most onerous aspect of the data warehousing process. “Developing the data models and populating the data warehouse can be the most labor-intensive [aspect] of an analytics project,” he wrote.

As for the new version of the SQL Server BI Accelerator, a Microsoft representative acknowledges that many of the changes are relatively minor, and says that most have been driven by partner feedback.

“We heard from partners that they really wanted to work on [SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition] as well. It allows a partner to go into smaller shops and deploy a solution,” says Tom Rizzo, Microsoft group product manager for SQL Server.

Other new features include separation of the application generation and deployment processes to speed the time to production. In addition, says Rizzo, the new version of the BI Accelerator boasts features that are designed to “enhance…the reporting capabilities of the generated application.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.