DataBeacon Embraces .NET in Query/Analysis Solution

Company announces Smart Client, an end-user ad hoc query and analysis solution based on Microsoft’s .NET platform

To many BI professionals, DataBeacon Inc. is best known as the company behind Actuate Corp.’s e.Analytics offering. The truth is that DataBeacon is a full-fledged BI player in its own right. In fact, the Ottawa-based company has a strong presence in the mid-market, where its Java-based ad hoc query and reporting solution, Open Client, is popular in organizations of between 100 and 1,000 customers.

Last week, DataBeacon announced the availability of a similar technology, called Smart Client, that is based on Microsoft’s .NET platform.

Like Open Client, Smart Client is available in three flavors, each of which is designed for a particular user constituency. But Smart Client also boasts a new feature—called DataBeacon Player—that purports to graft a Windows Media Player-like interface on top of an end-user reporting tool.

DataBeacon positions Smart Client as a “no-touch” reporting solution. This gives users the option of either installing Smart Client as a standard desktop application or opting for a no-touch “Webtop” distribution scheme, says Andy Coutts, DataBeacon’s president and CEO.

“One of the beautiful things about .NET is that you can actually treat it as a desktop install product, or a no-touch product where a person connecting over the Web has it actually delivered down to their browser,” he says.

Smart Client is available in three different form factors: Analyst, an entry-level offering, Smart Client Standard, and Smart Client Professional.

Coutts says users can tap the Analyst offering to design and navigate reports on their PCs from .txt or flat file data, as well as share static versions of these reports via e-mail.

Smart Client Standard lets users expose Web reporting and data analysis from Microsoft-, Linux-, or Unix-based Web servers to PCs with the .NET framework installed. It includes three viewers: Web Reporter (for casual-use information consumers); Player (for more frequent data explorers); and DataBeacon Insight (Coutts says this version is intended for analysts, report designers, and power users).

The final deliverable, Smart Client Professional, includes all of these features, and introduces an API that gives users a scripting language for creating custom data profiles. This can help with portal development efforts and enhance integration with existing systems, according to Coutts.

Coutts says that DataBeacon Player puts a new spin on the way all kinds of users can interact with reports. “Much the same way people are used to Windows Media Player and those types of technologies, we actually have a player that allows people to expand [report] data and easily customize the view that they’re seeing,” he says. DataBeacon Player is similar to Windows Media Player in appearance, provides a toolbar view that lets users launch reports or perform common functions—such as copying, pasting, exporting to Excel—and also facilitates point-and-click customization of report data.

Just as important, Coutts notes: it’s tightly integrated with Microsoft’s Office application stack and can easily be embedded in a portal view. “By integrating with the .NET framework on the client, you get great desktop integration. That’s another thing we discovered in the mid-market—users actually spend most of their day in Microsoft Office. With the player, out of the box you have a much richer experience, where I could simply have report viewing in my portal.”

DataBeacon has a somewhat unusual topology in that it does not do OLAP processing on the server side. Instead, it feeds data from relational repositories—via ODBC, JDBC, or other connectivity standards—to an OLAP engine, dubbed the Client OLAP Reporting Environment (CORE), running on the client side. “We publish information with a cube design plus a query to the data source out to a Web server, and from there it gets picked up and delivered to the client,” Coutts explains. “Once we have that data source, we can actually build cube designs in real time, and this gives our cube-building technology a very high rate of compression, as well as very high speed.”

Client-side OLAP may be DataBeacon’s bread-and-butter, but the company has also introduced support for Microsoft’s OLAP Analysis Services—which runs on top of SQL Server 2000—for its Open Client product. Coutts says a similar offering is on the way for the Smart Client tools, although he declines to promise a specific delivery date.

“Right now, this is working on top of the client OLAP reporting environment. We are in development on hooking this to Analysis Services as well,” he says.

About the Author

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