Business Objects Updates Crystal Reports, Announces IBM Bundle

Notwithstanding its impending acquisition by ERP giant SAP, Business Objects has been extremely busy lately

The impending acquisition by ERP giant SAP AG is far from turning Business Objects SA into a lame-duck company.

Consider its recent flurry of activity: in the space of just a fortnight. Business Objects trumpeted its forthcoming Crystal Reports 2008 release, touted a new bundling arrangement with IBM Corp. (which has it bundling Big Blue’s relational database and data warehouse offerings with its business intelligence tools, and vice-versa), rolled out yet another BI search offering, and signed a deal with virtualization specialist Citrix Systems Inc. to promote a virtual BI appliance—dubbed the Crystal Reports Server XI Virtual Appliance.

Business Objects also announced impending deals with other virtualization and application delivery specialists, including rPath and RightScale.

Of course, most (if not all) of these events have been in the pipeline for weeks or months prior to SAP’s surprise acquisition. Take Crystal Reports 2008, for example, which Business Objects expects to ship next month. It’s the first new Crystal release in about three years, and boasts a laundry list of much-asked-for features and improvements, including: interactive visualization capabilities (thanks to built-in support for Adobe’s Flash and Flex technologies), in-report what-if modeling features (via the Xcelsius technology, which is finally coming home to roost in Crystal Reports), graphical mashup report design tools, wizard-driven report publishing enhancements, and SOA-based data integration capabilities. (We’ll have an in-depth follow-up on Crystal Reports 2008 when it becomes available next month.)

Big Bundles with Big Blue

Last week’s agreement with Big Blue predates SAP’s acquisition bid, too. For the most part, SAP and IBM have a largely benign relationship. IBM’s integration middleware products nominally compete with SAP’s NetWeaver offerings—and SAP’s acquisition of Business Objects and its formidable data integration capabilities will likely complicate this picture—but both companies collaborate and cooperate in many segments, too.

This month’s deal shouldn’t change that. To recap: IBM plans to start bundling starter licenses for Business Objects BI tools with its DB2 RDBMS and DB2 Warehouse. Business Objects, for its part, has pledged to begin distributing limited-use licenses of DB2 Warehouse with its BI and performance management (PM) offerings, and has promised to integrate its pre-built horizontal and vertical CPM applications with Big Blue’s industry-framework accelerators.

On both accounts, industry watchers say, it looks like a win-win agreement. “Business Objects’ expanded relationship with IBM … positions it to penetrate IBM’s huge global customer base of database management system … and data warehousing … accounts,” notes James Kobielus, a principal analyst for data management with consultancy Current Analysis. “In the process, both Business Objects—soon to become part of SAP—and IBM will be better able to battle common foe Oracle.”

At the same time, Kobielus concedes, the Business Objects/IBM accord isn’t all upside from the perspective of SAP. “[The] expanded IBM partnership complicates [Business Objects’] relationship with SAP, which offers a growing SOA suite that rivals IBM on many levels,” he notes.

Virtual Appliances for SMBs

Last week’s virtual appliance announcement had an uncomplicated upside for SAP. Officials say the Crystal Reports Server XI Virtual Appliance gives Business Objects a new way to attract technology-skittish small- and medium-sized business customers.

“With the Crystal Reports Server XI virtual appliance, our aim is to provide faster time-to-value for mid-market companies and provide them with the same benefits and business value long enjoyed by their enterprise counterparts,” said Business Objects chief John Schwarz in a statement.

A virtual appliance is a preconfigured software package that users can rapidly deploy on a hypervisor, or virtual machine manager (VMM). The first Crystal Reports Server XI virtual appliance is tweaked for deployment on Citrix’s XenSource hypervisor. A hypervisor lets customers host multiple virtual instances of an operating system—and its associated workloads—on a single system.

Advocates say virtualization can help ratchet up system utilization, boost system stability (by “sandboxing” new or unknown applications), accelerate development, and—of benefit from Business Objects’ perspective—let users quickly “test drive” new applications. The Crystal Reports Server XI virtual appliance provides an additional benefit: out-of-the-box reporting and analysis, pre-installed, pre-configured, and ready to run.

BI Search, Too

Not only does Business Objects already market its own BI search facility, it acquired yet another search capability earlier this year when it purchased the former Inxight. On top of this, Business Objects last week announced Polestar, a new universe-integrated search tool that it expects to release (as an optional add-on) by the end of the year.

Far from being a case of too much of a good thing—namely, BI search—Kobielus sees Polestar as a complementary technology. “It complements the XI platform’s BI Search functionality provides report-level query results, and also the Inxight-powered BusinessObjects Intelligent Search offering, which returns results corresponding to entities extracted through text analytics from unstructured sources,” he indicates.

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