Microsoft Promotes BI Development

Microsoft positions Visual Studio for developing business intelligence applications

Microsoft significantly updated its business intelligence (BI) stack with the releases of SharePoint 2010, Office 2010 and SQL Server 2008 R2. Combined with Microsoft's PowerPivot application for general business users, Microsoft has managed to improve both the depth and breadth of its BI offerings.

Microsoft's BI message was on display at the Microsoft Tech Ed North America 2010 and BI Conference 2010 events this week in New Orleans. Ted Kummert, senior vice president of the Business Platform Division at Microsoft keynoted the second day of the event and showed how Microsoft has exposed rich, self-service BI capabilities to line of business workers.

There is one audience that hasn't been getting a lot of attention in Microsoft's BI conversation, and that is developers. Until now.

Donald Farmer is principal program manager for SQL Server at Microsoft. He says Microsoft has worked to align its BI stack with Visual Studio, turning the IDE into, he said, "the development environment for BI."

"Our BI environment is our developer environment. What that means is there is a consistent set of tools across all the pieces," Farmer said. "You get versioning. You get a true build environment, which is very unusual for a BI environment."

If the strategy sounds familiar, it's because it is. Microsoft's efforts to up-level BI into an extensible platform for development mirrors similar efforts with other application stacks-turned-platforms, including Office and SharePoint.

The use of common tooling opens a lot of possibilities for robust, purpose-built application development. Farmer described a decision support scenario, where Visual Studio is used to embed predictive analytics into an Outlook-based CRM customer data entry application. Developers, he said, are able to use familiar SQL Server-like commands and well-known data structures.

Benefits of Embeddability

A major driver of effective BI, said Farmer, is the ability to embed functionality into applications. BI processes that require workers to jump to another interface are disruptive to users, and can pose issues for developers and BI designers forced to work with distinct environments.

"At the operational end, this has to be embedded in the applications they are already using. It has to be embedded in the call center application," he said. "That's one of the reasons embeddability is so important. It's one of the reasons having a developer story is so important."

That developer story may emerge as a significant competitive advantage for Redmond. Andrew Brust, Chief, New Technology for consultancy twentysix New York, a Microsoft Regional Director, and a member of Microsoft's BI Partner Advisory Council, gave a talk Tuesday afternoon at Tech Ed. He noted that the large ecosystem of partners and solution providers give the Microsoft BI stack an important competitive advantage over competitors.

Activity at the Tech Ed Conference underscored Brust's point. Attunity at the show introduced PowerPivot Connector for Oracle, a high performance link that enables PowerPivot to work with information stored in Oracle databases. Attunity also showed off its Stream CDC (Change Data Capture) product, a replication engine that offloads growing BI-related database workloads to a dedicated copy of the production database.

Itamar Ankorion, director of marketing and business development at Attunity, said organizations have grown increasingly concerned about the impact of intense BI activity on production data stores, particularly as user-friendly tools like PowerPivot expand the scope of BI usage. Ankorion expects that trend to grow.

"For developers in general, what we are going to see is developers building applications in PowerPivot," he said. "Just as you have people developing Excel applications, you will see this with PowerPivot."

Microsoft is working to make sure that is exactly what happens, by putting Visual Studio at the center of the BI universe. Said Farmer: "It was actually a revelation to us how much the BI community really wanted the Visual Studio environment."

About the Author

Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.

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