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7/10/2012
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MicroStrategy Amps Up Data Visualization, Big Data Analytics

MicroStrategy announced a major upgrade of its business intelligence platform on Tuesday, focusing on easy access to data and analysis without IT assistance.

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The most important upgrades in MicroStrategy 9.3, which is expected to be released this quarter, are centered on Visual Insight, a data visualization module the vendor introduced last year. Data visualization is driving demand in the business intelligence (BI) market because it's intuitive and accessible to business users who aren't schooled in query languages or statistical analysis.

Vendors including Tableau Software and Tibco Spotfire are seeing strong growth tied to their advanced data visualization capabilities. With the 9.3 release, MicroStrategy clearly is trying to catch the same wave with a long list of Visual Insight upgrades. New geospatial density maps use color coding to represent geospatial concentrations, such as customers in proximity to retail stores. Image layouts let analysts depict data in context, showing, for example, sales by region, customer traffic by department in a store, or productivity on a manufacturing production line. New network diagrams show relationships among items, such website pages visited and checkout results on an e-commerce site.

As the list of data visualization possibilities grows it can become harder for users to pick the best approach, so the Visual Insight upgrade automatically suggests the best-fit visualization option. There's also a quick list of most-often-used business metrics that presents users with top-drawer analysis options so they're not lost in a laundry list of hundreds of possible calculations.

[ Want more on big data analytics? Read With Hadoop, Big Data Analytics Challenges Old-School BI. ]

Easing access to the latest data sources, MicroStrategy 9.3 also features a new integration to Hadoop clusters. Where the BI vendor previously integrated with the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS), a new Thrift connector taps into Apache Hive, which is the Hadoop framework's data warehousing component.

MicroStrategy's new Hadoop connector is said to support SQL-like querying, even though Hadoop is not a relational environment. The connector lets MicroStrategy users drag and drop attributes and metrics available within Hive onto dashboards and reports. Behind the scenes, MicroStrategy 9.3 generates Hive-QL language queries that extract the desired data from Hadoop. The new tools are also said to simplify the task of combining or comparing data from Hadoop and relational sources.

Access to big data fuels interest in big data analytics, so MicroStrategy 9.3 greatly expands on the 300 analytical functions the platform already supported with new support for the more than 5,000 computations available within the R open-source statistical programming language. The R language is heavily used by data scientists who also tend to store their large-scale data sets on Hadoop. R also has been embraced by most BI and analytics vendors, including Information Builders, IBM SPSS, Oracle, SAP BusinessObjects, and Tibco Spotfire.

The 9.3 release lets users invoke R-based computational models and visualizations within standard MicroStrategy reports and dashboards. The upgrade supports R through use of Predictive Model Markup Language (PMML) language and through direct embedding of R algorithms as MicroStrategy analytical functions.

Other upgrades in MicroStrategy 9.3 include self-service dashboarding and administrative improvements. The vendor said design improvements make it possible for business users to develop dashboards in fewer than 10 minutes without help from IT. The dashboarding module is newly flexible, according to MicroStrategy, supporting both multiple data sets and multiple data visualizations on a single page. Previously it was difficult to tap multiple data sources and apply multiple data visualizations with a single dashboard.

Automation is the theme behind upgrades to the MicroStrategy 9.3 Systems Manager administrative console. For instance, the multiple steps in system restarts, or cache flushing routines, or data warehouse loading processes can be programmed with a new administrative workflow tool. Using a new scripting language and process tool, administrators can automate any series of steps that previously had to be executed manually. The tool promises to save huge amounts of administrative time and effort, according to MicroStrategy, and it can integrated with third-party tools such as Tivoli or HP OpenView, to monitor administrative routines.

MicroStrategy 9.3 will make its first appearance as part of MicroStrategy Cloud, which bundles the BI platform, databases, and data-integration capabilities as a Web-based service. The vendor announced on Tuesday the beta release of MicroStrategy Cloud Express. The Express service offers a third option between the free Personal Edition and paid Platform edition of MicrsoStrategy Cloud. With Express, users can build, schedule, and deliver dashboards and reports to any number of users, but subscribers pay only for the services consumed each month and they can upgrade to the Platform service level as needed.

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