Software // Information Management
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1/19/2009
11:12 AM
Neil Raden
Neil Raden
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MicroStrategy in Perspective

Cindi Howson and Mark Smith already weighed in with their impressions about MicroStrategy World and the impending release of MicroStrategy 9... but I have a different perspective, one that is borne of a history with MicroStrategy that goes back fifteen years. My review, with that perspective in mind, is this:

Cindi Howson and Mark Smith already weighed in with their impressions about MicroStrategy World and the impending release of MicroStrategy 9. Mark made a fairly complete overview of the product and proceedings and Cindi placed the offering in more or less competitive context, so I won't repeat either of those points of view (though I will take issue with Cindi on one thing - some of the other BI vendors may have been able to access multiple data sources in a single report, but not nearly as intelligently, efficiently or with more coherency than MicroStrategy version 9. These other approaches are ugly kludges in comparison). I have a different perspective from Mark and Cindi, one that is borne of a history with MicroStrategy that goes back fifteen years. My review, with that perspective in mind, is this:When I first became acquainted with MicroStrategy in 1993, the product (DSS Agent and DSS Architect, version 2.0) was delivered on four 3.5" diskettes (I still have them). You used Architect to create the metadata to map a relational database to a Microstrategy virtual warehouse and Agent contained the engine to generate the dynamic SQL to process your analytical queries and provide OLAP navigation of the results. Seven or eight versions later, that is still pretty much what MicroStrategy does, only thousands of times faster, for thousands of times as many users for perhaps billions of times more data. Of course, the feature depth and breadth of the product has grown as well, but when Mark LaRow (VP Products) was demonstrating version 9 the General Session on the first day, it was still MicroStrategy. There is a thread of continuity there that is remarkable, because MicroStrategy is not the hasty amalgamation of purchased companies and products like the other BI companies. What's more, the company's CTO, Jeff Bedell, has been with the company for thirteen years and most of his senior development staff and many of the engineers have been with him for eight to ten years. That makes it much easier to do both major and incremental enhancements to the system without losing its essential character. Where this is most apparent is the way the single set of metadata drives and manages the operation of all of the now vast number of components of the product. No new feature is ever added that can conflict with or be independent of the others. Proactively tracking dependencies and keeping things consistent are critical elements of a true enterprise development environment and MicroStrategy does not disappoint here. I think my colleagues really miss this point, but I have the advantage of having developed solutions in MicroStrategy for many years and I can appreciate the importance of this. But I have to say the other BIG BI vendors who claim an "enterprise" role are far behind MicroStrategy in this area. There is a big difference between selling 10,000 licenses that may or may not get used and providing a product that can truly support the development and ongoing management of BI environments of this magnitude. Another unusual aspect of the conference is that most of the speakers from MicroStrategy are engineers, but it makes sense because MicroStrategy has always been more of an engineering company than a marketing organization. Also, no industry people are invited to speak, only internal MicroStrategy staff and customers, with perhaps one exception per conference. Nigel Pendse spoke a couple years ago and there was a keynote speaker from Accenture this year. As a matter of fact, I was a keynote speaker, but that was at least ten years ago. So the proceedings are pretty businesslike without a lot of bull. I like that. There are so many new features in MicroStrategy 9, and Jeff Bedell gave us three hours of even more stuff beyond this release on "Futures Day," but we were under NDA so I'm sure what I can mention. I will say that it is all more of the same but also quite ambitious. I did see some semantic search creep in there, which was gratifying, and I believe I counted sixteen visualizations, so that should give you an idea. One area that I didn't truly understand was a new push to get MicroStrategy adopted by those 80% of people in organizations who have avoided BI. I didn't see what was presented as being sufficiently attractive to that group, or offering something truly new. I don't think what they presented was very well thought out, but this is, I guess, the downside of having an engineering focus. You will never attract that group unless you really understand how they work and what they need. I didn't see much evidence of that. I enjoyed the conference and was able to speak at length with many of their customers. I was surprised how many blue chip companies I talked to had just purchased MicroStrategy after previous efforts with the other BI companies. I guess I wasn't really surprised because when BI really goes enterprise, it becomes apparent that most BI tools have still not shed their desktop skin. They aren't engineered for this. For instance, most BI tools still treat relational databases as generic bags of data while MicroStrategy has always strived to find the optimal SQL for each version of each database platform they support. For years, the industry analysts always cited this as their weak spot but in time in turned out to be their strength.Cindi Howson and Mark Smith already weighed in with their impressions about MicroStrategy World and the impending release of MicroStrategy 9... but I have a different perspective, one that is borne of a history with MicroStrategy that goes back fifteen years. My review, with that perspective in mind, is this:

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