There are at least a dozen cloud-based BI options already out there, and some have been around for a decade. None have reached the cloud-computing poster-child status of, say, Salesforce.com or even NetSuite and Workday.
SAP's BusinessObjects BI OnDemand, the successor to CrystalReports.com, was undoubtedly the most popular example of an all-purpose BI platform online. Back in 2010, SAP claimed the service had more than 200,000 users, but you don't hear much about it anymore. SAP's new cloud focus is on SAP Lumira Cloud, which targets data visualization-driven analytics -- much like Tableau Online.
Smaller BI cloud players include Birst, GoodData, Indicee and PivotLink, which mostly focus on particular applications, like sales, marketing or financial analytics. Then there are the cloud BI companies that have totally failed, like LucidEra, or that have been acquired, like MyDials and Oco, after failing to blossom.
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Tableau Online, which was announced last week, will stand out because it's the same "easy and intuitive" software used on premises and also because the company is taking a simple business approach, according to Francois Ajenstat, Tableau's director of product management.
"Most of the [cloud BI] business models we've seen are overly complicated, with charges for N number of workbooks and reports, data-transfer and storage fees and other complexities," said Ajenstat in a phone interview with InformationWeek.
Tableau's pricing model is dead simple: $500 per user, per year, with no other mystery charges that end up being hard to predict.
Tableau says the online offering is a multi-tenant service, with built-in provisions for both high-availability and partitioned data security, so each customer's data is "completely isolated," according to Ajenstat.
There are three ways to get data into Tableau Online. If the data already resides in an online application, such as Salesforce.com, it can be copied directly into Tableau in-memory extracts. Data in Amazon RedShift or Google Big Query can be queried directly. Data that's in on-premises data centers can be pushed into Tableau online using tools provided by the vendor. With any of these options, users don't have to be data wonks or IT professional to make them work, Ajenstat said.
"If you're a Tableau Desktop user and you know how to get to on-premises data in SQL Server, Oracle, Teradata or Hadoop, you can make the connections to Tableau Online," he said.
Tableau is counting of three classes of customers for the online service. First there will be small- and midsized companies that lack IT departments. Second, there will be departments of larger companies that don't want to have to wait for support from IT. And third, there will be extranet scenarios where companies want to share dashboards, reports and analyses with partners and customers. Tableau already offers the free Tableau Public service whereby analyses can be shared online, but that online data-visualization sandbox lacks security provisions.
Tableau Online offers Mobile support throught native iOS and Android apps and is also supported in Safari and Chrome browsers.