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4/20/2009
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Take Advantage of In-Memory Analytics

Fast analysis, better insight and rapid deployment with minimal IT involvement: these are among the benefits of in-memory analytics, but different products are appropriate for different environments. Read our in-depth report on in-memory technologies.

There was a time when the select few business intelligence users within your organization were happy to get a weekly report. Today, smart companies are striving to spread fact-based decision making throughout the organization, but they know they can't do it with expensive, hard-to-use tools that require extensive IT hand holding. The pace of business now demands fast access to information and easy analysis; if the tools aren't fast and easy, business intelligence will continue to have modest impact, primarily with experts who have no alternative but to wait for an answer to a slow query.

In-memory analytics promise to deliver decision insight with the agility that businesses demand. It's a win for business users, who gain self-service analysis capabilities, and for IT departments, which can spend far less time on query analysis, cube building, aggregate table design, and other time consuming performance-tuning tasks. Some even claim that in-memory technology eliminates the need for a data warehouse and all the cost and complexity that entails.

There's no doubt that in-memory technology will play a big part in the future of BI. Indeed, vendors ranging from Microsoft and MicroStrategy to Oracle and IBM are joining the in-memory bandwagon. Yet no two products deliver in-memory capabilities in the same way for the same business needs.

This article, which is an executive summary of an Intelligent Enterprise report entitled "Insight at the Speed of Thought: Taking Advantage of In-Memory Analytics," helps you understand the value of in-memory technologies. To download the free report, which includes quick takes on ten leading products, six "Reality Checks" on product suitability and selection, and four points of strategic planning advice, register and download here.

In-Memory Advantages

Business users have long complained about slow query response. If managers have to wait hours or even just a few minutes to gain insights to inform decisions, they're not likely to adopt a BI tool, nor will front-line workers who may only have time for gut-feel decision-making. Instead they'll leave the querying to the few BI power users, who will struggle to keep up with demand while scarcely tapping the potential for insight. In many cases, users never ask the real business questions and instead learn to navigate slow BI environments by reformulating their crucial questions into smaller queries with barely acceptable performance.

Such was the case at Newell Rubbermaid, where many queries took as long as 30 minutes. An SAP ERP and Business Warehouse user, the company recently implemented SAP's Business Warehouse Accelerator (BWA), an appliance-based in-memory analysis application. With BWA in place, query execution times have dropped to seconds.

"Users are more encouraged to run queries that sum up company-level data, which may entail tens of millions of rows, yet they're not worried about killing [performance]," says Yatkwai Kee, the company's BW administrator. Business users can now quickly and easily analyze data across divisions and regions with queries that previously would have been too slow to execute. Beyond the corporate world, in-memory BI tools allow state agencies and cities to stretch tax dollars further while improving services. For example, the Austin, Texas, fire department serves over 740,000 residents and responds to more than 200 calls a day. The department recently deployed QlikTech's QlikView to better analyze call response times, staffing levels and financial data. QlikTech is an in-memory analytic application vendor that has been growing rapidly in the last few years. With QlikView, users can get to data in new ways and perform what-if analysis, which the department says has helped in contract negotiations.

And benefits go well beyond the fire department. "Unless we spend more efficiently, costs for safety services will take a larger share of tax dollars, making less budget available for services such as libraries and parks," says Elizabeth Gray, a systems supervisor. Gray says that attendance and payroll data come from different systems and never seemed to make the priority list in the central data warehouse. "With QlikView, we can access multiple data sources, from multiple platforms and different formats," she says. "We can control transformations and business logic in the QlikView script and easily create a presentation layer that users love."

In many cases, in-memory products such as QlikView and IBM Cognos TM1 have been deployed at the departmental level, because central IT has been too slow to respond to specific business requirements. A centralized data warehouse that has to accommodate an enterprise's diverse requirements can have a longer time-to-value. Demand for in-memory is also strong among smaller companies that lack the resources or expertise to build a data warehouse; these products offer an ideal alternative because they can analyze vast quantities of data in memory and are a simpler, faster alternative to relational data marts.

A number of the tools that use in-memory approaches facilitate a more exploratory, visual analysis. Vendors TIBCO Spotfire, Tableau Software and Advizor Solutions, for example, take an in-memory approach that offers a stark contrast to many query and OLAP products; instead of starting with a blank screen to build a query or a report, users start with a view of all the data. Held in memory, this data is then filtered down to just the information users are looking for with easy-to-use data selection, sliders, radio boxes and check boxes.

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