Microsoft has gone out of its way to answer its detractors at the event, starting by leading with the news that SQL Server will see its next major refresh in 2008 and promising to stay in a 24- to 36-month refresh cycle. Keynote speaker Ted Kummert, corporate vice president of the Data and Storage Platform Division, offered a deeper dive on "Katmai," the code name the next version of SQL Server, but more than half his presentation emphasized achievements to date and the scalability of SQL Server 2005."In the data warehousing area, customers have often told us that SQL Server is just for the mart," said Kummert. "We're here to say no, with SQL Server 2005, we are the platform performing in those core data warehouse, mission-critical, high-scale applications." He cited examples including Premier Bankcard's ten-terabyte, 3,000-user warehouse and Danish Telecom's six-terabyte warehouse with 2,000 users, and he said Katmai would go further to scale up with better compression and perform at scale with improved query processing.
Addressing heterogeneity, both Kummert and opening-day-speaker Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, stressed the importance of supporting third-party applications, but the perspective seemed to be slanted. "In their presentation on PerformancePoint, they highlighted all the tools they make available to move data out of SAP BW into SQL Server," commented attendee Delbert Krause, who also happens to be Director, Product Marketing at Cognos (very clearly a BI competitor, so consider the source). "Heterogeneous data access means accessing it in all kinds of middleware and databases and systems, and BI demands that you bring all that together without force-fitting it into a specific data architecture. Microsoft's approach is to move data into SQL Server."
Systems integrator Eric Blankenburg countered this argument saying, "we do quite a bit of work where we put Microsoft BI technologies on top of SAP BW or TeraData." Blankenburg, too, has an axe to grind in that he's VP of Application & Integration Solutions at Avanade, a seven-year-old Microsoft-focused integrator majority owned by Accenture and minority owned by Microsoft.
Blankenburg cited the example of a European customer that used the Microsoft BI platform to build a campaign management system on top of SAP R3 and BW. "There was some integration of data into a SQL Server database with Analysis Services," he said, "but much of the drill-down capability went to data sitting in BW and R3." That strikes me as a bit of a half step toward federated access and analysis.
Another critic I ran into at Microsoft's BI Conference was Mark Madsen of ThirdNature, an independent expert, author and formerly a BI executive at Harry & David's (among other firms). "I don't think I heard the word 'Web' once," said Madsen. "It seemed like a Web containment strategy, with the ultimate goal being to get people into the next money-making generation of Office."
Madsen also shared Cindi Howson's lament that many of the slick dashboards, scorecards and other interfaces demonstrated here were too complicated and would inevitably have to be built by IT/BI pros rather than ordinary business users.
I have to admit there were precious few presentations focused on Web delivery or even SOA here, and the keynotes were permeated with an all-roads-lead-to-Excel subtext. There's SharePoint, too, but even this portal/management product now has "Office" as part of its name and promotion of conventional software as part of its mission. Close affinity with Office is clearly a strength for Microsoft BI, but it also distorts Microsoft's perspective on "where everyone works."Microsoft has every reason to be pleased by the results of its first BI Conference. It was well organized, closely watched and, most importantly, well attended, with more than 2,800 making their way to Seattle for the May 9-11 event. It was a coming-out party for Microsoft as a credible, large-enterprise-ready BI vendor. But in addition to those wowed by the presentations, I did encounter a few critics who raised legitimate questions.