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February 7, 2012

Another Brick in the Hadoop Wall

Nicole Hemsoth

It almost seems that we should just start a new category here on Datanami under which we can file all the news that involves an announcement of support for Hadoop. The last few months alone have offered up plenty of candidates for the file, including news from companies that seemed somewhat removed from the Hadoop hoopla a year ago.

Announcements, especially from the business intelligence camp, about Hadoop support have rolled in steadily since mid-last year from vendors like Pentaho, Actuate, Tableau, Jaspersoft, SAS, and a host of others—all of whom are tapping either the raw Apache version or the numerous distros for big data appeal.

The hypothetical new category would acquire a new tidbit today since business analytics vendor Birst just announced that they too were planning to pull in the power of the mighty elephant. Birst says that this support means that users, many of which are of the web-based retail variety, can now aggregate and visualize data without the ETL and set-up headaches so often cited as an inevitable part of the Hadoop course. They claim that smaller organizations have been cut off from leveraging Hadoop due to the expertise gap—and that they have provided the right level of abstraction to make all the brain pain of using Hadoop go away.

Just as with its BI offerings, which are targeting the “ease of use as a paramount priority” audience, they are carving out their niche in the Hadoop space by providing the tools to make using Hadoop a little less complex by wrangling the data into somewhat familiar form. By creating a layer of massive abstraction between the user and the back-end, the company says that it’s possible to ask broader questions across large data sets without in-depth Hadoop expertise.

As Maureen O’Gara stated, the appeal of Birst is that it takes some of the “pain out of accessing Hadoop data for mid-sized companies that may not have many priests on staff steeped in Hadoop’s secrets by front-ending the thing with its own multi-dimensional database and analytics.”

The other point Birst is driving home with this announcement is that companies that are pulling in structured data from SAP and related companies with relational databases can do the same within this new framework.

They say that this flexibility is still present, but that they’re lowering the adoption barrier “by giving users the capability to treat big data like any other ordinary data set.”

More specifically, they claim a number of other benefits, including:

  • Access to data stored in Hadoop allows for simple discovery of new relationships and patterns in data without locking them into manual ETL processes. 
  • Analytics are powered via multi-dimensional models from subsets of Hadoop data and allows business users to browse, query or visualize big data sets.
  • Move between real-time access to Hadoop data or integrating Hadoop data with other data sources including SAP, SalesForce, operational and financial information into automatically created multi-dimensional datasets.
  • Tap into the power of massive scale; from petabytes of data using Hadoop’s distributed file system to report on extremely large data volumes
  • An array of dashboards, reports, ad-hoc queries, and mobile delivery of “consumable” data.

One of the other appealing elements of Birst’s Hadoop-flavored BI is that it is offered in the cloud or as installed software. As a company that is focused on both the “big guys” and SMBs, they emphasize the affordability factor of the scalable cloud. Even more important is the fact that users are able to leave all of their precious data on-site while they do some of the processing-heavy stuff, including whipping up visualizations and running charts, on a remote cloud.

According to a recent Gartner report, on-site (installed) business intelligence and analytics software is on the decline. Their results across a 1,364 IT manager survey revealed that at least one-third planned on rolling their analytics solutions over to a hosted or software-as-a-service (SaaS) model with 17 percent having already done so.

As Barb Darrow said of Birst and the SaaS movement, the Gartner figures mean that there are big opportunities for SaaS-based BI and analytics. She pointed to Birst as a prime example of this in action, noting that Birst went from a SaaS-only model to a dual model that allows both hosted and on-premise versions of its software.

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