Microsoft Brings Business Intelligence Deep Into the Enterprise With SQL Server 2008 R2
April 21, 2010
Microsoft’s information platform makes gathering, managing and using business information easier and more cost-effective.

REDMOND, Wash. — April 21, 2010 — Today’s global and digital economy is producing more data than ever before, which presents challenges to IT professionals and developers who are managing, delivering and securing data and applications. At the same time, the richness of this data presents unparalleled ways for businesses to quickly capitalize on new opportunities – if they can tap into this ocean of data and make it actionable.

Tom Casey, general manager for SQL Server Business Intelligence on “the future of BI.”

With the release to manufacturing (RTM) of SQL Server 2008 R2 this week, Microsoft is delivering its most complete information platform for desktops, datacenters and the cloud. While the R2 release brings a broad swath of new capabilities — including rich support for mission-critical scenarios and significant productivity boosts for IT pros, developers and database administrators (DBAs) — one of its biggest innovations is in business intelligence (BI) and helping companies unlock the power of their data.

“This is an exciting time to be in the database management market; enterprises today have more information in their environment than ever before,” says Ted Kummert, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Business Platform Division. “The release of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 represents a big step forward in transforming how IT departments, developers and end users interact with and gain insight and intelligence on information in the digital economy.”

Forecasts for the database market support Kummert’s enthusiasm. Despite the challenging economic times, the database market continues to thrive, reaching $24 billion in 2008 and expected to grow 33.4 percent by 2013.(1) Similarly, a recent business unit CIO survey by Gartner ranked BI among the top five technology priorities for 2010.(2)

At the same time, SQL Server has continued to grow its share in the market, and according to research from IDC, SQL Server is outpacing both IBM and Oracle.(3) “SQL Server delivers the best price/performance ratio in the industry according to industry analysts, with the most complete platform, including online transaction processing and rich BI functionality, at the lowest total cost of ownership,” says Kummert.

Bringing BI to the Masses

Microsoft believes the future of enterprise BI is about making everyone a BI practitioner with familiar and affordable tools.

CareGroup Healthcare System

CareGroup Healthcare System is a large healthcare provider in the Boston area. Accessing and understanding information are critical for healthcare organizations, where decisions can have life-or-death consequences.

CareGroup has started testing Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot business intelligence tools that are supported by SQL Server 2008 R2. The tools are expected to help employees analyze huge quantities of data while providing greater control over how information is distributed. “Finding the proper tools to pull data out and deliver it efficiently to users has never been an easy job,” says Ayad Shammout, lead technical database administrator. “What we have really needed are tools to provide more self-service BI to end users so they are empowered with more and better information without needing to come to the IT department for help. But we also need to maintain controls over information to protect sensitive data.”

During its upgrade to SQL Server 2008, the IT department began using a beta version of Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise. This new release supports rich BI tools, including Microsoft SQL Server PowerPivot for Microsoft Excel, a free, downloadable BI technology that lets people work with massive volumes of data — up to hundreds of millions of rows, if needed — in their Microsoft Excel 2010 spreadsheet software.

“Some years ago, we attempted to get more of our information workers to use standard database analytical tools, but we didn’t get far because of the learning curve. These new BI tools are different,” says Shammout. “When we demonstrate SQL Server PowerPivot for Excel to our users — how it’s really just an extension of the Excel software they use every day — they see how easy it is to use.”

“A key point about the new business intelligence capabilities in SQL Server 2008 R2 is that it’s not just self-service BI. It’s managed self-service BI,” Shammout says. With SharePoint Server 2010, the CareGroup IT staff will be able to track usage of reports, enforce security policies for sensitive information, conduct audits, and monitor network performance when intranet-based analysis is refreshed with new information for CareGroup databases. “With the PowerPivot technology and SharePoint Server 2010, we can balance our employees’ need for rich information and collaboration with the IT department’s need to manage the network environment and the safety and confidentiality of information.”

“We are driving toward a transformation of BI into a natural, actionable part of everyday business productivity,” says Tom Casey, general manager of Microsoft Business Intelligence. “In the next decade people will be accessing the information they need through any application, regardless of where it’s deployed: in the cloud, on-premises or on a desktop. They won’t even know that what they are doing falls under the umbrella of BI.”

To get to this ideal, the industry first needs to solve the problem of making BI broadly available across the enterprise. Today BI is only used by about 28 percent of potential end users according to Gartner (4). Why? Gartner says inhibitors of adoption include system cost, complexity and lack of user capabilities (5).

Microsoft hopes to push BI further into the enterprise — reaching closer to 80 percent of end users — by giving end users easier access to the information they need and connecting it to the decision-making process through collaboration tools. The company seeks to do this by integrating SQL Server 2008 R2 with two tools that most users already feel comfortable using: Microsoft Excel 2010 and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010.

Early feedback on SQL Server 2008 R2 has been very positive. For example, one of R2’s early adopters was a large restaurant supplier that wishes to remain anonymous for competitive reasons. For this company, data is of critical importance, but relying on its IT professionals to create custom BI analysis solutions had been taking too long. Users needed customer and market analysis at their fingertips.

“We’re really a data company,” says a senior database administrator (DBA) at the company. “We don’t make most of the products we sell. If we can evaluate different suppliers and get the same product from another supplier at a better cost or if we can reduce our freight cost per item by increasing our order with a particular supplier, those things all help drive down the costs that we can then pass on to our customers. Being able to do that analysis in real time and identifying those opportunities to be more cost-efficient allows us to provide our customers with a lower price.”

The organization deployed a managed self-service BI solution based on SQL Server 2008 R2 PowerPivot, which is an add-in feature for Microsoft Excel 2010 that helps employees analyze huge quantities of data while providing greater control over how information is distributed. What once took the organization’s IT department weeks or months to build and deploy can now be built by end users through PowerPivot in a matter of hours and shared immediately across the company. Competitors haven’t gained this ability yet, so it gives the company a huge advantage.

Business agility is one of the most immediate benefits, according to the company’s DBA: “We can now price our offerings more accurately according to our actual costs. If one of our suppliers drops its price, or if we’re able to more efficiently ship particular items, we can sell them cheaper, allowing us to grow our customer base at a time when many restaurants are going out of business.”

Upgrading to SQL Server 2008 R2 will enable the company to eliminate some third-party BI tools it had previously been trying to use, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in licensing fees per year, as well as the cost of managing complicated packages that were less efficient.

“It really comes down to the combination of giving end users access to the information they need, using tools they are already familiar with, while still ensuring that the IT department has the right level of control and visibility over the process,” adds Microsoft’s Casey. “This is what’s going to make BI a reality throughout the enterprise and it’s why we’re seeing such heavy interest from our customers.”

Today’s release is a step toward bringing BI to the masses. Some 500 million people currently use Microsoft Office, which means 500 million potential BI users. If Microsoft is able to penetrate just 5 percent of this market, that is 25 million new BI practitioners. With SQL Server 2008 R2, PowerPivot for Excel, and PowerPivot for SharePoint Server, Microsoft is making businesses more agile and productive, ultimately allowing end users to drive better business decisions.

(1) IDC, “Worldwide Database Management Systems 2009-2013 Forecast and 2008 Vendor Shares,” Doc # 219232, July 2009

(2) Gartner Inc., “The Business Unit CIO’s 2010 Agenda,” Patrick Meehan, Feb. 19, 2010

(3) IDC, “Worldwide Database Management Systems 2009–2013 Forecast and 2008 Vendor Shares,” Doc # 219232, July 2009

(4) Gartner, “Business Intelligence Purchase Drivers and Adoption Rates, 2009 Survey Results,” Bill Hostmann, Sept. 4, 2009

(5) Gartner Inc., “Business Intelligence Purchase Drivers and Adoption Rates, 2009 Survey Results,” Bill Hostmann, Sept. 4, 2009

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