The Evolution of SQL Server BI

Recently Sheila Molnar and I talked with Tom Casey, general manager of Microsoft’s SQL Server Business Intelligence (BI), about the upcoming BI enhancements in SQL Server 2008 R2. Tom explained that a goal of SQL Server 2008 R2 was to make it easier to turn data into useable information for end users, thus increasing the exposure of BI information throughout the enterprise. Tom mentioned that current estimates show that BI is used by about 10 to 15 percent of the people in the organization. Taking advantage of the enhancements in SQL Server 2008 R2 and its tight integration with both SharePoint and the upcoming Office 2010 release Tom said Microsoft hopes to push BI information farther into the business where it can be used by 30 to 40 percent of the people in the organization.

A Short History of Microsoft BI

Certainly this is a great goal, even if old SQL Server hands might question whether it can be achieved anytime soon. The goal might not seem so farfetched, though, when you remember how rapidly SQL Server has evolved over the past 10 years and how instrumental it’s always been at bringing BI into to the mainstream. Back in 1998, with the release of SQL Server 7.0, Microsoft took the lead in the BI space. It was the first enterprise database vendor to offer a relational database server plus BI capabilities in the form of its new OLAP Services. Prior to this release, BI and OLAP were high-cost niche technologies used by a small subset of leading-edge businesses for specialized decision-support applications. SQL Server 7.0 changed that situation entirely. By including BI capabilities in the box with the SQL Server, Microsoft revolutionized the relational database and the BI market by making BI much more affordable and accessible. Ten years later, BI is a mainstream technology, and, although not every business makes use of BI, many do, and most know about the benefits the BI can bring to the business. Customers today expect enterprise relational database vendors to have a BI offering.

Introducing SSAS, SSIS, and SSRS

Microsoft continued to improve its BI offering in each subsequent release of SQL Server. In SQL Server 2000 it transformed OLAP Services into SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS). In SQL Server 2005 Integration Services (SSIS) and Reporting Services (SSRS) were added. The addition of Reporting Services was another game-changing technology. SSRS broadened the definition of BI from MDX and OLAP cubes out to surfacing end-user decision-making information.

The PowerPivot Generation

The upcoming release of SQL Server 2008 R2, with its new Excel PowerPivot functionality, looks to extend BI even further by giving end users more powerful BI capabilities within the Office tools they already know. Tom pointed out that Microsoft understands that end users don’t have the bandwidth to learn new specialized tools. BI information needs to be surfaced not through specialized BI portals but through the tools that end users are familiar with. To ensure that Microsoft delivers a consistent and compelling BI offering across their product lines, Tom is leading a virtual BI team that includes members from each of the Microsoft business products such as Office and SharePoint.

A BI Innovator

Microsoft has been chided for lack of innovation but that’s never been the case with SQL Server and BI market. Over the past decade Microsoft has clearly been the leader in evolving BI within SQL Server and expanding its value and adoption throughout the enterprise. BI adaption has come a long way from a technology niche to an accepted part of doing business. Bringing the value of BI to 30-40% of the enterprise looks like it might not be so farfetched after all. Let me know what you think. Drop me a line at [email protected].

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