Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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PowerPivot Gets Multi-Vendor Support

PowerPivot is the newly announced name for Microsoft's (not yet released) self-service analytics product, formerly code-named "Gemini." PowerPivot brings the power of OLAP analytics to end-users, by allowing them to create their own data models, drawing from conventional data warehouses as well as flat files, spreadsheets and even data feeds and reports. It then allows for sophisticated drill-down analysis in Excel 2010 itself, which will feature a new "Slicer" element in its user interface, essentially allowing for easy dimensional filtering.

That's cool enough on its own, but PowerPivot also allows for such Excel-based BI solutions to be published to SharePoint and shared amongst colleagues, who can work with the model, interactively, in the browser, thanks to SharePoint 2010's Excel Services facility. The creator of the solution can even configure scheduled data refreshes to prevent the solution's data from becoming stale and obsolete (and that's an issue with almost all "spreadmart" solutions). All of this allows spreadsheet solutions to be shared, but prevents users from creating their own private version of the data (another common spreadmart pitfall), because the spreadsheet is stored centrally and is, effectively, read only.

But there's a hidden gem in all of this: when the PowerPivot solution is published to SharePoint, it becomes, in effect, a SQL Server Analysis Services cube. That's because the engine servicing the queries and drill downs on the server-side is a specialized version of Analysis Services, premised on a new column-oriented, in-memory storage technology. Any client tool capable of talking to Analysis Services, or any server capable of using Analysis Services as a data source, will be able to do likewise with PowerPivot.

That's not just versatile, that's downright ingenious. Because a number of third parties make Analysis Services client tools. And even more important, a number of Microsoft's BI marketplace competitors work with Analysis Services, and therefore will work with PowerPivot, too. Specifically, IBM/Cognos, Oracle/Hyperion, SAP/Business Objects, Microstrategy, Information Builders and Tableu will all work with server-side PowerPivot solutions once the product is released. That list represents virtually every major commercial BI vendor, with the notable exception of QlikTech, whose QlikView product PowerPivot will compete against most directly.

The fact that PowerPivot will work with competitors' tools, and the fact that it's based on Excel and SharePoint, which many non-MS BI shops use anyway, could make for huge early adoption of the product. It could also mean that the self-service BI phenomenon could catch on in a big way and prove to be disruptive across the industry, rather than exclusively within the realm of Microsoft's BI customers. I'm not sure if this "inherited" industry support was an intended consequence by Microsoft or an unintended one, but it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that Microsoft will be empowering a number of other companies' customers by lowering their barrier of entry to BI. Insightful indeed.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 10/30/2009 at 1:15 PM


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