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Responding to the trend that businesses now ask less sophisticated users to perform analysis and rely on software to help them, Oracle recently announced a new release  of its flagship Oracle BI Foundational Suite (OBIFS 11.1.1.7) as well as updates to Endeca, the discovery platform that Oracle bought in 2011. Endeca is part of a new class of tools that bring new capabilities in information discovery, self-service access and interactivity. Such approaches represent an important part of the evolution of business intelligence to business analytics as I have noted in my agenda for 2013.

Oracle Business Intelligence Foundational Suite includes many components not limited to Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE), Oracle Essbase and a scorecard and strategy application. OBIEE is the enabling foundation that federates queries across data sources and enables reporting across multiple platforms. Oracle Essbase is an in-memory OLAP tool that enables forecasting and planning, including what-if scenarios embedded in a range of Oracle BI Applications, which are sold separately. The suite, along with the Endeca software, is integrated with Exalytics, Oracle’s appliance for BI and analytics. Oracle’s appliance strategy, which I wrote about after Oracle World last year invests heavily in the Sun Microsystems hardware acquired in 2010.

These updates are far-ranging and numerous (including more than 200 changes to the software). I’d like to point out some important pieces that advance Oracle’s position in the BI market. A visualization recommendations engine offers guidance on the type of visualization that may be appropriate for a user’s particular data. This feature, already sold by others in the market, may be considered a subset of the broader capability of guided analysis. Advanced visualization techniques have become more important for companies as they make it easier for users to understand data and is critical to compete with the likes of  Tableau, a player in this space which I wrote about last year.

Another user-focused update related to visualization is performance tiles, which enable important KPIs to be displayed prominently within the context of the screen surface area. Performance tiles are a great way to start improving the static dashboards that my colleague Mark Smith has critiqued. From what I have seen it is unclear to what degree the business user can define and change Oracle’s performance tile KPIs (for example, the red-flagged metrics assignedvr_bigdata_big_data_capabilities_not_available to the particular business user that appear within the scorecard function of the software) and how much the system can provide in a prescriptive analytic fashion. Other visualizations that have been added include waterfall charts, which enable dependency analysis; these are especially helpful for pricing analysis by showing users how changes in one dimension impact pricing on the whole. Another is MapViews for manipulation and design to support location analytics that our next generation BI research finds the capability to deploy geographic maps are most important to BI in 47 percent of organizations, and then visualize metrics associated with locations in 41 percent of organizations. Stack charts now provide auto-weighting for 100-percent sum analysis that can be helpful for analytics such as attribution models. Breadcrumbs empower users to understand and drill back through their navigation process, which helps them understand how a person came to a particular analytical conclusion. Finally Trellis View actions provides contextual functionality to help turn data into action in an operational environment. The advancements of these visualizations are critical for Oracle big data efforts as visualization is a top three big data capability not available in 37 percent of organizations according to our big data research and our latest technology innovation research on business analytics found presenting data visually as the second most important capability for organizations according to 48 percent of organizations.

vr_ngbi_br_collaboration_tool_access_preferencesThe update to Oracle Smart View for Office also puts more capability in the hands of users. It natively integrates Excel and other Microsoft Office applications with operational BI dashboards so users can perform analysis and prepare ad-hoc reports directly within these desktop environments. This is an important advance for Oracle since our benchmark research in the use of spreadsheets across the enterprise found that the combination of BI and spreadsheets happens all the time or frequently in 74 percent of organization. Additionally the importance of collaborating with business intelligence is essential and having tighter integration is a critical use case as found in our next generation business intelligence research that found using Microsoft Office for collaboration with business intelligence is important to 36 percent of organizations.

Oracle efforts to evolve its social collaboration efforts through what they call Oracle Social Network have advanced significantly but do not appear to be in the short term plan to integrate and make available through its business intelligence offering. Our research finds more than two-thirds (67%) rank this as important and then embedding it within BI is a top need in 38 percent of organizations. Much of what Oracle already provides could be easily integrated and meet business demand for a range of people-based interactions that most are still struggling to manage through e-mail.

Oracle has extended its existing capabilities in its OBIEE with Hadoop integration via a HIVE connector that allows Oracle to pull data into OBIEE from big data sources, while an MDX search function enabled by integration with the Endeca discovery tool allows OBIEE to do full text search and data discovery. Connections to new data sources are critically important in today’s environment; our research shows that retaining and analyzing more data is the number-one ranked use for big data in 29 percent of organizations according to our technology innovation research. Federated data discovery is particularly important as most companies are often unaware of their information assets and therefore unknowingly limit their analysis.

Beyond the core BI product, Oracle made significant advances with Endeca 3.0. Users can now analyze Excel files. This is an existing capability for other vendors, so it was important for Oracle to gain parity here. Beyond that, Endeca now comes with a native JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) reader and support for authorization standards. This furthers its ability to do contextual analysis and sentiment analysis on data in text and social media. Endeca also now can pull data from the Oracle BI server to marry with the analysis. Overall the new version of Endeca enables new business-driven information discovery that is essential to relieve the stress on analysts and IT to create and publish information and insights to business.

Oracle’s continued investments into BI applications that supply prebuilt analytics and these packaged analytics applications span from the front office (sales and marketing), to operations (procurement and supply chain) to the back office (finance and HR). Given the enterprise-wide support, Oracle’s BI can perform cross-functional analytics and deliver fast time to value since users do not have to spend time building the dashboards. Through interoperation with the company’s enterprise applications, customers can execute action directly into applications such as PeopleSoft, JD Edwards or Oracle Business Suite. Oracle has begun to leverage more of its score-carding function that enables KPI relationships to be mapped and information aggregated and trended. Scorecards are important for analytic cultures because they are a common communication platform for executive decision-makers and allow ownership assignment of metrics.

I was surprised to not find much advancement in Oracle business intelligence efforts that operate on smartphones and tablets. Our research finds mobile business intelligence is important to 69 percent of organizations and that 78 percent of organizations reveal that no or some BI capabilities are available in their current deployment of BI. For those that are using mobile business intelligence, only 28 percent are satisfied. For years, IT has not placed a priority on mobile support of BI while business has been clamoring for it and now more readily leading the efforts with 52 percent planning new or expanded deployments on tablets and 32 percent on smartphones. In this highly competitive market to capture more opportunity, Oracle will need to significantly advance its efforts and make its capabilities freely available without passwords as other BI providers have already done. It also will need to recognize that business is more interested in alerts and events through notifications to mobile technology than trying to make the entire suite of BI capabilities replicated on these technologies.

Oracle has foundational positions in enterprise applications and database technology and has used these positions to drive significant vr_ngbi_br_importance_of_bi_technology_considerationssuccess in BI. The company’s proprietary “walled garden” approach worked well for years, but now technology changes, including movements toward open source and cloud computing, threaten that entrenched position. Surprisingly, the company has moved slowly off of its traditional messaging stance targeted at the CIO, IT and the data center. That position seems to focus the company too much on the technology-driven 3 V’s of big data and analytics, and not enough on the business driven 3 W’s that I advocate. As the industry moves into the age of analytics, where information is looked upon as a critical commodity and usability is the key to adoption (our research finds usability to be the top evaluation consideration in 63 percent of organizations), CIOs will need to further move beyond its IT approach for BI as I have noted and get more engaged into the requirements of business. Oracle’s business intelligence strategy and how it addresses these business outcomes and the use across all business users is key to the company’s future and organizations should examine these critical advancements to its BI offering very closely to determine if you can improve the value of information and big data in an organization.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

At Oracle OpenWorld this week I focused on what the company is doing in business analytics, and in particular on what it is doing with its Exalytics In-Memory Machine. The Exalytics appliance is an impressive in-memory hardware approach to putting right-time analytics in the hands of end users by providing a full range of integrated analytic and visualization capabilities. Exalytics fits into the broader analytics portfolio by providing support for Oracle BI Foundational Suite including OBIEE, Oracle’s formidable portfolio of business analytics and business performance applications, as well interactive visualizations and discovery capabilities.

Exalytics connects with an Exadata machine over a high-throughput InfiniBand link. The system leverages Oracle’s TimesTen In-Memory Database with columnar compression originally built for online transaction processing in the telecommunications industry. Oracle’s Summary Advisor software provides a heuristic approach to making sure the right data is in-memory at the right time, though customers at the conference mentioned that in their initial configuration they did not need to turn on Summary Advisor since they were able to load their entire datasets in memory. Oracle’s Essbase OLAP server is also integrated, but since it requires a MOLAP approach and computationally intensive pre-aggregation, one might question whether applications such as Oracle’s Hyperion planning and forecasting tools will truly provide analysis at the advertised ”speed of thought.” To address this latter point, Oracle points to examples in the consumer packaged goods industry, where it has already demonstrated its ability to reduce complex planning scenario cycle times from 24 hours down to four hours. Furthermore, I discussed with Paul Rodwick, Oracle’s vice president of product management for business intelligence, the potential for doing in-line planning, where integrated business planning and complex what-if modeling can be done on the fly. For more on this particular topic, please check out my colleague’s benchmark research on the fast clean close.

Another important part of the Exalytics appliance is the Endeca discovery tool. Endeca, which Oracle acquired just a year ago, provides an exploratory interactive approach to root cause analysis and problem-solving without the traditional struggle of complex data modeling. It does this through a search technology that leverages key-value pairings in unstructured data, thereby deriving structure delivered in the form of descriptive statistics such as recency and frequency.  This type of tool democratizes analytics in an organization and puts power into the hands of line-of-business managers. The ability to navigate across data was the top-ranked business capability in our business analytics benchmark research. However, while Endeca is a discovery and analysis tool for unstructured and semi-structured data, it does not provide full sentiment analysis or deeper text analytics, as do tools such as IBM’s SPSS Text Analytics and SAS Social Conversation Center. For more advanced analytics and data mining, Oracle integrates its version of R for the enterprise on its Exadata Database Machine and its Big Data Appliance, Oracle’s integrated Hadoop approach based on the Cloudera stack.

At the conference, Oracle announced a few updates for Exalytics. The highlights include a new release of Oracle Business Intelligence 11.1.1.6.2BP1 optimized for Exalytics. The release includes new mobility and visualization capabilities, including trellis visualizations that allow users to see a large number of charts in a single view. These advanced capabilities are enabled on mobile devices through the increased speed provided by Exalytics. In addition, Endeca is now certified with Oracle Exalytics, and the TimesTen database has been certified with GoldenGate and Oracle Data Integrator, allowing the system and users to engage in more event-driven analytics and closed-loop processes. Finally, Hyperion Planning is certified on Exalytics.

On the upside, Oracle’s legacy platform support on Exalytics allows the company to leverage its entire portfolio and offer more than 80 prebuilt analytics applications ready to run on Exalytics without any changes. The platform also supports the full range of the Business Intelligence Foundational Suite and provides a common platform and a common dimensional model. In this way, it provides alignment with overall business processes, content management systems and transactional BI systems. This alignment is especially attractive for companies that have a lot of Oracle software already installed, and companies looking to operationalize business analytics through event-based closed-loop decision-making at the front lines of the organization. The speed of the machine, its near-real-time query speeds, and its ability to deliver complex visualizations to mobile devices allow users to create use cases and ROI scenarios they could not before. For example, the San Diego Unified School District was able to utilize Exalytics to push out performance dashboards across multiple device types to students and teachers, thereby increasing attendance and garnering more money from the state.The Endeca software lets users make qualitative and to some degree quantitative assessments from social data and to overlay that with structured data. The fact that Exalytics comprises an integrated hardware and software stack makes it a turnkey solution that does not require expensive systems integration services. Each of these points makes Exalytics an interesting and even an exciting investment possibility for companies.

On the downside, the integrated approach and vendor lock-in may discourage some companies concerned about Oracle’s high switch costs. This may pose a risk for Oracle as maturing alternatives become available and the economics of switching begin to make more sense. However, it is no easy task to switch away from Oracle, especially for companies with large Oracle database and enterprise application rollouts. The economics of loyalty are such that when customers are dissatisfied but captive, they remain loyal; however, as soon as a viable alternative comes on the market, they quickly defect. This defection threat for Oracle could come from dissatisfaction with configuration and ease-of-use issues in combination with new offerings from large vendors such as SAP, with its HANA in-memory database appliance, and hardware companies such as EMC that are moving up the stack into the software environment. To be fair, Oracle is addressing the issues around useability by moving the user experience away from “one size fits all” to more of a personae or role-based interface. Oracle will likely have time to do this, given the long tail of its existing database entrenchment and the breadth and depth of its analytics application portfolio.

With Exalytics, Oracle is addressing high market demand for right-time analytics and interactive visualization. I expect this device will continue to sell well especially since it is plug-and-play and Oracle has such a large portfolio of analytic applications. For companies already running Oracle databases and Oracle applications, Exalytics is very likely a good investment. In particular, it makes sense for those that have not fully leveraged the power of analytics in their business and that are therefore losing competitive position. Our benchmark research on analytics shows a relatively low penetration for analytics software today, but investments are accelerating due to the large ROI companies are realizing from analytics. In situations where companies find the payoffs to be less obvious, or where they fear lock-in, companies should take a hard look at exactly what they hope to accomplish with analytics and which tools best suit that need. The most successful companies start with the use case to justify the investment, then determine which technology makes the most sense.

In addition to this blog, please see Ventana Research’s broader coverage of Oracle OpenWorld.

Regards,

Tony Cosentino

VP and Research Director

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