MicroStrategy upgrades BI platform for visual analysis, Hadoop

MicroStrategy 9.3 includes an array of enhancements aimed at making it easier for business users to work through data

MicroStrategy is set to unveil an array of enhancements to its BI (business intelligence) software platform, covering areas such as visual data-exploration and the open-source Hadoop data-processing framework, during the MicroStrategy World conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday.

The new features in MicroStrategy 9.3 include an updated version of the vendor's Visual Insight interface, which is aimed at helping business users work through data. Additional visualization tools have been added, including density maps and network diagrams, according to a statement.

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MicroStrategy has also sought to make the toolset easier to use. One new feature automatically suggests which types of visualizations users should choose for various data sets, and the system's drag-and-drop functions have been made "smoother," MicroStrategy said.

The system has faster, "Google-like" search capabilities, and it's also now possible for business users to "create great looking dashboards in under 10 minutes with no help from IT," according to a statement.

MicroStrategy 9.3 also hops aboard the "big data" train, providing a direct connection to Hadoop, the popular open-source data processing framework.

In addition, data can be analyzed via Hadoop without writing code, thanks to functionality that generates Hadoop queries automatically as business users "drag-and-drop business attributes and metrics onto a report," according to MicroStrategy.

Hadoop data can also be meshed with information from other sources, such as a traditional relational database, for querying.

Other new features in the 9.3 update include support for the open-source R language for statistical analysis, and a management toolset called System Manager.

The latter "automates the many manual, multi-step processes required to manage a BI ecosystem," according to a statement.

One observer expressed a measured view of the release's features.

The auto-suggestions and rapid search tool are "differentiated capabilities," said Forrester Research vice president Boris Evelson, in an email.

But MicroStrategy's work with Hadoop, while welcome, "is what everyone else is doing," he added.

Likewise, MicroStrategy's support for R is "long needed, but most other vendors have that too," Evelson said.

Company officials have framed MicroStrategy as the "Switzerland" of BI vendors, a neutral party able to work equally well with an array of third-party applications and data sources.

MicroStrategy seems to loom ever larger in this role of late, given that its US$562.2 million in revenue during 2011 makes it one of the industry's biggest remaining stand-alone BI companies.

It's not clear whether that will remain the case forever. While software vendors such as SAP and Oracle already have well-stocked analytics arsenals, other potential acquirers could be in the wings.

Logical ones include Hewlett-Packard, EMC, Dell and Teradata, Evelson said.

There's also the potential for a "merger of equals" between MicroStrategy and data-integration vendor Informatica, according to Evelson. Like MicroStrategy, Informatica is finding itself becoming one of the last large specialized companies in its market segment.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com.

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