Tableau set for BI feast
BI front-end remake supercharges deployment, purchase modelFollow @infoworld
For end-users with some knowledge of data schemas, connection to a single source or the bringing together of multiple sources will be straightforward (as it will be for administrators). Tableau Standard Edition 1.0 connects in a few minutes to data tables from sources including delimited text, Excel, Access, and MySQL; the Professional Edition connects to those three, plus Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SQL Server Analytical Services, Hyperion Essbase, and IBM DB2 OLAP server.
The interface is very much as described in the HVE review: Analysts work in a pivot-table-like, but significantly more comprehensible, interface. You drag and drop dimensions and measurements to row and column assignments, and you can just as easily create filters or pick from a narrow, but serviceable, selection of visual display types. I found the interface very fluid for navigating data dimensions and responding to answers with follow-up questions.
Shops willing to throw development resources at Tableau can extend it through the declarative programming interface, VizQL. This “visual query language” is designed for describing visual graph elements and data tables. VizQL statements map database tuples (ordered sets of data) to drawing format specifications; you can also compile it into SQL or MDX (Multidimensional Expressions).
Execution speed and scalability were not a problem. Tableau’s execution in screen response and refresh rendering was as fast as my back-end data permitted, roughly akin to Excel pacing.
Overall scalability, however, is going to be a strongly site-specific variable. Because Tableau provides only the visual presentation layer of an overall BI solution, it neither improves nor degrades the scalability of a solution, which is dictated by database, data mart, or OLAP-components infrastructure deeper in the stack.
The final tally
Tableau strongly deserves the immediate attention of any organization looking to deploy lightweight BI tools that are easy to buy, deploy, and maintain. At $999 for the Standard Edition, Tableau erases a BI entry barrier by designing the most flexible acquisition and deployment standard available in a high-torque BI front end.
There aren’t many drawbacks to Tableau’s products. The flexibility of the Tableau deployment will work perfectly for SMBs because it doesn’t require a total standardization on a single BI vendor’s offerings; at the same time, the suite serves many tactical needs for larger enterprises. I hope in the future they can take their “kinder, gentler” pivot-table UI and come up with something that breaks that model’s stranglehold on the category (pivot-table models can be a choker that limits deployment to those with very particular work styles).
After years of software distribution tending toward bigger and more complex purchases, it’s refreshing — nay, intoxicating — to see a significantly useful tool sold as a shrink-wrapped product that’s easy for IT to figure out how to buy, install, and maintain — and that costs roughly one-tenth the per-seat price of many competitors’ deployments.