In Part I, I talked about a couple of reasons why cloud BI hasn’t gone mainstream yet – the inherent complexity of BI systems and the amount of data produced daily. Then I presented a secure way for data to remain in place but your BI to move into the cloud. (web services-based SOA broadcast services, essentially querying data that exists behind your corporate firewall from the cloud). Today let’s weigh the risks vs. rewards of moving your BI to the cloud.
Choosing a Cloud BI Vendor
Do you stick with your familiar BI software as it adapts to a SaaS model or go with a newcomer offering true SaaS? Be sure to carefully consider your business requirements and go with a vendor that meets them. You may risk going with a smaller vendor, but you are more likely to get the BI deployment you want.
Certainly evaluate the long-term cost of ownership – cloud BI may be more affordable at the outset and allow you to avoid the capital expenditure approval process, but will it cost more in the end? The reward of a quick implementation and “easy out” may be worth the risk of higher long-term cost and may lead to additional benefits, like allowing you to scale your BI to more users throughout the organization faster.
Sticking with an in-house BI deployment results in your IT team spending time to set up, tweak, maintain, and debug servers – time that could be better spent elsewhere…
Many (if not most) companies are evaluating the benefits and risks of cloud-based solutions this year. In fact, marketing research firm IDC predicts that businesses will spend $22.6 billion on cloud services by 2015. However, there is one area that has fallen behind the cloud – business intelligence. But it’s ready to emerge. Even organizations with traditional (hosted on-premise) BI systems in place can make the move. Let’s consider the practicalities of doing so.
Organizations that have deployed business intelligence have first-hand knowledge of the complexities of such a system – the vast network of linked parts and pieces, from data warehouses to ETL applications, OLAP servers to analytical dashboards. It’s a jungle out there and it’s clear that it can’t continue this way for much longer. A more repeatable and sustainable model for business intelligence must emerge – one that reduces the complexity while maintaining security and enhancing ease of use.
The Data Question
For services like CRM and document collaboration, the roadmap for moving to the cloud has already been established by companies like Salesforce.com and Google. But for BI, it’s not as clear. The sensitivity and volume of data as well as the inherent complexity of BI systems have left executing a cloud-based BI strategy more of a dream than a reality.
Many believe that the next logical step in BI’s evolution is moving it to the cloud. However, when looking at the characteristics of a modern day BI deployment, it’s easy see how getting there is complicated.
Let’s take a look at just one aspect of a cloud BI deployment: the amount of data that would need to be moved, stored, and processed. There’s a reason we’re all talking about big data these days – according to April Adams, research director at Gartner, data capacity in enterprises is growing at 40% to 60% year over year…
Cost efficiency, flexibility, and availability of data are key advantages of cloud business intelligence
This year, cloud computing is set to dominate CeBIT, the international IT and telecommunications trade fair held each year near arcplan’s headquarters in Germany. According to a recent survey by the analyst firm IDC, cloud computing will account for 10% of global IT expenditure by the year 2013. While we have taken advantage of cloud offerings in our private lives without hesitation for years (just think of Google Maps and Gmail), businesses have only been comfortable with a few applications (like CRM) residing in the cloud. Many companies still have doubts when it comes to shifting applications into the cloud when security is critical, as it is with business intelligence. Concerns over data security breaches and their consequences are holding some businesses back; however, the advantages of cloud-based BI clearly outweigh the potential drawbacks. Here are our most important reasons for moving business intelligence applications into the cloud.
Cost efficiency is key
Among the greatest advantages of cloud BI are cost savings and reduced capital commitment. Upgrades, maintenance and administration of on-premise software are time-consuming and costly. If companies shift their BI solutions into the cloud, they will no longer have to budget for large, up-front purchases of software packages or carry out time-consuming updates on local servers. In the cloud, upgrades are installed directly by the service provider in near real-time. Using any kind of device (desktop computer, laptop, tablet PC, or smartphone), employees can access the most recent version of their BI solution, independent of location and without having to download upgrades or request updates from the IT department. Users can therefore focus completely on data consumption and analysis, getting the most from BI without having to deal with the infrastructure.
Large- and small-scale flexibility
Companies that manage their own BI systems on-premise have invested in their infrastructure to deal with ever-increasing quantities of data. To analyze data volumes amounting to petabytes or even exabytes and have a 360-degree view of data in real-time, immense processing power and extremely large amounts of memory are required. For processor-intensive BI applications, solutions running in-house can quickly reach their limits. This makes another of cloud BI’s advantages clear: the enormous flexibility afforded by cloud software deployment.
A growing number of businesses are looking into cloud services for everything from document storage to CRM to BI. Some are choosing to go the private cloud route out of security concerns, while others are being forced into the public cloud since they want to use publicly available, third-party information as part of their BI (like Google Maps or Hoovers data for mash-ups). Hybrid clouds might offer the best of both worlds. Let’s explore each type of cloud a bit further.
The Case for Cloud
The case for moving business intelligence to the cloud often comes down to resources: the physical hardware that stores the data, the staff that has to maintain the hardware, and the money that’s spent on all of this. Companies are looking to reduce or reallocate all three of these resources, and cloud computing gives them a way to do this.
However, when it comes to BI, you have a lot of vendors who haven’t fully moved to the cloud yet because of the sheer volume of data they’re helping to manage. A customer who is using arcplan on top of Teradata has terabytes of data that will never make it into the cloud – it would be too much to move, and likely, a waste of time and energy. Nevertheless we’ve seen many companies start to make the move to the cloud because of its wide-ranging benefits.
Private vs. Public Cloud for BI
Cloud adoption is increasing in popularity and private clouds are getting a lot of attention; a 2011 Info-Tech survey shows that 76% of IT decision-makers will focus initially or, in the case of 33% of respondents, exclusively on the private cloud (infrastructure operated solely for a single organization, whether it’s internally or externally hosted). Some IT teams want to explore cloud computing within their own walls first and see how it goes, though others concede that private clouds aren’t really “cloud” at all, especially if they’re hosted on-premise (which eliminates the benefits of reduced costs and resources to maintain the infrastructure). If you have a massive data center at your location and you dedicate a portion of it to a particular set of data and applications, like your supply chain BI data & dashboards, then that could be considered a private cloud. The private cloud offers tighter controls and data security that’s managed according to your particular company’s standards.
True cloud is closer to Amazon’s EC2 public cloud.
In my last post on this subject, I talked about the benefits of cloud computing, especially when it comes to deploying BI in the cloud. The advantages are numerous, but there are also drawbacks that need to be considered before responsibly moving forward. Here are some of the arguments we hear about from our customers and how business intelligence providers have already thought of ways to curb them:
Data security. Security is a concern for IT and business professionals alike. Since your business performance data is stored externally in a cloud model, data management and protection is in the hands of the provider – not your IT department. For regulated environments such as the pharmaceutical, healthcare and financial services industries however, data security is paramount and their information may never be stored off-site. However, it’s still possible to deploy your BI in the cloud even if your data needs to be stored on the premises. It simply involves storing your data on-site behind firewalls and running your queries and reports over the web in a browser. Your data never leaves the premises so you maintain your own data security, but you still benefit from less hardware costs and time saved from not having to install the BI software on every machine or mobile device. It’s a win-win. You can learn more about this particular style of deploying cloud BI in our webinar, A Roadmap for BI Cloud Computing, which is available as a recording here.
Data backup. Though it’s a cost-saving measure to dump your backup servers, having your backup and storage off-site can keep you up at night. If your company is dependent on the cloud provider’s backup and redundancy services to preserve data if any issues arise, you better hope you chose your vendor wisely :-). No seriously, the method we just touched on where data is actually stored on the premises is a compromise that can alleviate this issue.