Posts tagged ‘Business Value’

Scale Up or Scale Out for SQL Server Data Warehouses

Historically, scale up has been the model for Microsoft data warehouses. Running a large, multi-terabyte data warehouse meant buying a lot of hardware for a single server, and hoping that it would be enough, once the warehouse was fully loaded and under use. If the hardware wasn’t sized properly, you could be looking at big costs for purchasing a new server, with more capacity for memory, disk, and CPUs.

Over the past several months, though, there have been a number of announcements in the SQL Server space that change that. We now have the option of scaling our warehouses up or out. Project “Madison”, which is the integration of the massively parallel processing (MPP) technologies from the DATAllegro acquisition, promises to allow SQL Server 2008 to scale out to 100s of terabytes in the warehouse, by distributing processing among multiple commodity servers. Even though it’s not been officially released yet, I’ve seen several demos of the functionality, and it looks promising. The advantage of this approach is that as you need additional capacity, you simply add additional servers.

On the scale up front, last week Microsoft announced “SQL Server Fast Track Data Warehouse”, which is a set of reference architectures for symmetrical multi processing (SMP) data warehousing. These are single server configurations that are optimized for data warehousing workloads, and have been tested and validated. These take much of the guesswork out of sizing your data warehouse server. However, you still have to provide good estimates of query volume and size to use the reference architectures effectively.

So now the question becomes, should you target a scale up or scale out approach for your data warehouse? One of the deciding factors is going to be your data volume. The Fast Track reference architectures are currently targeted towards 4 to 32 terabyte warehouses. Given current hardware restrictions, that’s the practical limit for a single server. However, as the hardware continues to get better, that number is expected to go up. “Madison”, on the other hand, can scale well past 32 terabytes. So if your current data needs are greater than 32 terabytes, I’d be looking closely at “Madison”.

What if your current needs are less than 32 terabytes, but you expect to grow past that point over the next couple of years? Well, fortunately, the Fast Track reference architectures are designed to offer an easy transition to “Madison”, when your needs grow to that point. And if you expect your data volumes to stay below the 32 terabyte mark, then the Fast Track reference architectures certainly offer a greater degree of confidence that you are getting the appropriate configuration for your warehouse.

It’s always nice to have options, and improving the scaling abilities of SQL Server should certainly help Microsoft in the large data warehouse marketplace. However, the roadmap for how this might apply to the Analysis Services component of SQL Server hasn’t really been directly addressed yet. It would seem logical to offer the same sort of solutions in that space. It will be interesting to see which direction Microsoft takes on that.

Getting Business Value from BI Today

Today’s economy and business environment poses problems for many IT departments. Budgets are tight, companies are looking for ways to reduce headcount, and strategic investments are not very popular right now. Instead, companies are focusing on projects that have immediate ROI, primarily in the form of cutting costs. This has particular impact on BI projects, since they often have longer time frames, and in many cases, don’t have clearly defined ROI. The effects of this are becoming evident. A number of consulting firms in the southeast US have cut back on the number of BI consultants they employ, and a number of companies in the region are cutting back on planned BI expenditures.

Since I believe very strongly that BI is a valuable investment, I hate to see this, but it is understandable. If you are beginning a large data warehouse project, that projects 12 months or more before any value is delivered to the users, it’s not a very attractive investment right now. So, given the current environment, what can you do to ensure that your BI projects don’t end up on the chopping block?

Solve Existing Problems

Focus on solving existing problems, rather than trying to anticipate future needs. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you do need to invest in creating the BI infrastructure to handle future needs. However, in the current environment, business decisions makers are much more interested in hearing about the problem you can solve today, not the problems that they may encounter in a few years (if the business is still around).

Identify ROI

Identify the ROI up front. Too many BI projects get started on the vague promise of “When we have all this data together, we’ll be able to do great things!”. That’s not enough to justify expenditures today. Instead, you need a clear understanding of the problem, the cost of solving it, and the cost of not solving it. In a cost cutting environment, the latter point is often effective in communicating why the project needs to be done.

Incremental Wins

Look for incremental wins. As I’ve commented before, many BI initiatives take on a massive amount of scope, and run for many months before producing anything of value. An incremental approach allows you to demonstrate value to the stakeholders rapidly, and those incremental demonstrations of your ability to solve the problem often result in additional funding coming your way.

Do More With What You Have

Now that PerformancePoint Services is being rolled into SharePoint, there is an opportunity to provide additional BI with minimal or no investment in software, particularly if your company already uses SharePoint. By combining the capabilities of PerformancePoint with the workflow capabilities in SharePoint, you can provide some very interesting solutions in optimizing business processes, and making sure that the users of the process have the appropriate information at their fingertips.

By focusing on quick wins that have immediate ROI, BI teams can still provide a lot of value to the business. Demonstrating this value is the key to keeping your BI initiatives alive in a down economy.