BI and the IBM i: Finding Your Own Way

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With all the BI solutions in the marketplace, finding the right one for your company can be very challenging.

 

Editor's Note: This article introduces the Webcast "Migrating from IBM Query/400?" and the white paper "Business Intelligence on the IBM i: Finding Your Way" available free from the MC Press Webcast Center and the MC Press White Paper Center, respectively.

 

Analytics and business intelligence (BI) are center stage in IBM's software and consulting strategy. Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of the IBM Software Group, recently said IBM views the broad analytics marketplace as a multi-billion-dollar business opportunity, and he has positioned IBM on the analytics fast track with a stream of announcements and acquisitions in recent years. Ironically, considering the topic, the frequency and variety of IBM's announcements have created a serious case of information overload for many customers who don't have time to follow these moves and analyze what they might mean to their business.

 

For IBM i customers, the biggest BI announcement in recent times occurred in 2007 when IBM and Information Builders, Inc. (IBI) released DB2 Web Query. This product was presented as the upward migration solution for IBM Query/400 users and drew tremendous interest from IBM i customers hoping for a free path to BI. Three years have passed since the product launch, but many IBM i customers continue to use Query/400 and are still new to the V5R4 and 6.1 releases of the IBM i operating system required by DB2 Web Query. Thousands of copies of DB2 Web Query have shipped, but it's reported only a small minority of these licenses are in production, and there are still many gaps in people's knowledge of DB2 Web Query's features, cost, licensing, and support terms. At the same time, the IBM i user community continues to invest in BI solutions from independent software vendors (ISVs) that specialize in DB2 and the i operating system. To see a demonstration of the one available from New Generation Software, Inc. (NGS), look for "Migrating from IBM Query/400?" in the MC Press Webcast Center.

 

From an industry-wide perspective, the largest IBM BI announcement in recent years was the 2007 acquisition of Cognos, Inc. Cognos offers BI, query, reporting, and analytics software that runs on Windows, UNIX, and Linux environments. The Cognos products, despite recent product rollouts, tend to carry a higher cost of licensing and implementation than competing solutions designed for the IBM i.

 

During 2009, IBM expanded its BI portfolio again by buying SPSS, Inc. Also in 2009, IBM made a major move to grow its BI consulting revenue by announcing the formation of a Business Analytics Group within their Global Business Services division. At the time of its creation, this group was staffed with 4,000 consultants. IBM's announcement indicated that the company expected most of these consultants to be engaged in projects related to the deployment of the Cognos software products.

 

IBM has made several other niche acquisitions and announcements related to "cloud-based" BI, including the IBM Smart Analytics Cloud.

 

It seems most of IBM's analytics and BI plans are aimed at helping IBM compete at the top-tier of the analytics and BI market where multi-year, six- to eight-figure services engagements are common, but use of the IBM i is not.

IBM Cognos BI Offerings

Cognos software is the platform for much of IBM's worldwide BI services practice. The software does not run on the IBM i operating system and uses ODBC, OLE, or JDBC to access DB2 on i and other databases. Cognos implementations that need to address the requirements of more than a few users often become data warehousing projects in which data from multiple servers and databases are replicated, restructured, and summarized into one or more data marts on multiple Windows servers or Linux partitions.

 

Although IBM offers the lower-cost Cognos Express, license fees represent a small portion of the cost of owning and running a Cognos-based BI solution. Consulting fees, implementation, middleware, databases, and dedicated servers are a larger cost factor in all but the simplest of environments.

 

IBM and many independent consulting providers have built substantial businesses by delivering Cognos implementation services. In fact, the presence of 4,000+ consultants inside IBM primarily performing Cognos services projects says much about the software.

IBM and SPSS

SPSS, recently acquired by IBM, entered the IBM i software market in 2000 by purchasing the ShowCase Corporation. The ShowCase line of query, reporting, and OLAP software was marketed by IBM in the 1990s, but IBM's emphasis today is on integrating SPSS' predictive analytics software with Cognos software.

BI from Microsoft and Others

Companies using Microsoft SQL Server 2008 as a database may be tempted to consider using Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) as a BI platform. SSRS is included in the SQL Server 2008 Standard and Enterprise editions. Using SSRS as your BI platform for more than just a few IT staff members is likely to lead to a need for one or more Windows servers and licenses of SQL Server 2008. SQL Server 2008 Enterprise currently licenses for approximately $8,500 per server or $25,000 for unlimited users. The one or more servers needed to support a company-wide deployment can easily triple that cost.

 

The open source community has also spawned several BI software applications. These applications, like SSRS, often get their start in companies where the perception that they are free is very appealing. Most are written in Java, which has limited their popularity with IBM i customers that don't have Java programming experience and often run smaller systems lacking the CPW to effectively run Java applications. Consequently, most open-source BI software is deployed elsewhere for use with data that's been extracted from DB2 and other sources. As with the Microsoft and Cognos models, this architecture brings with it complexity, middleware, hardware, and potentially additional staff. Optional annual support agreements with the leading open-source BI vendors currently average  $25,000 but vary depending on various factors.

BI Consultants and IBM i

The BI marketplace is filled with consulting firms that have developed expertise in project management, requirements gathering, data modeling, and BI software implementation. Unfortunately, it is extremely rare to find a BI consultant with a deep knowledge of the IBM i. If you hire a consulting firm to lead your BI project, it is very likely you won't end up with a solution that leverages DB2 and the IBM i environment.

Conclusion

The recent actions of IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, and others demonstrate their belief that analytics and BI are going to drive substantial investments in both the public and private sector for many years to come. The IBM i, however, appears to sit outside the mainstream of IBM's analytics and BI strategy. IBM i customers who understand the database, security, and scalability advantages provided by the IBM i must be willing to step outside the mainstream to find independent solutions, built for IBM i, to cost-effectively reach their analytics and BI goals.

You can download the Webcast "Migrating from IBM Query/400?" free from the MC Press Webcast Center and the white paper "Business Intelligence on the IBM i: Finding Your Way" from the MC Press White Paper Center.

 

 

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