Microsoft, Dell team on BI systems, dismiss appliance rivals

Vendors package SQL Server with Dell hardware for business intelligence apps

Dell is rolling out a line of servers preconfigured with Microsoft's SQL Server database -- a combination that the two vendors claim can top trendy data warehouse appliances on price, performance and ease of installation.

Dell joins HP, which introduced a similar lineup of data warehousing systems built around SQL Server at Microsoft's Business Intelligence Conference 2007 in May.

"Customers have choices, and I hope they take advantage of those choices," Tom Casey, Microsoft general manager for SQL Server, said after Dell's new servers were announced.

The bundled systems come in three configurations with 1TB, 2TB or 4TB of storage in Dell's PowerVault MD1000 disk enclosure. Each package includes a Dell PowerEdge server running SQL Server 2005 on top of Windows Server 2003. The list price is about US$100,000 per terabyte of storage.

Users could soon get the Dell servers with Office PerformancePoint Server 2007, Microsoft's new performance management software, as an option, according to Casey. He also said servers preconfigured with the upcoming SQL Server 2008 should be ready by the launch of the database upgrade, expected in next year's second quarter.

According to The OLAP Report, an online report published by the Business Application Research Center, Microsoft is the leading vendor in the US$5.7 billion global market for online analytical processing technology that supports the storage and analysis of historical data for business intelligence purposes.

Data warehouse appliances are hardware devices that come with a preconfigured stack of data management software and connectors to outside applications, as well as storage and network connectivity. Most appliance vendors claim to offer easy deployment as well as performance that can top the throughput of conventional database systems.

But Casey said the server packages introduced by Dell and Microsoft were less expensive and less "proprietary" than competing appliances, so were easier to manage and integrate with existing IT infrastructures.

"We're not forcing you to buy a black box," added Judy Chavis, enterprise marketing director at Dell.

Jim Kobielus, analyst at Current Analysis, said teaming up on the new servers was a good move by the two vendors. But he added that he thought some of the claims made by Microsoft and Dell were exaggerated.

Although some data warehouse appliance vendors, such as Netezza, offered relatively "closed" systems, most did not, Kobielus said. Also, US$100,000 per terabyte was "way too expensive" when compared with the pricing of vendors like Netezza, Datallegro and Dataupia, he said. Their appliances all cost between US$10,000 and US$20,000 per terabyte, according to Kobielus.

On the other hand, Kobielus said the Dell-Microsoft bundles were competitive and even attractive when compared with offerings from vendors such as Oracle and IBM.

But prices were falling across the board, Kobielus said. "The appliance is becoming a commodity," he noted. "It's a horse race to see who can provide the cheapest price per terabyte."

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