BI/Suite 6.0 Sharpens Business Acuity

SAN MATEO (03/20/2000) - Today's competitive marketplace has made tools and techniques once used exclusively by business analysts nearly ubiquitous. Many corporations are deploying business intelligence (BI) applications to thousands of end-users.

Not surprisingly, this has fed the demand for functionally richer tools. Many vendors have responded to that call: Business Objects, Seagate Software, and IBM Corp., to name only a few, are pushing their BI offerings further. This competition has resulted in better end-user tools, at an ever-shrinking cost of ownership.

Our evaluation of BI/Suite 6.0 proves that maker Hummingbird Communications Ltd. has not shrunk from the challenge presented by this competitive environment. BI/Suite earned a score of Very Good and is capable of pleasing even the most discriminate and demanding users.

BI/Suite is a collection of fully integrated applications that provide businesses with query, reporting, and OLAP (online analytical processing) functionality. It supports data that resides in relational databases, data marts, data warehouses, or ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems. Once deployed, BI/Suite will allow users to easily and quickly access and analyze data regardless of physical location or implementation, supporting better and faster business decision-making.

The suite comprises four main tools: BI/Broker (the middle-tier server), BI/Web (a thin client included with BI/Broker), BI/Query (data query and reporting client), and BI/Analyze (OLAP client). However, companies have the choice of whether to roll out the components individually or as a composite application, as well as whether they prefer local (two-tier) or central (n-tier) administration.

Similar to Business Objects' Broadcast Agent, Hummingbird's BI/Broker 6.0 makes use of a CORBA-based application server. Utilizing Inprise's Visigenic ORB (object request broker), each component can make use of the many services of the application server, including its central repository for storing queries, reports, and all other objects used by the BI/Suite.

BI/Broker performs load balancing, license management, scheduling, session management, and connectivity services. Security profiles, ACLs (access control lists), and object qualifiers are maintained centrally at the server, making administration of both users and content less daunting.

Curiously, the documentation recommends memory requirements of at least 512MB, but we found it to work without any perceivable performance problems on a test machine with 256MB of memory.

Queries abound

Anyone who has ever done any data discovery knows that the key to success is asking the right questions. Fortunately, the BI/Query component makes that quite easy. It includes sample data models and graphical representations of their underlying database structures. Using these, I was able to create new data models quickly and easily with no SQL coding whatsoever. To define relationships, add qualifications to my data, or even apply grouping or sorting criteria for my output, all I needed to do was double-click on one of the tables in the data model and select the attributes my changes should be applied to. Using this approach, formulating ad hoc queries required just a few clicks.

And it works with many data sources, including Oracle, Sybase, Informix, Tandem, and Microsoft.

The tool's reporting capability is on par with solutions such as Seagate's Crystal Reports and Oracle Reports. Using a wizard aptly named the Presentation Designer, I was able to select presentation styles such as tables, charts, maps, and crosstabs, as well as create output in columnar, stacked, pie chart, and three-dimensional formats.

Making accurate decisions often necessitates examination of data from multiple perspectives. BI/ Analyze is an OLAP-based multidimensional analysis tool that lets users drill up and down through successive layers of detail to discover trends, relationships, and patterns. It flexibly supports connectivity to leading multidimensional database management systems including Hyperion's Essbase, Informix's MetaCube, IBM's DB/2 OLAP Server, and Microsoft's SQL Server 7.0 OLAP Services.

I was able to easily add calculation rules, create cubes from result sets returned from query operations, and even specify whether I wanted my data values to be calculated at access time rather than build time. I was also pleased to find a nifty connection wizard for creating and editing my connections to various data sources.

A particularly noteworthy feature was the mobile OLAP services. It provides users the ability to perform discovery either in the office or on the road, which can be a great benefit to users who travel frequently. OLAP reports built in the field are coupled with their source data and can be refreshed whenever the user next connects to the application server.

BI/Web 6.0 provides a true thin-client experience for users who connect via a corporate intranet or extranet. Requiring only a Java 1.1-compliant browser, BI/Web let me access and act on the same queries, data models, reports, and OLAP sources as the desktop implementation did.

The tool uses IIOP (Internet Inter-Orb Protocol) to manage sessions between the client and server, allowing users to maintain persistent connections and thereby realize scalability and performance improvements across the enterprise.

I was pleased to find that my data could be saved in CSV (comma-separated value) format, enabling me to move data to third-party applications with no changes on the target side. The only problem I found with BI/Web was its lack of remote administration capabilities.

Top-notch support

The many features and functionality of BI/Suite 6.0 are complemented by Hummingbird's excellent documentation. It offers numerous choices for online assistance, including formal education.

BI/Suite 6.0 gave a robust performance and included everything I consider crucial to a top-notch data discovery product, earning it a score of Very Good.

Don't hesitate to put it on your short list of potential business-intelligence solutions.

Tim Fielden (tim_fielden@infoworld.com) is a senior analyst with the InfoWorld Test Center.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

Hummingbird Communications BI/Suite 6.0

Business Case: BI/Suite 6.0 puts your organization's many data sources in a format that can be used for effective data discovery, reporting, and OLAP. A component-based approach means users can purchase and install only those functions of the suite that they require, saving time, money, and disk space.

Technology Case: BI/Suite combines an architecturally sound n-tier implementation approach with cross-platform CORBA and Java under the hood, easing administrative concerns.

Pros:

+ Uses cross-platform, industry-standard technology+ Exceptional documentation+ Easy-to-use interfaces+ Massive amounts of sample data, reports, and cubes to work with+ Component-based deploymentCons:

- High recommended system memory requirementsCost: BI/Broker, $20,000; BI/Query, $695 per seat; BI/Analyze, $695 per seatPlatform(s): Windows NT 4.0 or Solaris 2.6+Hummingbird Communications North York, Ontario; (877) 359-4866; www.hummingbird.com.

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