Putting BI in Cloud Has Silver Lining: Empowered Users


eBay is certainly not alone in itsdismal near-term financial outlook. It's doing what it can to improve its numbers, including cutting staff and buying companies that might help it boost revenues.


It's now considering a strategy successfully executed by its (sort of) competitor, Amazon: leveraging its formidable tech infrastructure to create services it can sell to other companies. Amazon's Web services, including the Elastic Compute Cloud and Simple Storage Service, are a small but growing part of its business.


As this Computerworld article notes, eBay has a kick-ass data warehouse built on a Teradata platform. It holds a mind-boggling 5 petabytes of data, adds 50 terabytes of data a day and can turn over a terabyte of data in 5 seconds. The company has harnessed that processing power to allow business analysts to build their own "virtual" data marts. Using the marts, they can rapidly create and test different prototypes of business intelligence analyses. Data warehouse managers review the successful prototypes and convert them into production data marts.


These cool "sandboxes" are produced with no assistance from IT. The analysts create and upload them using standard Web and analytical tools from the likes of Business Objects, SAS and Microstrategy, even Microsoft's Excel (the secret weapon of many a BA). Oliver Ratzesberger, eBay's senior director of architecture and operations, says some 5,000 analysts use the mini marts. Because BAs can build the marts three to five times faster than before, and without the help of IT, they can try out more analyses, at least some of which will no doubt yield valuable insights.


The company is considering turning this capability into an on-demand service that it would sell to outsiders. It seems like a smart strategy, as it's sure to attract companies that lack the time, budget or expertise to build and maintain their own data warehouses. It's a few steps ahead of other cloud offerings that mostly emphasize storing data rather than doing anything interesting with it.


eBay isn't the only company planning such an offering. As the article mentions, Amazon has a hosted database called SimpleDB, based on the Elastic Compute Cloud, and customers can now also create SQL Server and Oracle databases it its cloud, a signal that Amazon is looking beyond startups and companies with heavy Web loads to more traditional enterprises.


These kinds of services may also -- finally -- help bring BI to a broader audience by making it easy for business types to create their own queries and dashboards, something that Microsoft obviously realizes with its plan to tie Excel to SQL Server and other back-end tools such as SharePoint Server or PerformancePoint Server. In my post about that, I noted that users will be able to access query results not only from Excel but also from Internet Explorer.