The Cloud has always been a very unusual idea. In the IT industry we tend to call the cloud “Cloud Computing”. Cloud Computing allows small and mid-sized business the ability to scale without the need to build out their own IT infrastructure and hire their own IT teams to maintain them. This makes the cloud very cost effective in terms of maintenance and reliability.
There are also concepts such as a private cloud, which is the equivalent to a having your equipment at a hosting service but the payment model is very different. Instead of paying for server rack space you will be looking at paying for computing power, storage and bandwidth. Still, Cloud Computing does have to contend with a very old fear of losing control of one’s data due to where the data center is located and provider itself.
Today our focus is Cloud Computing in terms of Software as a Service (SaaS). Recently Tableau announced a SaaS modeled cloud computing service called Tableau Online. Tableau Public is another cloud based offering, however this service is free but all data is publicly accessible to anyone who wishes to take a look at it.
Microsoft Office 365 is another example of a SaaS modeled Cloud Computing. In Office 365 the big difference is that you can download a desktop copy of Office and this allows you to store and save data to Microsoft OneDrive. Microsoft Exchange Online and Sharepoint Online Services allow you to have a Sharepoint infrastructure and an enterprise grade email service. The benefit of this is the use of Excel Services will allow you to use Microsoft Powerpivot and Microsoft Powerview online without the hardware and the licensing involved in setting it up on-premise.
Now the real question: where does Business Intelligence falls when it comes to SaaS Cloud Computing products?
Well, we can answer this by breaking down where the data we use with our Business Intelligence tool is stored. In most cases, unless you are using Microsoft CRM Online or Microsoft NAV 2013 on the Cloud, it is unlikely that your data will be stored in an accessible cloud location. The location your of data is very vital to determine if SaaS or Cloud Computing makes the most sense.
Why does location matter? Because it determines how long it takes for data to be transferred, and how often the transfer needs to occur. This will make or break your Business Intelligence SaaS play. If the data transfer takes over 30-40mins from source to destination and takes another 5-10 minutes to organize and clean, you have a process that will take an hour to get to where it needs to.
Of cours,e there are always ways to lower the transfer time, but the further away these points are, the longer it will take. How much bandwidth you have will also make life very difficult for you and your team – too little and you take hours to transfer data; too much bandwidth and you are spending too much money on bandwidth you would normally not need for your day to day business.
If all you care about is that the upload process is completed before the next morning, the next thing to consider is integration to other services. Technology we have normally taken for granted, like single sign on, will be another important question.
Some products will not connect to your Active Directory and will require you to log in multiple times. Another consideration is if all of your data will be in the cloud or not. If some data is on premise and other is in the cloud, you will have different authentication as well as different security considerations to contend with. Without an IT specialist, dealing with such a complex environment can be difficult.
If you can clear these issues, then you can enjoy the freedom that Business Intelligence on the Cloud can afford you. Yes – this depends on your companies’ business requirements for BI – but hopefully, this will provide a better understanding to make an informed decision on the matter.
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