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Microsoft Business Intelligence without SharePoint

This might be a strange topic given that the release of SharePoint 2010 is just around the corner, but I wanted to respond to a couple of questions and debates I have been involved with in my temporary role in the partner team.

I would like to start by going back to the early days of Microsoft BI, analysis services (and OLAP services before it) were just getting established but there was no analysis services client from Microsoft to give users full access to the cubes in analysis services.  There were two third party contenders out there Panorama NovaView and ProClarity.  These were both web clients and as they evolved they both developed portals form which reports and content could be accessed and changed.  They also had security baked into them on top of what was in analysis services itself.  ProClarity was acquired by Microsoft and the descendants visualisations in that tool (such as the decomposition tree) are now in SharePoint 2010 enterprise.

Panorama continues to be a Microsoft partner and is a good choice for business who just want a web client to get at their analysis services cubes, or even to get more functionality out of PowerPivot.  They also continue to have their own portal or can integrate with SharePoint as desired.  There also another 40+ products form partners out there which also provide web access to cubes, and here is a good a list as I’ve found of them

The other key Microsoft BI offering is reporting services which either has its own portal complete with security (Report Manager) or can be integrated into SharePoint.

So you don’t have to use SharePoint to provide Microsoft based BI to your users, but I would submit you are going to need some sort of portal, even if this is just a set of web pages where users can see content they are allowed to see and add more content to it (again subject to security).

However if you want to provide access to reporting and analytics to your users then SharePoint or a similar dedicated portal would be a better option as you can then provide a single point of entry and a single security mechanism to control access to BI.

On the question of cost you could just use SharePoint Foundation (the successor to Windows SharePoint Services), and SQL Server Standard edition, this would give you reporting services integration, and the other key parts of the Microsoft BI stack (analysis services and integration services). However you won’t get the performance point monitoring and analytics (which is in SharePoint enterprise) so the money you save by doing this must be off set against the need to buy a third party tool (like those I have listed above) to replace this functionality.  You might not actually save any money and the solution could be more complex, but it might be exactly what your users need.  This is a good thing, both for business and for Microsoft:

  • Its good for business as you have a choice in which BI client tools you want to use and you can choose how locked into SharePoint you want to be.
  • It’s good for Microsoft as this ecosystem helps put Microsoft at the forefront of BI vendors and offers a wider set of capabilities than Microsoft alone can provide.

What I would suggest is to at least have a look at SharePoint 2010 as it’s scarily easy to set up and use even for this old DBA.