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Hybrid on-demand business intelligence with SQL Azure Reporting

Ian Hardenburgh describes Microsoft's positioning of SQL Server, SQL Azure, and SQL Azure Reporting Services for enterprises that need data analysis and business intelligence tools.

Enterprise-class business intelligence software has become an essential part of many companies' financial and operational decision-making. As exemplified by preeminent solution providers like IBM and SAS, BI adoption is growing at an exponential rate, mostly catalyzed by faster processors and cheaper data storage for heightened data warehousing and querying initiatives. This has afforded businesses the ability to perform a more intense type of data analysis, or what is known to some as analytics, where vast sets of information are disseminated across the enterprise.

An upshot from the demand for better BI is the need for scalable and well distributed business intelligence tools, to pervade the enterprise even further, instead of limiting it to just a few key analysts, by way of some kind of desktop software. Furthermore, as these same businesses move their data to off-premise cloud storage environments, uninterrupted use of these tools also becomes a concern. Microsoft's SQL Azure Reporting on-demand service is not only well positioned to address this changing tide, but is already outfitted for hybrid use on and off Azure, Microsoft's public cloud, to set up companies for the inevitable all-in-the-cloud future.

If you're familiar with Microsoft SQL Server, you're most likely also familiar with its SQL Server Reporting Services. Both SQL Azure and SQL Azure Reporting could be considered a toned-down version of SQL Server, and its major reporting component, meaning Reporting Services. In fact, many of the same development tools, like BIDS (Business Intelligence Development Studio) and SSMS (SQL Server Management Studio), are utilized to deploy reports from ad-hoc queries or stored and tasked database objects.

For those unfamiliar with Reporting Services, I wouldn't be too concerned, as you can probably use all the web-based tools that ship with a subscription to SQL Azure. That is, at least for the foreseeable future. In the case where you might require a greater flexibility in the design and development of your database objects and reports, on-premise SQL Server might be a welcome addition. However, this might be considered as something of a luxury, as SQL Azure Reporting services is robust enough to address most reporting deliverables, outside of any Analysis Services kind of OLAP and data mining capabilities. But in my experience, there are a very limited set of users in any given company that know how to take advantage of very advanced analytics doings like performing a multi-dimensional analysis, or applying arcane kinds of data mining methods. As alluded to above, SQL Azure Reporting and on-premise SQL Server are well situated to address hybrid concerns like these. As Microsoft continues to expand upon its public cloud offering, you can also expect to see further service options to become available for on-demand database and business intelligence.

For a good understanding of SQL Azure Reporting capabilities/limitations, in comparison with on-premise SQL Server (2008 R2 edition), see this link. Take careful notice of the following tables entitled:

  • High-Level Comparison of Reporting Services Features and SQL Azure Reporting Features
  • Reporting Services Features Not Available in SQL Azure Reporting
  • Tool Compatibility

About

Ian is a manager of business intelligence/analytics for a small cap NYSE traded energy company. He also freelance writes about business and technology, as well as consults SMBs upon Internet marketing strategy.

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