Today, Friday the 13th of May, 2011, the Boulder BI Brain Trust heard from Larry Hill [find @lkhill1 onTwitter] and Rohit Amarnath [find @ramarnat on Twitter] of Full360 [find @full360 on Twitter] about the company's elasticBI™ offering.
Serving up business intelligence in the Cloud has gone through the general hype cycles of all other software applications, from early application service providers (ASP), through the software as a service (SaaS) pitches to the current Cloud hype, including infrastructure and platform as a service (IaaS and PaaS). All the early efforts have failed. To my mind, there have been three reasons for these failures.
- Security concerns on the part of customers
- Logistics difficulties in bringing large amounts of data into the cloud
- Operational problems in scaling single-tenant instances of the BI stack to large number of customers
Full360, a 15-year-old system integrator & consultancy, with a clientele ranging from startups to the top ten global financial institutions, has come up with a compelling Cloud BI story in elasticBI™, using a combination of open source and proprietary software to build a full BI stack from ETL [Talend OpenStudio as available through Jaspersoft] to the data mart/warehouse [Vertica] to BI reporting, dashboards and data mining [Jaspersoft partnered with Revolution Analytics], all available through Amazon Web Services (AWS). Full360 is building upon their success as Jaspersoft's primary cloud partner, and their involvement in the Rightscale Cloud Management stack, which was a 2010 winner of the SIIA CODiE award, with essentially the same stack as elasticBI.
Full360 has an excellent price point for medium size businesses, or departments within larger organizations. Initial deployment, covering set-up, engineering time and the first month's subscription, comes to less than a proof of concept might cost for a single piece of their stack. The entry level monthly subscription extended out for one year, is far less than an annual subscription or licensing costs for similar software, considering depreciation on the hardware, and the cost of personnel to maintain the system, especially considering that the monthly fee includes operations management and a small amount of consulting time, this is a great deal for medium size businesses.
The stack being offered is full-featured. Jaspersoft has, arguably, the best open source reporting tool available. Talend Open Studio is a very competitive data integration tool, with options for master data management, data quality and even an enterprise service bus for complete data integration from internal and external data sources and web services. Vertica is a very robust and high-performance column-store Analytic Database Management System (ADBMS) with "big data" capabilities that was recently purchased by HP.
All of this is wonderful, but none of it is really new, nor a differentiator from the failed BI services of the past, nor the on-going competition today. Where Full360 may win however, is in how they answer the three challenges that caused the failure of those past efforts.
Full360's elasticBI™ handles the security question with the answer that they're using AWS security. More importantly, they recognized the security concerns as one of their presentation sections today stated, "Hurdles for Cloud BI" being cloud security, data security and application security. All three of these being handled by AWS standard security practices. Whether or not this is suficient, especially in the eyes of customers, is uncertain.
Operations and maintenance is one area where Full360 is taking great advantage of the evolution of current Cloud services best known methods and "devops" by using Chef opscode recipes for handling deployment, maintenance, ELT and upgrades. However, whether or not this level of automation will be sufficient to counter the lack of a multi-tenant architecture remains to be seen. There are those that argue that true Cloud or even the older SaaS differentiators and ability to scale profitably at their price-points, depends on multi-tenancy, which causes all customers to be at the same version of the stack. The heart of providing multi-tenancy is in the database, and this is the point where most SaaS vendors, other than salesforce-dot-com (SFDC), fail. However, Jaspersoft does claim support for multi-tenant architecture. It may be that Full360 will be able to maintain the balance between security/privacy and scalability with their use of devops, and without creating a new multi-tenant architecture. Also, the point of Cloud services isn't the cloud at all. That is, the fact that the hardware, software, platform, what-have-you is in a remote or distributed data center isn't the point. The point is the elastic self-provisioning. The ability of the customer to add resources on their own, and being charged accordingly.
The entry-level data volume for elacticBI™ is the size of a departmental data mart today. But even today, successfully loading into the Cloud, that much data in a nightly ETL run, simply isn't feasible. Full360 is leveraging Aspera's technology for high-speed data transfer, and AWS does support a form of good ol' fashioned "sneaker net", allowing customers to mail in hard drives. In addition, current customers with larger data volumes, are drawing that data from the cloud, with the source being in AWS already, or from SFDC. This is a problem that will continue to be an "arms race" into the future, with data volumes, source location and bandwidth being in a three-way pile-up.
In conclusion, Full360 has developed an excellent BI Service to suplement their professional services offerings. Larger organizations are still wary of allowing their data out of their control, or may be afraid of the target web services provide for hackers, as exemplified by the recent bank & retailer email spammers, er marketing, and Sony break-ins. Smaller companies, which might find the price attractive enough to offset security concerns, haven't seen the need for BI. So, the question remains as to whether or not the market is interested in BI in the Cloud.