MS BI Freeway

Lisa Vaas posts this message in the eWeek Database update newsletter: Microsoft has put out yet more free business intelligence accelerators in what appears to be an ongoing campaign to starve big BI vendors to death. Unfortunately, the main web story story does not follow up on this point. For the past five years, Microsoft has brought to market some interesting and innovative software in the BI marketplace, albeit with the distinctive, “Works-best-in-Windows” stamp. Witness the Olap Server, then Analytical Services, and more recently the XML for OLAP initiative. And Peter Coffee has just argued that putting more (but not necessarily free)analytics into the database engine is a distinctively positive trend.

But all through this time BI has been a Trojan Horse. A means to get Microsoft SQL Server adopted in more corporate shops because Microsoft has always given away for free or nearly so almost all of its major BI offerings as part of its SQL Server SKU. So to that extent, the new, “free” client-server tools for Scorecarding and Excel assisted-Analytics should not be a big surprise. But of course, as Lisa rightly points out in her article the new tools are hardly free:
The free download will be fully supported by Microsoft, Rizzo said. Product licenses for Office 2003, SharePoint Portal Server 2003, SQL Server 2000 and Windows Server 2003 are required. “
And here in lies the key. Microsoft may not be targeting the major BI vendors so much as shoring up its flagging product lines. SQL Server 2000 is 2 years late and needs some freeway juice. Office 2003 and Share Point have been the beneficiaries of a flood of “lock in” freebies similar to this BI offering. Sure the glitzy application is free – but look what customers need to upgrade to in order to get it all to run. This is just smart marketing.

But this smarts two ways. Existing Microsoft partners at the client end such as ProClarity, Panorama, O2OLAP, Paris Technologies and others will have to grit their teeth and say “they are glad to see Microsoft expand the market” at their expense. Meanwhile the larger BI firms have been bracing for this day with Crystal Decisions going in to the Business Objects fold, Cognos and MicroStrategy coming out with cross platform web-based products, while Informatica and Hyperion polish and position acquisitions into broader BI-wide offerings. But Lisa may be right on. The simple fact of the matter is Microsoft is driving the pricing in the broad BI marketplace. And the direction is downward. Everytime Microsoft adds to its BI freebies, database vendors IBM and Oracle feel obliged to offer in kind. Example both Oracle and IBM basically give away BI or OLAP engines. Now that Microsoft is giving away client side reporting and scorecarding services – will Oracle and IBM be far behind ? The “a lot less money to be made” handwriting is on the BI wall.

What amazes this observer is how Microsoft can, right next door in the Visual Studio and Web Services fields, get partners to do Herculean tasks like ProClarity and Panorama did for them in the BI field without ever raising the spectre of these partners being ultimately decimated in the name of “broader Microsoft strategies”.