Monday, May 25, 2009

Data Warehousing for Dummies

Every so often I’ll be talking to someone implementing our solution at a customer or POC site and the question comes up “what’s so special about your database anyway?” and “So, is it really different from MySQL, SQL Server or Oracle?” or “I don’t understand why your database talks SQL since it’s not a normal database like Oracle”. Better yet: “What else do I need to do after installation to get this working?” Usually these questions come from non-LOB folks who are tasked with implementing a particular solution using our product. Typically these people tend to be experienced software developers or DBAs. People who, as Joel Spolsky likes to say, are “smart and get shit done”. The type of folks you can throw a problem at and say “Ok, go solve it using this new tool.”

But as often happens in large organizations, they may not have been briefed fully by management on the features/functionality of the new tool needing evaluation. Or maybe this is their first exposure to BI. They may also never have encountered or worked with an analytical database product. I know that, several years ago, if you’d asked me what the difference was between OLTP and OLAP I would have blurted something like “one if for transactional stuff, the other for reporting” and been in the right ballpark but no cigar.

So when these questions come up, I am always ecstatic to be able to share what I’ve learned with the guys in the trenches doing the real work! The first thing I do is give I very general view of the differences between transactional (operational) and analytical use cases. Then I’ll try and give a 30,000 foot picture of data warehousing and its history. I‘ll mention Kimball and Inmon, of course, then several books and a series of blogs, websites and youtube videos for further exploration.

But this weekend, I discovered the holy grail of data warehousing 101. I was hanging out at my local Borders looking to trade my 40% off coupon in exchange for yet another good data warehousing/BI book when I noticed the yellow “Data Warehousing for Dummies” on the bottom shelf. Obviously I couldn’t resist picking it up, especially since I have yet to meet anyone remotely “dumb” in this business.

To my great surprise, I noticed the author was none other than Tom Hammergren, the owner of Balanced Insight, one of the top BI Software Innovator firms in the country. To say that Tom is a warehousing and BI guru is an understatement. This much I knew. But I had NO idea he was also an accomplished writer who could present this complicated subject in clear, simple terms anyone can understand and relate to! From now on, whenever someone asks me for the quick low-down about BI and data warehousing, I’ll be referring him or her to Tom’s book.

Now to answer the above questions about our own product RDM/x. There is nothing magical about our analytical database, at least from a usage standpoint. RDM/x talks and walks like any other database product out there on the market using ODBC. The magic is on the inside, certainly not in the interface (thankfully) as it supports a significant subset of the SQL-92 standard (minus TCL and DCL). Is RDM/x “really” different from SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL or DB2 though? You bet.

RDM/x is designed for data analysis, not transactional processing. As a matter of fact, RDM/x is the smallest, nimblest, on-premise solution available on the market that will let you query terabytes of data in minutes from installation. And that’s why I believe most people are a little confused from the get-go. Because they’re used to large footprint multi-module database clients with 500 page installation and setup manuals, followed by complicated tuning and optimization techniques involving indexing, partitioning, and all that “good” stuff. When they see a 5 megabyte piece of software installing as a Windows Service, ready willing and able to handle queries on giga or terabytes of data within minutes, they think they’re missing something. How can BI be this simple? Well it can. The proof is in the pudding and since we’re allowing you to download a fully functional 30-day evaluation from our website effective now, the best I can do is recommend you take me up on that assertion by visiting our website.

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