Sunday, February 25, 2007

Two Disruptive Trends

Barry Klawans gave an excellent talk to the SDForum Business Intelligence SIG when he spoke on "Two Disruptive Trends, Open Source and SaaS Meet Business Intelligence" at the February meting. Open Source is something that I have written about before. SaaS stands for Software as a Service, the idea that information technology can be delivered as a service over the internet. The best example of a successful SaaS business is Barry knows the territory well as he is CTO of JasperSoft, an Open Source BI reporting company.

Barry started with the Innovators Dilemma, a book from the 90s that describes how established technologies and products markets can be overturned by innovators who use new disruptive technology or business models. Existing BI software vendors tend to target the high end of the market and they are vulnerable to disruption from new vendors that start by targeting the under served lower end. Barry believes that Open Source and SaaS are the forces that will overthrow the old guard of established BI vendors.

Next, Barry took us through the BI stack and Open Source projects that address it. Successful Open Source projects concentrate on doing one thing and doing it well. One of the problems with using Open Source is that you have to integrate several Open Source packages to build a system. Integration is made more difficult because active Open Source projects tend to have a very short release cycle. The most active project have a new release every 6 weeks or so. (This certainly struck a chord with me.)

This brought us to the second part of Barry's talk on Software as a Service (SaaS). The point of a SaaS system is to offload the user from the responsibility of building and maintaining an IT system. The job of building a SaaS system is integrating a lot software packages to provide the service. SaaS also has to deal with transparently upgrading the service to the users as it implements new features and fix bugs. As such it complements Open Source and it rapid development cycle.

SaaS is a newer market and there are only a few emerging SaaS BI services available now. Barry touched on three, LucidEra, SeaTab and Oco, all early stage start ups. There are some real architectural challenges to providing BI as a service. For example, one issue is security. For a number of reasons, many Open Source projects put security on the back burner. On the other hand, a Saas customer needs to have solid assurances that their data is secure and safe from other customers of the SaaS service.

We will have to see how these trends play out. Barry quoted a research report that suggested that software innovation goes in a roughly 15 year cycle, and that in Business Intelligence we are just entering a new cycle that can be expected to go on to 2020 or so.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Like OMG

I overhear my daughter speaking on her new cellphone in the next room, and I get to thinking: OMG, does it mean "Object Management Group" or "Oh My God"? Well there is only one way to settle it: Google Fight. The results when they come in lean in the expected direction, but the results are not as overwhelming as anticipated.

So like any good data analyst I do a little exploration to check the results. I do not think that there is any problem with the Object Management Group side of the equation. On the other hand there are several potential spellings of Oh My God that could make a difference. A Quick test of "Oh Mi God" shows that it is not a problem and "Oh My God" is much more popular than the "O My God"spelling.

The next thing to test is whether the quotes are necessary. Removing the quotes quickly shows wobbly results, particularly with a big difference between O My God and Oh My God. Although curiously, the first page of O My God results from Google all show Oh My God as the search term. Google Fight shows Object Management Group winning over Oh my God but losing to O My God. My conclusion is that the quotes are necessary even although they make a less interesting Google Fight.

The other notable thing is that the numbers returned by Google Fight are not the same as the numbers returned by Google. Why? Well it is probably because they have a different setting of the advanced search options. You can spend hours over this stuff as my little example has shown. In the end the first Goggle Fight results seem to stand up, so perhaps the conclusion is that the world is more serious that I first though!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Vista DRM Morass

After listening to the series of Security Now podcasts on Vista DRM (episodes 73,74,75 and 77), I got to thinking about the difference in position between Microsoft and Apple.

Microsoft is a software company whose software runs on what up to now has been a very open hardware platform provided by a vast array of vendors. Thus Microsoft have chosen and perhaps been forced to implement security features in their Vista operating system to allow protected High Definition content to be displayed safely on HD displays attached to the PC. When I say safely, it is not about protecting you from the content, it is about protecting the content from you and making sure that you do nothing unauthorized with content that you have paid good money for.

All this security comes at a price. It sucks up processing power. Complexity and the requirement for vigilance cuts into software reliability. The problems are evident. Vista had only just been released when the first Service Pack was announced. Moreover, while the Vista software itself is available, the truth is that the video drivers are not up to scratch and it will take some time before they work properly.

Apple, on the other hand, is a hardware and systems company. Their solution to protected video content is the Apple TV box. This is a little piece of hardware that connects to your TV and handles decoding and display of the protected High Definition content. An Apple computer does not need the complexity of the Vista protected video path because it is all wrapped up in a little box. The Apple TV box is not perfect. It is not quite here yet and from the specs it seems to lack codecs, however it does seem to be a better systems solution than Microsoft Vista.