BI Nirvana with Cloud Data-Access Middleware

“Nirvana” means no more suffering. Those of us who dedicate their career to delivering BI solutions are intimately aware of the pain involved, because before you can even begin to analyze and visualize your data, you need to get access to it, and in a usable form. The good news is that with the move to the cloud, much suffering is finally being alleviated.

Let’s review some of the Impediments to data access:

  • Data needs cleaning, organizing, and cataloging before it can be usable by BI tools
  • Data is locked in systems and applications that lack standards-based data access APIs
  • Security prevents easy online access to the data that users need
  • “Big Data” are datasets that grow so large that they become impractical for traditional BI tools

In short, the systems that hold the data are not designed for BI access. To help with these problems, additional systems are introduced. Data warehousing is the process of taking data from existing systems and staging it in a usable form for query and analysis. For “big data”, large computing clusters use MapReduce to perform analysis.

Nirvana would have been achieved if all data were brought into a data warehouse and made available to all users who need it. But reality is the opposite. Systems holding data are ever more diverse and distributed with no one warehouse to consolidate the data.


Data-access middleware connects BI tools with systems that hold data by providing two important facilities:

  • Standard language and API. Typically SQL and JDBC or ODBC API
  • Broad data-source coverage. Including connectivity to databases, data warehouses, applications, and other systems, many of which do not provide a SQL interface

Traditionally, implementing data-access middleware means more software to install, potentially on many desktops, and a constant need to upgrade the middleware to keep up with version changes and new data sources.

Cloud-based Middleware

The reason that I’m so excited about cloud-based middleware is that it solves the issue of software installation and upgrade and when coupled with cloud-based BI tools for analysis and visualization can finally deliver nirvana.

DataDirect Cloud and Explore Analytics

Explore Analytics is the product that I’ve been working on for the last couple of year. It is a cloud-based (SaaS) BI tool for data analysis and visualization. There’s no software to install and all you need is a browser or a mobile browser. The product implements several strategies for data access. The user can import data from spreadsheet, access SaaS applications and cloud databases directly, and access on-premise databases using an agent.

I recently integrated Explore Analytics with DataDirect Cloud, a new product by Progress Software, and I started to feel the nirvana that I’m talking about. DataDirect Cloud brings the strength of DataDirect to the cloud. In doing so, it delivers the benefits that I mentioned before – standard SQL access and broad data-source coverage – but it doesn’t stop there. It goes much further towards nirvana:

  • Setup is incredibly easy. With a single JDBC driver, Explore Analytics gains access to all the types of data sources that DataDirect Cloud supports. Better yet, for the user this is completely transparent, and there’s nothing to install!
  • DataDirect Cloud delivers painless access to SaaS applications such as, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and Oracle RightNow (the list of SaaS applications is rapidly growing.)
  • Neither the user, nor Explore analytics, needs to upgrade drivers to keep up with API changes of SaaS applications. DataDirect Cloud takes care of all that.
  • DataDirect has drivers for Big Data and NoSQL. Once delivered in DataDirect Cloud they become immediately available to Explore Analytics customers.
  • Service is by subscription, similar to Explore Analytics.

I tested access to my developer account by using Explore Analytics via DataDirect Cloud and created the following chart showing US sales opportunities by state and type. The size of each pie represents the total opportunity amount for the state, and it’s broken down by the type of opportunity. It was all done in a few minutes without installing any software or writing any code.

In conclusion, cloud BI tools coupled with cloud middleware can finally deliver data-access nirvana and lead to true self-service. For example, a customer can perform advance analysis and visualization of their pipeline and sales forecast without installing any software, simply by subscribing to DataDirect Cloud and Explore Analytics. Now that easy!