Oracle BI vs Microsoft Power BI Verdict: There is really very little similarity between Oracle and Microsoft when it comes to business intelligence. The Oracle BI offerings will be of most interest to existing Oracle customers, since they fit well with Oracle applications, and are highly bespoke in nature. The upside of this is that everything works together, and the downside is that it’s expensive and proprietary. Microsoft on the other hand provides a less extensive product set (currently anyway), but it is more suitable for medium and small businesses, as well as large ones. That Microsoft is taking analytics very seriously indeed is well demonstrated by the new Power BI Designer, which departs from the restricted Excel based analytical environment, and the database technologies being delivered by Microsoft – HDInsight big data and Azure SQl Data Warehouse. It is also moving into machine learning and predictive analytics in a big way, and so we are seeing the formation of an extensive analytics capability. In summary – if you are an existing Oracle customer, and price is not an issue, then Oracle BI solutions are the way to go. If you are not, then Microsoft BI and analytics solutions, tools, and platforms should be on your watch list – and there is plenty to see.
Microsoft Power BI
In talking about Microsoft Power BI I am aiming at a moving target. But one thing is clear – Microsoft sees a life for BI outside Excel – and about time too. It is also building a considerable portfolio of analytics technologies with its acquisition of Revolution Analytics (a commercial version of the open source R analytic platform), the development of its Azure Machine Learning platform, the acquisition of DataZen (the mobile analytics platform) – and now the release of Power BI Designer. This latter embraces most of the functionality of the pillars of Excel based analytics – PowerPivot for data modelling, PowerView to create data visualisations, Power Query for data manipulation and discovery and Q&A – the natural language query interface. In fact Microsoft has stated that the capability of Designer will be developed more rapidly than that of the Excel based tools. Designer is free to download – and it’s impressive. It isn’t a mature product, but many users will get from it what they want, and it already accesses an impressive list of data sources. The cloud component of Power BI can act as a repository for reports, dashboards and charts developed in Designer, and it is here where they can be shared with others, and also modified. On the data side of things Microsoft offers HDInsight as a big data platform and Azure SQL Data Warehouse that is capable of scaling to petabytes of data. It’s all shaping up to be quite an offering.
Oracle offers a bewildering number of BI oriented products which will primarily be of interest to existing Oracle customers. Some of the technology is very good indeed (Oracle Endeca particularly), but it comes with a high price tag, and for cost conscious organisations there are usually better deals to be found. In my conversations with Oracle the overriding mantra is that ‘the Oracle way is the only way’. This is less true today than it has ever been, but senior managers often buy into this message, wanting the comfort of a single supplier with minimal complications.
The Oracle Business Intelligence Foundation Suite is the overarching BI solution from Oracle. It provides reporting, dashboards, ad-hoc analysis, OLAP, predictive analytics and mobile analytics capabilities. Medium sized business might opt for the cut down Oracle BI Suite Standard Edition One – but it’s still relatively expensive. The core component in the Foundation Suite is Oracle BI Suite Enterprise Edition, but a considerable number of enhancements can be made. The Oracle Exalytics in-memory machine provides very fast analytical processing and comes with virtualisation and multi-tenancy built-in. It supports all Oracle’s BI and EPM products and can be enhanced with the TimesTen columnar compression and analytical functions. Oracle Essbase is a fast OLAP server and Oracle Endeca supports self-service data discovery with powerful search and querying capabilities. Oracle Big Data Appliance is a device which supports big data configurations. For an outsider the list of products is truly confusing – but in a nutshell Oracle pretty well does every analytic variation that might be needed – some better than others. The predictive analytics capability for example is not particularly competitive – although Oracle does support R – and needs to. Oracle does offer a broad portfolio of cloud based solutions in the Oracle Analytics Cloud – but again it is more geared to large businesses, with yet another long list of products.
In summary – if Oracle constitutes your business computing world, then it provides pretty well everything that might be needed. If it isn’t a major feature then it is probably best to look at alternatives.