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A Closer Look at PALO and GPGPU

August 30th, 2011

Last week I had the pleasure to meet a friend of mine, who formed a company I wrote about a year or two ago. His business has grown nicely since then and they have become the number one PALO partner in Australia. For those who are not aware of Jedox and PALO, I would recommend visiting their website at www.jedox.com – it is an open source BI suite very similar to SQL Server, minus the relational part. Since I was given a private show (no, nothing immoral here) in their corporate setup, I thought it may be interesting to discuss what I saw here in this post.

There are a few interesting and vastly different aspects of PALO when compared to the SQL Server BI stack:

GPGPU

For me the best feature they have is the General-Purpose GPU support in the OLAP server. While the OLAP components can be queried through MDX much like SSAS, they solve query bottlenecks with raw power. As far as I am aware, PALO supports CUDA, or the NVIDIA implementation (ATI have their own) of the GPGPU vision. If this all sounds a bit foreign, have a look at Tom’s Hardware article “The Advent of GPGPU“, where the concept of using the GPU for computational purposes is explained in a fair bit of detail. In short, by harnessing the power of NVIDIA GPUs, the processing power of a PC jumps from a few GFLOPs (50-60 GFLOPs on my i7 2600K OC-ed to 4.5Ghz) to 1500-1800 GFLOPs on my NVIDIA GTX 570 GPU. This means that for GPU optimised calculations, a PC gets a boost of a factor of 30. Both NVIDIA and ATI can see the potential and have been working hard in the last few years to get better drivers and better support for such applications. PALO in particular prefers the NVIDIA Tesla GPU. Note that a Tesla does not even have video output – it is used only for calculations, supports ECC memory (thus making itself ready for enterprise environments), and has been designed from the ground up for CUDA.

In terms of PALO, I got told that when they have an optimised query performing badly, adding a new Tesla unit in the server solves the problem. Their experience shows that the servers scale up linearly with every new GPU, and since NVIDIA’s SLI allows multiple GPUs running in parallel, adding 2-4 such units is all it takes to create a very, very fast computational workhorse.

Tablet Apps

Another area where I was impressed was the way PALO does mobile. They have free apps for the iPad (which I saw in action), as well as the iPhone and Android. Their vision is that information dashboards are best seen, and mostly required on the go when BI users have limited ability to browse around and get a deeper insight. I tend to agree to some extent. In my experience, the information dashboard is a slightly overrated concept. Having it on your phone or tablet where you can easily connect to you corporate environment and check some numbers quickly is a nice idea and I hope we see it becoming a part of the Microsoft stack sooner rather than later. The application which PALO have is quite nice minus the pies, allows any form of touch experience (multi-touch included) and allows easy slicing and dicing of data – just how it should be.

Open Source Software Compatibility

The last bit I would offer as an impressive and different to other not-open source vendors is the openness and compatibility of PALO with other open-source tools. Their stack components are easily replaceable. The ETL component can be changed to Pentaho’s Kettle, or JasperSoft’s ETL software which can load data directly in PALO’s cubes. A bit like loading a SQL Server data mart with Informatica, but seemingly better and tighter as the interfaces between the components are, apparently, completely open.

Apart from these areas, I think that the Microsoft stack has a nicer UI, allows easier development, and is richer (with MDS, QDS coming up, Data Mining, etc.). PALO has its own ETL tool, which is not graphical and relies on drop-downs and various windows to get the work done, the OLAP server seems to support many features out of the box, allows querying through MDX and supports write-back, but in general seems quite barren from SSAS point of view. The front-end is either Excel through a plug-in allowing the creation of reports through formulas, Open Office, Libre Office, and PALO’s own web-based spreadsheet environment. Once a report is created in either of those it can be published to a web portal for sharing with other users.

All in all, PALO is a neat, free BI suite, which comes for very cheap initially. There is an enterprise version, which is not free and, of course, any new customers will have to pay for someone to install it, configure it, and implement their requirements which will add to the total cost but these expenses are there for any other set of tools (although, a decent argument can be lead on which suite allows faster and cheaper development). The features listed in this article definitely appeal to some and I am very impressed by the innovative GPGPU capability, which has a lot of potential and I can easily think of a few areas where a 30-fold improvement in computational power will benefit SQL Server BI.

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7 Tools You Want on Your BI Dev Workstation

May 30th, 2011
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Without promising gimmicks like 80% reduction in development effort and time to deliver (as if…), the following tools are either free or relatively cheap and offer a productivity boost while allowing (and actually in some cases promoting) good development practises. Of course there are many others available but the following are my personal preferences, which I have found to be particularly valuable while developing (in no particular order).


BIDS Helper

When it comes to free tools for Microsoft BI development BIDS Helper usually tops the list. It is a very powerful tool making many advanced development tasks easy.

Who makes it: Darren Gosbell, Greg Galloway, John Welch, Darren Green, Scott Currie
License: Free
Link:
http://bidshelper.codeplex.com/


SQL Compare and SQL Data Compare

Red Gate is renowned for their great products and the top two in my opinion are SQL Compare and SQL Data Compare. These two allow robust and simplified migration between environments and help with creating transactional scripts for deploying to servers guarded by zealous DBAs.

Who makes it: Red Gate
License (1 Developer): SQL Compare (Standard) – $395; SQL Data Compare (Standard) – $395
Trial: Yes
Links:
http://www.red-gate.com/products/sql-development/sql-compare/
http://www.red-gate.com/products/sql-development/sql-data-compare/


BI Documenter

For those who do not like writing lengthy documents describing their work Pragmatic Works offers a great tool which extracts metadata from the various BI components in a solution and organises it very neatly in a cross-referenced (think HTML links between pages) fashion. It does it so well that I have had clients completely satisfied in terms of documentation by its output.

Who makes it: Pragmatic Works
License (1 Developer): $395
Trial: Yes
Link:
http://pragmaticworks.com/Products/Business-Intelligence/BIDocumenter/Default.aspx


AS Performance Workbench

For load testing of SSAS instances and cubes the free AS Performance Workbench provides a simple, easy and visual interface and eliminates the need to create a complex testing framework.

Who makes it: Rob Kerr
License: Free
Link:
http://asperfwb.codeplex.com/


ASCMD

ASCMD is for SSAS what SQLCMD is for SQL Server – a command-line utility allowing execution of XMLA and MDX scripts. It provides a rich set of functionality for performing maintenance and testing tasks.

Who makes it: Microsoft
License: Free
Link:
http://msftasprodsamples.codeplex.com/


MDX Studio

Started by Mosha Pasumansky, MDX Studio is the most powerful MDX analysis tool available. It provides best practise advice and includes many MDX tuning features not available in the toolset included in SQL Server and Windows.

Who makes it: Microsoft
License: Free
Link:
http://cid-74f04d1ea28ece4e.skydrive.live.com/browse.aspx/MDXStudio/v0.4.14


Team Foundation Server

TFS is a must if development is done by more than one person. While merging changes in BI projects is not as useful (or even possible) as in .NET coding projects, maintaining versions, branching, etc is still a must. TFS also includes bug tracking, requirements management, and a bunch of other features well worth exploring.

Who makes it: Microsoft
License: 5 Developers – $499
Trial: Yes
Link:
http://www.microsoft.com/visualstudio/en-us/products/2010-editions/team-foundation-server/overview

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New Blog

January 17th, 2011
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I just saw that John Simon (my boss at Avanade Melbourne) has started his own blog at:

http://jsimonbi.wordpress.com

The first four posts offer a description of various approaches to hierarchies. I am looking forward to more good content, which based on John’s career and knowledge in BI is not far away.

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Microsoft MVP for 2011

January 2nd, 2011

I am very pleased to share my joy of being awarded with Microsoft MVP Award for 2011. Apparently, my blogging, speaking and MSDN forum participation has not gone unnoticed in Redmond during 2010. I am looking forward to being able to enjoy both the benefits and the responsibilities of being a MVP this year.

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2011: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

December 23rd, 2010

I am on my way out of the office, coming back in early January. Until then I will be camping around Victoria, Australia. It is time for me to recap 2010 and start forecasting and planning for 2011.

Many interesting things happened this year in the world of Microsoft BI and in my personal bubble. We saw the beginning of a new trend around in-memory/self-service BI, the foundations of a new visualisation product – Crescent, SQL Server 2008 R2, the Denali CTP1, Office 2010, etc, etc, etc. 2011 looks promising and exciting in the end of 2010.

In my personal world I moved to Melbourne, presented at Tech Ed Australia, managed to continue my engagement in the Microsoft MSDN forums, learned a lot, became an MCTS and MCTIP in BI, etc, etc, etc. This blog reached over 250 subscribers, 2500 unique visitors per month, more than 20000 raw requests a week and the comments start exceeding the posts with a factor of 2. It is a pleasure to see that you, as my readers, enjoy the content I am sharing and I hope that the upwards trend will continue in 2011.

A very special “thank you” this year go to Darren Gosbell, Paul Hales, Lionel Gomes Da Rosa, Sirish Korada, Nick Barclay, and Maxim Yefremov. All of these guys in some way contributed to making my world a better place during 2010.

To all my readers – Merry Christmas and a Really Happy New Year!!!

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