Cloud BI: Going where the data lives

Nancy Gohring

Even though cloud-based business intelligence has been around for nearly a decade, a recent trend is driving renewed interest: Companies are generating and storing more data in the cloud.

"What I think will happen is people will move the analytics app closer to the data," says Joao Tapadinhas, a Gartner analyst. "As more data sources move to the cloud, it makes more sense to also adopt cloud BI solutions because that's where the data is. It's easier to connect to cloud data using a cloud solution."

In each of the last four years, around 30% of respondents to a Gartner survey said they'd run their mission-critical BI in the cloud. This year, however, nearly half -- 45% -- said they would adopt cloud BI.

Researchers at Gartner say that 2014 may be the tipping point for cloud BI. In each of the last four years, around 30% of respondents to a Gartner survey said they'd run their mission-critical BI in the cloud. This year, however, nearly half -- 45% -- said they would adopt cloud BI.

Historically, cloud BI products have been most appealing to smaller businesses, in part because those are less likely to have an IT department that can manage an on-premises product. However, analysts are starting to see larger companies adopting cloud BI, typically starting with individual groups or departments.

Shifting data analytics to the cloud doesn't come without its challenges, though. For example, it's unlikely that all corporate data will move to the cloud, particularly in larger enterprises. That means many businesses will have to map data from both cloud and on-premises sources to the BI software, whether that software itself is on-premises or in the cloud. Also, bandwidth constraints may slow down data transfers and can lead to increased costs, if a business must upgrade its connectivity to improve data transfer.

Nevertheless, some businesses have already adopted cloud BI services, analysts report anecdotally, though specific figures aren't available. Many companies that have made the move say that the benefits -- including fast time to market, no need to maintain on-premises software and simplicity of use -- outweigh any downsides.

Mixing up data sources
Take Millennial Media, which sells a mobile advertising platform. It needed to pull together data from disparate sources, both on site and in the cloud.

Around two and a half years ago, Bob Hammond, CTO for Millennial, began looking into BI as a way to marry data from Salesforce with transactional and financial information from in-house systems and then let decision makers at the company visualize it.

"No human I know of can . . . make business decisions based on data that hasn't been brought together into a single source," he says. The company needed BI, he says, because "we weren't able to take data from multiple systems and connect that data logically and view that data in a UI so that we could understand what was going on."

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