BI That’s Just Right
on IBM i meet the
needs of SMBs
Analytics come into play in our daily lives whether we realize it or not. As consumers of products and services, the businesses we deal with are using analytics behind the scenes to provide better services and buying experiences. Analytics is important for all companies in all industries. It’s become mainstream for many businesses, regardless of their size.
IBM has talked to companies about analytics for more than a decade, and a common theme IBM hears is how large and small businesses alike are trying to address real business problems by having a better understanding of their data. For example, an auto parts store wanted to manage inventory to meet demand in a much more predictable and cost-effective way, which required using its data to determine how to ensure the right product was available at the right time when a customer was ready to buy it. Another example is a clothing goods retailer that wanted to detect fashion trends early and build products as fast as possible to be the first to meet new customer demand.
Analytics is not just for large enterprises. Small and midsized businesses (SMBs) must recognize the value of existing data to gain new insight and make business improvements. Even basic analytics tools can unlock key secrets hiding within data. SMBs have excellent choices that can meet their unique analytics needs. In this article, we’ll describe the unique requirements small businesses have for analytics solutions in contrast to large enterprises, as well as describe several useful analytics options available for SMBs to help provide answers to the same demanding business problems. IBM i and IBM Power Systems* technologies continue to be attractive for SMBs, thus we’ll summarize options specific to the IBM i deployment environment.
While most companies have the need for better analytics, not all companies have business analytics skills, large IT staffs or a budget to pursue a large-scale, enterprise analytics solution. This may apply to some of the companies that use IBM i today, the majority of which are in the SMB category. Analytics consultant Claudia Imhoff says, “IT departments at midsized companies are usually fairly small. They’re often very clever at getting things done more efficiently and with less expense than their larger brethren, but they have their limits” (bit.ly/BItipsforSMB).
DB2 Web Query for i
A few years ago, IBM introduced the IBM DB2* Web Query for i analytics solution to match the unique requirements of SMBs. The solution is affordable for companies with smaller analytics budgets. It’s also easy to configure, deploy and use, so clients can leverage existing skills, hardware and fit within operational processes.
IBM DB2 WebQuery for i provides core analytics and business intelligence (BI) platform capabilities such as queries, reporting, OLAP support and dashboards. Application integration interfaces are available to develop customized reporting applications or integrate the analytics into day-to-day operational applications. Mobile support lets end users view reports and information from their mobile devices.
IBM DB2 WebQuery for i has incorporated a significant number of integration points to leverage existing IBM i environments and simplify the management of deployments. For example, operating system (CL) commands are provided to start and stop the reporting environment, set up users, refresh metadata and invoke reports automatically through an existing IBM i based job scheduler. DB2 WebQuery for i integrates with IBM i security, work management, and software fix and license upgrade processes. This enables the BI software to become part of the normal IBM i management processes and policies. Integration with DB2 for i functions allows the incorporation of more complex logic and external Web services into reports. Integration with the OmniFind* Text Search engine (a no-charge document search capability) can provide some interesting ways to allow reports to incorporate a fuzzy text search function for XML, Microsoft* Word or other document formats stored in a Power Systems server running IBM i.
The evolution of DB2 Web Query continues. In April, IBM announced a product restructuring to simplify packaging and pricing and to provide more flexibility for those wanting to support BI in the cloud. New Express and Standard editions simplify the a la carte choices of features and products prior. New core-based pricing is attractive for customers on larger systems leveraging IBM PowerVM* virtualization capabilities. Additional enhancements include new role-based security, enhanced smartphone device support (including iPad and Android applications) and an enhanced UI for DB2 Web Query authors and end users. Details are available online (www.ibm.com/systems/i/software/db2/webquery).
High-performance analytics processing is a key requirement for SMBs, just as it is with large enterprises. Processing the data and gleaning new insight expediently maximizes your ability to make better business decisions sooner. IBM DB2 Web Query addresses performance in a unique way. A fundamental step in processing analytical workloads is the database’s ability to handle the query requests generated by the DB2 Web Query tools. Web Query takes advantage of the advanced query-optimization technologies within DB2 for i that provide a performance advantage at runtime. With IBM i 7.1, repeated analytic requests to DB2 for i can take advantage of the latest query-processing engine automatically. The performance is improved through its self-learning, self-adjusting facilities, such as adaptive query processing and autonomic indexes. IBM i 7.1 also provides more ways to precalculate and maintain aggregate data, which can provide even faster analytics. Why is this important? Most analytical requests intend to look at data at a summary level, perform trend or exception analysis and then drill down into more detailed data. With encoded vector indexing, which is built into DB2 for i, you can now store aggregate (summary) data directly in the index, and the DB2 platform will maintain it in real time. Details are available online ibm.co/IfaCTZ..
For some companies, including SMBs, it may be advantageous to isolate the analytics and reporting environment from the database production environment. These two runtime environments have very different workload characteristics, and their isolation can provide better system resource management and ultimately lead to better runtime performance. IBM Power Systems technology offers PowerVM virtualization capabilities to create multiple LPARs on the same system. This feature allows the analytics environment to run in a separate partition on the same system where the database environment exists.
A second option is to create the analytics environment on a second Power Systems server. That second system could be partitioned and used for other related or unrelated workloads, or it could be leveraged for performing backups, recovering from disasters, or for development and testing.