If you're dying to dabble with business intelligence (BI), but don't know where to start, you might want to investigate SQL Server Accelerator for Business Intelligence. On June 25, 2003, Microsoft announced the product's latest release, which includes several improvements on the older version:

  • Support for SQL Server 2000 Standard and Enterprise editions
  • Support for Office 2003
  • The ability to generate a solution from an XML file, which lets developers more easily integrate SQL Server Accelerator for BI directly into their products
  • Separation of the application-generation and deployment processes so that developers can deploy applications faster
  • Support for drillthrough actions in count measures, which enhances the reporting capabilities of generated applications

The support for SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition is particularly nice because it opens up SQL Server Accelerator for BI to a much wider audience than the previous version, which required SQL Server Enterprise Edition. SQL Server Accelerator for BI employs industry best practices and automates the creation of the back end for a customized BI solution. These features let SQL Server customers spend less time coding and more time building unique end-user BI applications.

Developing a complex BI and data-warehousing solution isn't easy, and SQL Server Accelerator for BI isn't going to cure all your BI problems. However, the product does provide infrastructure, back-end processing, and rich analytics that you can customize without too much effort. SQL Server Accelerator for BI is most valuable if your analytical needs closely match the core data models and analytics included in the product. You'll find out-of-the-box solutions built around retail sales and marketing, and the SQL Server Accelerator for BI Web site also includes links to download to free models for manufacturing and financial services environments.

Don't expect SQL Server Accelerator for BI to be as simple to use as typical Microsoft wizards. The product's new version is best suited to individuals who are already experienced in using Microsoft tools to build BI solutions. But the product isn't off limits for novices; less experienced users can learn from the frameworks. And you can even learn quite a bit simply by reading the detailed "Prescriptive Architecture Guides for BI" that come with the product and reviewing the data model design and analytic measures that are included in each of the four solutions.

As with other Microsoft products, SQL Server Accelerator for BI is "platform play;" Microsoft encourages companies to build on top of these products solutions that other SQL Server customers can use. SQL Server Accelerator for BI is designed so that you can tie into the generation tools through metadata and create your own templates for rolling out data marts. This functionality might make sense for a corporate IT department that needs to provide a starting point for internal development efforts or for a third-party software company that has rich, analytic industry knowledge and wants to package that content into a reuseable tool.

You can download SQL Server Accelerator for BI for free at http://www.microsoft.com/solutions/bi/ssabi/nextsteps/default.asp. Notice that the download site forces you to sign in with a Microsoft Passport account. Personally, I use my passport account regularly, but I don't like the fact that Microsoft is making people get passport accounts just for the download. Don't let this requirement stop you from evaluating this handy suite of tools, though, if BI is on your horizon.