A recent reader comment made me realize that I've fallen down on the job when it comes to covering business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing. "Two years ago you covered OLAP on a more regular basis," said the reader. "Has this technology died out at Microsoft? Are other firms deploying it successfully?"

Shame on me! Many of my recent projects have focused on the more traditional online transaction processing (OLTP) uses for SQL Server, and I tend to write about what I'm regularly working with. Because of this tendency, I've neglected my coverage of BI trends during the past year. But I plan to change my ways, and the fact that my current project is a large data-warehousing implementation based on SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services should give me plenty of fodder as I cover this important market.

The reader asked whether OLAP has died out at Microsoft. Quite the opposite is true. Adoption of BI techniques has continued to grow at a rapid pace across the industry, and Microsoft has been at the forefront of this growth. A recent Survey.com market analysis that appeared in "The OLAP Report" predicts that spending on data-warehousing and BI solutions will grow 74 percent during the next 3 years, ensuring a hot market for all BI players. The same study shows that Analysis Services leads the market in several key metrics:

  • Analysis Services was the number-one OLAP product (80 percent) respondents chose when they evaluated it against other solutions.
  • Analysis Services was the number-one OLAP solution that respondents purchased and installed.
  • Analysis Services had the largest number of seat deployments—40 percent more than the next-closest competitor.
  • Analysis Services customers achieved a faster time to market than customers of any other major competitor.
  • Analysis Services had the fastest load and build times of all Multidimensional OLAP (MOLAP) competitors, maximizing system availability.
  • Analysis Services customers reported fewer technical problems than customers of any other competitor.
  • Analysis Services customers had the best perception of product quality (measured by reliability and product stability) compared with customers of any other competitor.

SQL Server 2000 and Analysis Services is a feature-rich platform for building sophisticated BI solutions and tends to be less expensive than its competitors, especially because Analysis Services is bundled with the core SQL Server product at no additional cost. And you can have these advanced features at a fraction of the price of many competing solutions. Although the Survey.com study predicts the BI market will grow 74 percent during the next 3 years, I think that estimate might be a bit conservative. Recent market downturns will force companies to do more with fewer resources. That strategy requires either a lot of luck or better decision-making, and BI is all about helping companies make better decisions. I expect to see BI market demand grow dramatically during the next few years, and SQL Server professionals who are skilled in the delivery of BI solutions should be in great demand.

On a related note, my column in the last issue of SQL Server Magazine UPDATE mentioned that you could download a trial version of Microsoft Data Analyzer from the company's Web site. I was wrong. It seems that you can order only an evaluation CD-ROM that Microsoft will mail to you. I plan to talk with Microsoft soon to find out whether the company will make an evaluation download freely available.