While I was away in Munich more information on Maestro appeared. As before, Barbara Darrow on www.bizintelligencepipeline.com has the best coverage – see this article for instance – and for an insider’s perspective see Mat Stephen’s blog entry here. Interesting that it’s going to be a standalone product rather than a component of SQL2005: I think Mat’s argument about freebie products having no credibility also applies somewhat to products that get bundled on the same CD as SQL Server. In a way I wish that Analysis Services was a separate sku from SQL Server, it would make it easier to explain to customers that it’s not the same as the relational database and not dependent on it so much easier.
This thought, and the quote from a MS partner in Barbara Darrow’s article that "the impact on Teradata, Cognos, Business Objects, maybe even SAS, could be huge" leads me onto the question of how much impact it really will have. Will it kill the competition? They said that of Analysis Services when it was released, and although various other OLAP vendors panicked at the time and while it’s true that AS is now the leading OLAP server according to the OLAP Report, Hyperion, Cognos, Business Objects et al are still there and still selling. So even though I have no doubt that Maestro is going to be a very cool product I’m not sure that it’s going to have a massive impact.
Why? It’s nothing to do with the technology, but with the way that Microsoft is set up to sell this kind of thing. The Microsoft model is to work as far as possible through partner companies and maintain a minimal sales force of its own. This is great for keeping costs down but it does mean that when a customer puts out an RFP, very often Microsoft doesn’t turn up in person when its competitors do. A Microsoft BI partner may be extremely skilled and knowledgeable in technical terms but they are usually relatively small companies with limited resources, and customers who like to see ‘skin in the game’ take a dim view of Microsoft’s non-appearance. Even if Microsoft do turn up they may only send one or two people, and these people may or may not know much about BI. Compare this with a dedicated BI software company like Cognos or Business Objects that will have a much larger, much more dedicated sales force and can throw many more people at an opportunity. The same goes for marketing spend. When I went through Heathrow airport the other day I saw a massive Cognos advert above passport control; marketing for Microsoft BI tends to get lost in the overall SQL Server message (see Donald Farmer’s comments here). Oh well. Despite all this the products do very well and I’m sure if Microsoft did spend more on marketing and kill off the competition it would only lead to more anti-trust problems.
Anyway, to go back to Maestro, Mat Stephen has details on how you can nominate yourself for the beta program here. I filled in the survey today but it looks like they’re going to be very selective on who gets accepted (sample question: are you an MVP?). So I’m not sure I will get my hands on it, and since it’s still under strict NDA I won’t be able to blog about it even if I do…