Thoughts On the Microsoft/Pyramid Power BI Deal

Ever since Power BI first appeared, the number one request from customers has been the ability to publish reports and dashboards to an on-premises server rather than the cloud. There were two standard responses from Microsoft to this request:

  • la-la-la-I’m-not-listening-la-la-la-cloud-la-la-la-future-la-la-la
  • Maybe we’ll have something in SharePoint

…neither of which were particularly satisfying. A lot of businesses just don’t feel comfortable with the cloud yet, and more importantly a lot of businesses can’t put their most valuable data in the cloud for a variety of legal and regulatory reasons.

Today’s announcement of a deal between Microsoft and Pyramid Analytics is big news because it means Microsoft have got a credible answer to the Power-BI-on-premises question at last. For details, read the blog posts here and here, if you haven’t already, plus the Pyramid press release and this page on the Pyramid site. It’s not a perfect solution – I had been hoping that Microsoft would unveil an on-prem Power BI server that they had been working on in secret – but it’s a lot better than what we had before. It also ties up nicely with existing on-premises SQL BI investments that customers may have, and does so without a cumbersome SharePoint dependency.

What has been announced, exactly? From the Pyramid press release:

Pyramid Analytics … today announced a strategic collaboration with Microsoft consisting of development collaboration and technology integration.

The output of this new collaboration is a range of new features in the Power BI Desktop at expected General Availability on July 24. Among those features will be an option to publish a Power BI Desktop file to Pyramid Analytics Server. This feature will enable an ease of integration between the Power BI Desktop and the Pyramid Analytics Server.

From the Pyramid blog post:

This was the result of a strategic collaboration agreement that included:

  • Pyramid Analytics help in the Power BI Desktop development
  • Technology integration to publish Power BI content to Pyramid Analytics Server
  • Go-to-market coordination so mutual customers and partners get the best of our technologies

Here are some screenshots that Pyramid gave me showing what the ‘Publish to Pyramid’ feature will look like in Power BI Desktop:



Obviously this is great news for Pyramid and I’m sure it will be a big boost for their business. They are certainly one of the leading third party client tools for SSAS and, I guess, the one with the biggest presence worldwide. Many of my customers are also customers of theirs, and I’ve always been impressed with their products. It’s interesting that this is a partnership rather than an acquisition… maybe, given the large number of ex-Proclarity guys at Pyramid, they had no desire to see history repeat itself?

For Microsoft, I think it’s the best possible solution in the circumstances. Ever since the Power BI reboot last year, Microsoft’s BI strategy has become a lot more pragmatic – something that I, and pretty much the whole of the Microsoft BI community, have welcomed. Rather than pursue a grandiose strategy that fails on the details, the new focus is now on [shock!] building a product that people not only want to buy, but can buy easily. Some compromises have had to be made based on the position that Microsoft has found itself in, though. I guess with all the resources that are being thrown at Power BI V2, plus the development effort that is going into on-premises BI features in SQL Server 2016, it proved easier to partner with a third party vendor that already has a mature product and spare development resources, than build something from scratch.

There are some downsides to all this, though. First of all, I feel sorry for the third-party client tool vendors that aren’t Pyramid, who must be feeling hard done by right now. That’s business, I suppose. Second, Pyramid’s on-premises solution is yet another dashboarding/reporting component that must be understood and fitted in to the Microsoft BI story along with Power BI Desktop, Excel, Reporting Services, Datazen, PerformancePoint (RIP), Excel Services and so on, making the Microsoft BI pro’s life even harder still. Similarly, the Pyramid brand is likely to confuse customers who really just want to buy a single, Microsoft-branded solution (and don’t get me started on the whole Power BI/Cortana Analytics Suite branding overlap thing either).

Overall, I’m very happy as a result of this news. What with this, and the RTM of Power BI v2 tomorrow, Microsoft is back as a serious contender in BI both on-premises and in the cloud, and is catching up with the competition incredibly quickly.

Pyramid Analytics, XLCubed & Panorama Necto

I’m always curious to see what’s new in the world of SSAS client tools, and quite frequently get demos of the latest client tools. Here’s a brief summary of three client tools I’ve looked at recently…

First of all, bioXL from Pyramid Analytics. It’s a very nice looking Silverlight cube browser with several very interesting features. However the main reason it’s worth looking at is that if you’re lumbered with a large Proclarity installation and no obvious way of migrating, it that it could be the answer to your prayers. It’s designed with existing Proclarity customers in mind: it’s almost completely backwards compatible with existing content stored in PAS, and equally importantly the UI follows the Proclarity look and feel very closely, so existing Proclarity users will feel very comfortable. In fact, looking at it you’d almost believe you were in a parallel universe where Microsoft hadn’t made that crazy decision to kill of Proclarity, and had instead rebuilt it in Silverlight.

Next up, XLCubed. Now I’ve blogged about them here before and Marco is also a fan, so I won’t say much, but I remain a big fan; version 6 has just been released and they’re working on mapping too. I think it’s one of the best tools on the market for the sophisticated SSAS user, both for Excel-based analysis and also for creating web dashboards.

Thirdly, Panorama Necto (see here as well), which aims to bring the benefits of social media to BI. The thinking here is that adoption of BI tools has stalled because the tools themselves are too difficult to use, and also that it’s too difficult to share and discuss the information found using these tools with a wider audience. Once you get past the fact that someone at Panorama really, really needs to read up on dashboard design (3D charts! Gauges! Arghhh, call Stephen Few!) before doing any more demos, I think they’re on to something. It’s still early days but I’ll be keeping an eye on how their functionality develops and integrates with different media.

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