Birst, a San Francisco-based Cloud-driven analytics vendor "gets" big data analytics. They make enterprise-class analytics making accessible to organizations of almost any size with a multi-tenant Cloud-based approach that offers more scalability and faster time-to-value than traditional solutions like SAP Business Objects. And at a total cost of ownership that embarrasses such traditional solutions - between a quarter and 50% on average.
And they've got something new today - the Birst Visualization Edition.
Powering Enterprise Analytics in the Cloud
I've been following Birst closely for the past year - and have been watching as Birst has helped set the agenda for Cloud-based analytics - offering in-memory solutions, flexible deployments, virtual cubes, automatic star schemas, change data capture, and more. Even an option to leverage the massive scalability and performance advantages of ParAccel's column-oriented database - that can deliver at least a 10-1 performance advantage over traditional relational technologies for complex queries.
Birst has made all this power accessible to enterprise business users with dashboards, mobile, high fidelity graphics, interactive visualizations, real time alerts, industry-focused templates and so on.
They've also created a semantic layer - something that IPL Consulting's Chris Daniels nicely describes as "a business representation of corporate data that helps end users access data using common business terms. The aim is to insulate users from the technical details of the data store and allow them to create queries in terms that are familiar and meaningful".
Birst's Track Record
Under CEO Brad Peters, Birst has done exceptionally well. In conversations with CEO Peters, it's evident that has a clear vision for the future of analytics. As the person who ran analytics for Siebel Systems, he's got the street cred - and he's smarter than all heck.
He's executed well on that vision too - and has the results to show for it. Birst has over 1,000 customers now. Revenues doubled this year. They're shredding old-school vendors like MicroStrategy and Cognos. And they just closed a healthy $26 Million round of financing from top-quality VC firms Sequoia Capital, Hummer Winblad and DAG Ventures.
With things going this well, one might expect Birst to just keep moving forward on this established path. Lots of customers in the $15 Billion BI/analytics market, and lots of unhappy "traditional BI customers" to go after.
Well, apparently not - I guess "really well" isn't good enough for the Birst team.
Birst Enters New Market Segment with Visualization Edition
In a discussion on Monday, CEO Peters briefed me on the impending launch of a new product line - the "Visualization Edition".
For the past decade, there have been a class of BI vendors who have done exceedingly well at providing powerful BI capabilities to the individual user.
I saw my first demonstration of QlikTech's in-memory desktop product back in 2005. It was a stand-alone system that combined database and BI in one package. It provided better performance that a big Oracle server and was easy to use - and didn't require a department of people to configure, tune and maintain it. I was very impressed - although it was obvious that the product had clear scalability limitations (single user, in-memory only). Tableau is another company along those lines.
These companies are growing like gangbusters - QlikTech grew by almost 40% last year, and Tableau grew by 86%. Both of these companies have grown beyond their desktop roots by creating "Server Editions".
What is the Birst Visualization Edition?
What is it? Among other things, it is a bold and highly credible move to go after the markets served by Qliktech and Tableau's "Server Edition" products.
Birst's "Enterprise Edition" offers a host of capabilities which are targeted at larger BI/analytics implementations - multi-developer environments, Data Warehouse automation (for Change Data Capture and Star Schema creation), operational reporting, mobile, access to operational systems like SAP. Overkill for some situations and some customers.
The Virtualization Edition leverages the same core "goodness" of Birst Enterprise, but it's packaged up into an edition that is ideal for individual business analysts, or projects that don't need the Data Warehouse features and such.
CEO Peters claims that Birst's Visualization Edition will be delivered at a Total Cost of Ownership point significantly less than the established players in that market segment.
Leveraging the same Multi-tenant Cloud-based infrastructure allows customers of the Enterprise version to "instantiate" Virtualization Editions for the classic "power users" and business analysts - something I thought was brilliant.
And because it is based on the same infrastructure, it would provide an extremely easy upgrade path from Visualization Edition to Enterprise Edition for customers.
What Comes First - the Chicken or the Egg?
Perhaps better stated - is it better for the Chicken to come first, or the Egg?
One of the discussion points I had with CEO Peters was the advantages of starting off with an Enterprise Version of a product (for something such as analytics) and then bringing a "mid-range" version to market - versus the approach of vendors like Tableau and QlikTech, which started off with a great single-user product, and then extended that to include a Server edition to provide mid-range capabilities.
Peter's argument was that the high caliber infrastructure of the Birst Enterprise Edition was a superior starting point for creating a mid-range edition. That the characteristics and architecture of a Server edition are similar - irrespective of whether they are mid-range or enterprise class. And that any single-user desktop edition of a product would face too many architectural and functional challenges in the process of being turned into a "Server".
As a challenge, Peters asked me how many products I could name off the top of my head that had started off as single-user desktop products and successfully transitioned into true server editions.
Then he asked me the opposite questions - how many Server products can I think of that also had capable desktop editions. And I have to say, that second question was FAR easier to answer than the first.
In my opinion, it is better to start with the Chicken. Especially with modern Cloud-based software architectures, it is far easier to take an Enterprise Edition and turn it into a mid-range or even a single-user product than it is to take an awesome desktop tool and Server-ify it. I'm not saying that it can't be done - or that it can't be done very well, but it is a much more difficult undertaking. And if I had my choice, I'd rather start out with the Chicken - which is what Birst did.
Birst is running a webinar on June 26 to introduce people to the Visualization Edition. The invitation reads: "Learn more about how your organization's business users can leverage Birst for data discovery and scale their insights to the enterprise by joining a live webinar entitled 'Data Discovery Beyond the Desktop: Advanced Visualization Techniques' on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 10:00am PT."
Robin Bloor on Birst
Robin Bloor - prolific author and well-known technology expert, is one of my very favorite Smart People for a whole host of reasons. Here's one of them:
Whereas analysts traditionally conduct super-secret briefings with vendors on their technologies and products, Bloor opens it all up and allows ANYONE to dial into his briefings and listen in. He calls it "The Briefing Room". It's brilliant.
This week, there's a Briefing Room featuring Birst. Brad Peters will be briefing Robin Bloor on Birst and the Visualization Edition and answering Robin's questions on June 19th. The briefing will last an hour - and you're invited to dial in.
These are great sessions. If you can't catch it live, catch the TIVO'd version at http://www.insideanalysis.com/webcasts/the-briefing-room/recent-episodes
Note: Hollis Tibbetts works for Dell Inc., as a Director of Software Strategy in the Global Mergers and Acquisitions organization. He writes on many topics, including Integration, Data Management and IT modernization