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Microsoft BI Labs Takes Grassroots Approach to Business Intelligence

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Posted May 5, 2011 By Vangie Beal     Feedback

The new Microsoft BI Labs portal offers experimental business intelligence projects and applications.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is taking a grassroots approach to business intelligence (BI) technology with the quiet launch of its new portal for experimental business intelligence projects and applications.

First spotted by ZDNet Microsoft blogger Mary Jo Foley, the website, Microsoft BI Labs, is a showcase for various internal business intelligence projects and other useful BI applications that one day might become a commercial Microsoft product.

Business intelligence continues to be a key focal point for Microsoft's SQL Server and Office teams. The upcoming 'Denali' SQL Server release, for example, is expected to include more business intelligence functionality and in-memory analytics, and the PowerPivot platform for Excel and SharePoint also demonstrates Microsoft's next-generation approach to BI.


Microsoft BI Labs: Grassroots Projects for Business Intelligence

While most business intelligence projects listed on the BI Labs website are experimental prototypes, the applications and BI technologies can be downloaded — provided you're keen enough to go it alone. Microsoft is not offering support for any of the projects currently available on the BI Labs website.

Michael Tejedor, senior product manager for Microsoft BI, is featured in the BI Labs welcome video. In the video he describes BI Labs as a new initiative for the Microsoft BI team to share concept projects from across Microsoft as they relate to business intelligence.

"We're going to feature prototypes that we create by merging new technologies with concepts and business intelligence," said Tejedor in the video. "We're also going to make available to you internal applications and tools that we've created when testing and diagnosing or performance tuning our products. We'll call those grassroots projects."

Current Microsoft BI Labs Projects

Microsoft has already made several projects available for download within the "Featured" and "Grassroots" sections of BI Labs. Three concept projects currently featured include:

  • PivotViewer Extension for Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services: This concept project couples the PivotViewer control in Microsoft Silverlight with a utility that uses Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services to automatically generate collections. The project promises to give users the ability to interact and view relationships between individual pieces of information "in an exciting, new way."
  • Microsoft SQL Server Data Mining for the Cloud: This project experiments with data mining as a service, providing a collection of cloud-based data mining services based on the same capabilities that are currently available in SQL Server Analysis Services.
  • Fuzzy Lookup Add-in for Microsoft Excel 2010: Microsoft Research developed the Fuzzy Lookup add-in for Microsoft Excel 2010, which performs fuzzy matching of textual data in Excel. This may be best described as Excel v-lookups on steroids.
Grassroots projects listed on the website include a MDX and DAX Formatter to cut and paste hard-to-read queries, and Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services Log Viewer to help analyze the services trace log and execution log in the report server when you're debugging an application.

No Support and No Guarantee for Apps

Also on the BI Labs website is a blog where new prototypes are listed when made available for download. While the projects are not supported by Microsoft, the lead developer responsible for each prototype has been responding to some comments and questions via blog comments.

In her own blog post, Foley reminded users that products may or may not ever be parts of shipping products.

"Remember, there's also no guarantee as to how long Microsoft will continue to offer any of these projects/technologies, as some Live Labs testers found out the hard way," she wrote.

For more on Microsoft's changing approach to business intelligence, see Is PowerPivot the Future of Microsoft Business Intelligence?

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