RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Quest Software Hopes Toad Can Enhance Introduction of BI Solution

Quest hopes to tap the Toad brand -- and Toad's popularity in IT departments -- to help it push its way into enterprise BI.

With its new Toad Business Intelligence (BI) Suite, Quest Software Inc. is taking the plunge into enterprise business intelligence. Call it Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Quest's "Toad" brand is well-known in the database management arena. In Oracle database environments, for example, Toad is ubiquitous. With this in mind, Quest hopes to tap the Toad brand to enhance its introduction into enterprise BI.

In doing so, Quest is venturing somewhat far afield from its bread-and-butter RDBMS management market. It made its first foray into BI five years ago, with Toad for Data Analysts.

To this day, that offering enjoys comparatively little visibility, however -- at least relative to high-profile offerings from QlikTech Inc., Tableau Software, Tibco Spotfire, and others.

Quest hopes to change this with Toad BI Suite, which bundles a tool for analytic data provisioners (Toad Data Point, a rebranded and revamped version of Toad for Data Analysts) and a tool for information consumers (Toad Decision Point). Toad BI Suite connects to a variety of data sources by means of Toad Intelligence Central. This last solution is Quest's implementation of a virtual data layer. It incorporates technology from Quest Data Services (QDS), Quest's connectivity offering for cloud and other non-relational data sources.

Although Quest is a relative newcomer to the fractious BI marketplace, it doesn't anticipate much in the way of direct or symmetrical competition. According to director of product marketing John Whittaker, "there's no direct peer [i.e., competitor] that's in this space. We're not aiming to replace any of the players, especially the big players. We think that if you as a company have invested $500,000 in Oracle Business Intelligence, then that's fine."

Quest's approach with Toad BI Suite is reminiscent of what several players in the analytic appliance space have done: i.e., positioning their platforms as complements to entrenched DB2, Oracle, SQL Server, or Teradata warehouses. In most cases, these vendors pitch their appliances as a means to address performance, functionality, or agility problems. That's more or less Quest's positioning with Toad BI Suite.

"Our pitch is to snap in beside them at relatively low cost. If you look at the cost of what it would be to replace Oracle Business Intelligence with another [i.e., similar] system, then you're looking at a waste of [an] investment," observes Peter Evans, business intelligence product evangelist with Quest.

"We're also banking on [familiarity with] Toad [database management tools]," he admits. "If you have experts in your IT department that are used to using Toad tools to currently export data in their databases to provision it in an Excel spreadsheet or Access database, we're looking to take that expertise and transform it into a BI suite where you can maintain that expertise."

There's another wrinkle here, too, says Whittaker. IT groups have historically been plagued by poor relations with the line of business. This leads to what he calls "painful" conversations between business and IT.

"There's this natural friction between IT and the [business] decision-maker. You're still having the conflict ... where [the] business is coming back to IT and saying 'Look, we don't have [access to] the data [sources] we need.'" The "painful" part, Whittaker continues, is that IT -- or, in this case, the data management team -- can't provision access to data sources as rapidly as the line of business asks for them.

As a result, information consumers have tended to go out-of-band around IT, leading to the spreadmart phenomenon, which undermines the very raison d'être -- a "single version of the truth" -- of the enterprise data warehouse itself.

"The user will go to data sources [that are] actually below the data warehouse, so they're never actually pulling [their extracts] from the semantics that have already been built," explains Omar Masri, lead architect with Quest. "What [a virtual data layer] enable[s] you to do is to source data from the semantic layers and then create a view and share that view so people don't have to create multiple extracts anymore. This becomes an IT-managed [issue], as opposed to someone's Access database. The moment you can source directly from the trusted layer and it's immediately accessible [from the tool], you don't have to worry about solving that problem [of a single version of the truth].

Abstraction's the Thing

According to Whittaker, Toad Intelligence Central's (TIC) virtual data layer invites comparison with data virtualization (DV) technology marketed by a company such as Composite Software Inc. "The reality is that we're somewhere between Composite and [BI player] QlikView, but unlike QlikView, we look at things more from the perspective of IT," Whittaker says.

If anything, Quest's approach seems less like Composite's -- or QlikView's, for that matter -- and more like those of start-up competitors Cirro Inc. and Armanta Inc, at least as regards its underpinnings. All three vendors use the same technology -- namely, DV -- to connect to data sources. All three pitch data virtualization as more agile, in this regard, than traditional data warehouse-oriented data integration (DI), which is almost always powered by batch-based ETL. The upshot, then, is that all three pitch a kind of turnkey BI and analytic environment -- one that's enabled, in large part, by an underlying virtual abstraction layer, or VAL.

One area of difference is that Cirro and Armanta -- like QlikView -- tend to market primarily to the line of business; Quest, by contrast, makes it pitch directly to IT.

A VAL is only as good as its connectivity into source systems, however.

Quest -- by virtue of its Toad lineage -- credibly claims to support more than least-common-denominator access (e.g., JDBC or ODBC) to data sources. Its competitors do, too. Cirro, for example, uses both ODBC and JDBC drivers to connect to its Cirro Data Hub, which provides VAL services. But the Cirro Data Hub itself can access relational sources (such as Greenplum, InfiniDB, MySQL, SQL Server, Oracle, and Teradata) via native connectors. Armanta, for its part, recently signed a partnership agreement with DV specialist Composite to extend its VAL; the two companies announced a vertical-specific offering (the Armanta/Composite Risk Management Solution) for financial services.

The issue isn't so much the quantity of native connectors but the quality of access itself. This is why best-of-breed DV tools from vendors such as Composite, Denodo Technologies, IBM Corp., and Informatica Corp. combine native access to popular (and not-so-popular) data sources with capabilities intended to help accelerate (or deliver a standard service level of) performance. These include query optimization, SQL pushdown, or an ability to do on-the-fly joins of data in distributed databases; context-specific caching, which permits a DV technology to cache results for query or Web service calls; and metadata management capabilities, among others.

According to Masri, TIC can perform native operations -- e.g., using T-SQL or PL-SQL -- against most popular relational database platforms. (TIC boasts native access into DB2, MySQL, Oracle, SQL Server, and Teradata.)

"What we implement is a virtual data layer, with persistent caching. We also have some smart pre-processing for pushdowns, [as well as] optimizations for SQL algebra," says Masri. "So [as regards] the pre-processing to optimize for push-downs, you can write [some] source-specific SQL that can be pushed down, or if you wanted to join [a table from] SQL Server with [a table in] Oracle using Oracle-specific SQL, you could do that."

TIS is "designed for low admin," Masri continues, explaining that would-be users "can just register. You set it up so that they can register themselves on ... a Web page. This gives them a 'playpen' [analogous to a sandbox], and they can keep everything private."

He explicitly contrasts Quest's connectivity-focused approach with TIS to QlikView's strategy, which -- prior to its June acquisition of DI specialist Expressor Software Inc. -- offered little in the way of DI connectivity. "QlikView's goal is to help with creating these [data] marts, but they're sort of closed. We took a different philosophical approach [to] try to be open with our data layer," Masri indicates.

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