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TimeXtender Accelerates Your SQL Server Data Warehouse

Data warehouse automation specialist TimeXtender says it has just the thing for your SQL Server data warehouse.

Data warehouse automation (DWA) specialist TimeXtender says it has just the thing for your SQL Server data warehouse. The company's specialty is Microsoft Corp.'s business intelligence (BI) platform. Although its competitors address a range of different target platforms, TimeXtender focuses solely on SQL Server.

This is a feature, not a bug, claims Ted Clark, a business intelligence consultant with TimeXtender. "We are focused solely on the Microsoft [SQL Server] platform, so if you're on the Microsoft platform, we're going to accelerate that better than anybody else," he avers.

Microsoft's Visual Studio integrated development environment (IDE) is the go-to development tool in SQL Server BI efforts, says Clark. "Most companies [develop for] Microsoft SQL Server with VS Studio ... but over time that's proven to be very, very inefficient and very, very time-consuming," he explains. "If you look at it, you'll see that 95 percent of the stuff you do [in Visual Studio] is repetitive and routine, that there's a faster way to do the 95 percent that you do in a faster amount of time."

TimeXtender is one of a handful of vendors that market software designed to accelerate data warehouse design, development, administration, and -- most important, if you listen to DWA boosters -- change. Along with competitors such as the former BIReady -- acquired last year by Attunity Ltd. -- the former Kalido (acquired in 2013 by Silverback Enterprise Group) -- and WhereScape Inc., TimeXtender has helped to stake out a market for data warehouse automation products.

In late-2013, TDWI even added a DWA course to its curriculum. Proponents claim that DWA tools automate the tedious, time-consuming, or arcane stuff.

Textbook examples of said include upstream impact analysis, documentation and metadata, and quality-assurance testing. DWA tools claim to automate most of this stuff, as well as to accelerate other activities (including scoping, prototyping, and data model design).

The term "data warehouse automation" is something of a misnomer. It's impossible to automate a process (the design, development, and management of a data warehouse system) that relies so extensively on human ingenuity -- but that's the point, proponents argue. DWA tools don't replace human data modelers, developers, or architects; they make them more productive.

This is actually a very touchy subject for TimeXtender and other data warehouse automation vendors: they typically market their tools to IT, and they're loath to give IT pros the impression that they're automating them out of existence. They make a compelling case that they aren't. Clark, for example, points to the innate complexity of data warehouse design -- the custom-fitting of a data model, the optimization of business views, the identification and operationalization of more advanced analytic insights -- and stresses that a tool such as TimeXtender frees up BI developers for other, more valuable work.

"You're not giving [these IT workers] pink slips. You're saying, 'Hey, we can repurpose you! You can do things faster and more efficient[ly] -- and it's more interesting work, too!'" says Clark. "I tell our customers all of the time, 'We make the analysts kind of hate us because they can kind of churn so fast, and they still can't keep up with the [BI] developers. They [BI developers] can go off in a few hours and come back with something immediately instead of in a few weeks."

One of data warehouse automation's biggest selling points is abstraction: a good DWA tool manages everything -- data model, metadata, documentation, user-defined functions (UDF) and other custom structures, even platform-specific optimizations. In other words, if you're using a DWA tool to manage your DB2 data warehouse, you should be able to use that same tool to automate your migration to (and optimize it for) a different data warehouse target.

From the point of view of platform abstraction, TimeXtender would seem to be the odd vendor out: its sole focus, after all, is Microsoft BI and SQL Server. As Clark notes, however, Microsoft has a fondness for shaking things up in SQL Server BI-land. SQL Server 2000, for example, introduced SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS, a rebranded and substantively retooled version of the OLAP Services that debuted with SQL Server 7), along with SQL Server Data Transformation Services, or DTS. DTS was the forerunner to SQL Server Integration Services, which debuted with SQL Server 2005.

Speaking of SQL Server 2005, that product release featured a retooled SSAS, DTS, SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS 1.0 was released as a free add-on for SQL Server 2000 in 2004), and other new SQL Server BI enhancements. Subsequent versions of SQL Server -- from SQL Server 2008 to SQL Server SQL Server 2014 -- have likewise introduced (sometimes significant) changes.

"With all of the changes that Microsoft is making [with SQL Server], we're able to accelerate those [new features] as soon as they're available," Clark says. "We're starting to get this bulletin in[to our marketing] that says, 'We are the upgrade-proof package.' If you store all of your logic, all of your work in TimeXtender's metadata, you're upgrade-proof. You could be on 2008 right now, maybe you have a corporate initiative to get to 2014. You have a lot of work to do if you're going to change every [SQL Server 2008] package. Some of them are going to work, but they're going to work a heckuva lot better with 2014 features. In TimeXtender, ... all of your [SQL Server 2008] structures will be optimized for the [SQL Server 2014]. That upgrade story for an IT department is critical."

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