Google partner Panorama Software in March unveiled a set of analytics gadgets for Google Docs, Google's personal productivity and collaboration tools that are offered on a software-as-a-service model.
On the back of that development will soon come Panorama's PowerApps, an analytical engine for the web or OLAP 2.0, which when released later this year will enable ISVs and software developers to build and extend analytical applications using the power of cloud computing. The platform will offer APIs to create OLAP cubes as well as deliver and create customized reports from within Google applications.
SaaS is a model that is becoming increasingly popular. The ability to subscribe to cloud-based business applications that are run and managed elsewhere while requiring no additional in-house infrastructure, with limited up-front costs and implementation efforts, and which are instantly available for use, is very attractive to customers.
Furthermore, zero-footprint SaaS applications that can easily be accessed through the always-on and connected Internet are well suited to mobile working.
In recent years Google has followed a strategy of delivering many applications on a SaaS basis. While most of these are aimed at the consumer, Google Docs are for the enterprise user; a set of personal productivity tools with online collaboration functionality.
Microsoft Office applications have dominated this segment from the desktop for many years and have enabled the software giant to leverage sales of its business intelligence solutions that are closely linked to Microsoft Excel. Through its partnership with Panorama, Google is aiming to close the gap with Microsoft, and by doing so, it is sparking more vendor activity in this area, hence Panorama's PowerApps. It must be noted that Panorama's is a beta offering and the full release is not expected until later this year.
Panorama is not alone in exploring the potential of SaaS for analytics.
Kognitio, a virtual data warehouse appliance vendor, has been offering a hosted appliance for analytics for a while using its own data centre and security architecture. Kognitio offers the option to subscribe to the service on a utility pay-as-you-go basis, arguably the most proven and advanced model in the market.
Another vendor that has also joined the analytics SaaS club is Vertica Systems, an analytics database company co-founded by database pioneer Dr Michael Stonebraker, which unveiled its Vertica Analytic Database for the Cloud earlier in May. The application is a new on-demand version of Vertica's grid-enabled, column-based database hosted on Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud, Amazon EC2. This is also a pay-as-you-go service.
BI and analytics solutions work on critical business data that companies are not keen to upload off-site. The concerns surrounding data integrity and confidentiality and the entrenched preference for on-site deployment make enterprises nervous about hosted service delivery.
However, according to a recent Datamonitor survey 'Understanding adoption of business intelligence solutions' carried out in Europe and published in March 2008, more than one quarter of the enterprises surveyed would consider a hosted deployment of BI. This is a relatively large market for hosted services, predominantly for hosted delivery rather than a pure on-demand model.
Preferences do vary significantly by country, with Germany representing the biggest market for SaaS in terms of attitude and thereby inflating the average. The availability of low-cost options (in Panorama's case free with Google Docs) will no doubt prove to be compelling particularly for the SME sector, but clearly reliability and security will have to live up to expectations.