Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Limitations of Gemini

Information is still a bit sketchy on Gemini,but it is already fairly clear where Microsoft is going with it. The clarity comes partly from Microsoft's public statements and partly from a sober analysis of the constraints Microsoft's BI program is subject to.

Microsoft will be offering three ways to view Gemini data. The first way is the grid they have been presenting in there demos. Take a close look at that grid. They always start it in Excel, subliminally -- or not so subliminally -- suggesting that the data is in Excel, but that is not the case at all. In fact it is just a separate grid that floats above the Excel window. The Gemini grid has nothing to do with Excel and is pretty basic as a reporting tool.

The second and third ways of viewing Gemini data are not new at all. In fact they are just the same tool that are now used for viewing Analysis Services data -- Reporting Services and the Excel Pivot Tables. Although both are adequate tools for some purposes, they tend not to score particularly well in customer satisfaction surveys. Perhaps more important they do not offer much in the way of features that are specific to the data model of Gemini.

The marketing role of the front end is very different in QlikTech. QlikTech's main marketing argument is "associative analysis" which it claims is a revolution in OLAP. Whether or not you agree with that claim, there is no doubt that the product delivers a specific set of features to make good on it. Specifically, the selection behavior of the list objects with their characteristic green shading, automatic hiding of unassociated elements in other objects and so on are specialties of the product that visualize the concept of associative analysis.

Arguably the real reason for this is that the front end is out of the hands of the creators of Gemini. After all Microsoft's BI front end is Excel. Excel has perhaps a half a billion users, and most of them would just be confused by any radical change in the interface.

The data import tools for end users look pretty simple. This is an issue that often gets forgotten in BI sales presentations, because data import is not a topic that end users like to get involved with. It is also a key weakness in QlikView, which offers a few automatic options but quickly switches to a proprietary scripting language. So far Gemini looks even weaker. But strengthening them would be to compete with the tools SQL Server already offers.

So with Gemini Microsoft isn't offering anything new in the front end or data import. What this means is that Microsoft is betting on the in-memory feature itself to make Gemini attractive to the end user. Microsoft has very little in the way of analogous features for the end users. Instead it has emphasized the issue of scaleablility, always a popular marketing claim but not the key issue in a self service environment.

So Gemini will have to sell itself on the technical merits of in-memory data management.