The benefits of browser

Someone I used to respect once told me that you couldn’t build a data warehouse automation tool in a web browser. That person was living in a 20 year old bubble.

My epiphany on the capabilities of browser-based software came around 10 years ago, when I first saw an early version of Microsoft’s Outlook Web Access. It was a browser-based application that looked and worked almost exactly the same as Outlook. And now, look at the email, contact and calendar capabilities of Office365 – truly amazing user interfaces, delivered to any mainstream web browser.

Some people think that browsers can’t handle interaction with complex graphics. Have you seen Canva lately? Or Gliffy? Or the online versions of PowerPoint and Keynote? They’re doing graphics online that are as good (or better) as I was doing with desktop-based Visio, SmartDraw and Publisher just a few years ago.

Browsers have more benefits for a product like Ajilius:

Any device
Today’s web browsers run on desktops, notebooks, tablets and phones. On Windows, Linux and OS X, Android and iOS. The browser has become a universal user interface for all types of software. Responsive user interface design means that Ajilius adapts its layout to the constraints of the device, making it usable from large desktop display to pocket sized phone.

No client installs
Packaging, installing and maintaining desktop software is a major cost for most IT departments. Browser-based software, especially when designed to work with all major browsers, eliminates that cost and effort. Assuming the presence of a modern browser, deploying Ajilius in a corporate environment requires nothing installed or changed on end user devices.

Modern user interfaces
Using a browser makes it easy to support modern developments in user interface technology. We’re fully touch-driven, for example, which means you can use Ajilius just as effectively on an iPad as you can on a Windows desktop. We’re accessible, meaning that people with low vision or motor skill issues can still use our software. And we’re multi-lingual, because the browser lets us quickly deal with the user interface issues that come from supporting the world’s written languages.

The days when software was automatically desktop are over. The desktop as a device may not be dying, but software designed for the desktop is last century’s product.

Ajilius, being browser based, is a modern data warehouse automation product.

Why star schema?

There are currently three main schools of thought around building a data warehouse:

  • 3NF
  • Data Vault
  • Star Schema

We’ll leave it to Wikipedia to describe the main principles of each method.

We designed Ajilius to deliver star schema data warehouses for one reason: deliver value faster.

Over the years there have been many studies of the rates of failure in data warehouse projects. Gartner once reported that more than 50% of DW projects fail. Cutter put the figure at 41%. Bill Inmon wrote that it might go as high as 70-80%. Conning, studying the US Insurance industry, speculated that the rate of failure might be as high as 90%.

This terrible rate of failure is due to just one issue: the business owners of the data warehouse did not get timely value. Projects took years before delivering data. New data took so long to be loaded that the need for it had passed. The effort to acquire new data, and restructure existing data, were was too long and too expensive.

So, which data warehouse method best addresses this problem?

3NF might deliver quickly, but it has a track record of building ‘enterprise’ data warehouses. When we see the word ‘enterprise’ on a software project, we know three things – 1) it is expensive, 2) it will take a long time, and 3) it will probably never achieve its goals. The problem is largely one of scope and architecture. In attempting to build the one, true, repository of everything, the project quickly gets bogged down in analysis and design. It is not uncommon to see 3NF projects staffed by teams of architects and data modellers for months and years, often behind closed doors, with the only users of the warehouse being its overworked ETL coders.

We’ve never worked on a Data Vault project, so what we’ll give are our impressions from reading about it online. Firstly, there’s too much of a smell of snake oil around it. Any time we see experienced DW practitioners being told “Of course you don’t understand, you haven’t done the training”, it looks more like Scientology than Data Warehousing. That prejudices us against it. Secondly, we understand that end users are not supposed to directly access the Data Vault warehouse, but use a separate 3NF or star schema layer instead. We’d like to study this one day, because the Data Vault data structures don’t look like they make it easy to actually build 3NF or star schemas on the front end, we suspect some very complex joins and filters are required in the transformation.

Star schemas have, to our minds, three main advantages over 3NF and Data Vault warehouses:

  1. There is a clearly documented and widely available body of knowledge around designing and building star schema databases. There are books (see our Bookshelf for some favourites), tutorials and courses available from a wide range of sources; and skilled practitioners for most data warehouse platforms.
  2. Star schema data structures are a great fit for modern analytics and visualisation products. That means the design, construction and use of the data warehouse, by both developer and user, fit within the same conceptual framework. Also, star schemas have proven methods for dealing with issues like grain, history and aggregation; and for exposing the solutions in an end-user friendly manner
  3. Star schemas are a great fit for agile data warehouse methodologies. We see this as the key to overcoming the terrible failure rates described above, as agile projects engage the end-users in the process, and deliver usable iterations faster. With methodologies like BEAM, supported by tools like Ajilius, projects can been delivering usable data to end-users in days, not the months and years of other approaches.

We chose to base Ajilius on star schemas because we want to deliver business value in the fastest way possible. We want end users to be analysing and visualising our data in hours and days, not months and years.

Delivering value, faster, is the key to data warehouse success.

What is ‘modern’ data warehouse automation?

Our tag-line for Ajilius is “Modern Data Warehouse Automation.

Is it (Modern) Data Warehouse Automation, or (Modern Data Warehouse) Automation?

The answer is “Both”.

Ajilius is a modern software product. You can use Ajilius on desktops, tablets and phones. It runs on Linux, Macintosh and Windows. Deploy Ajilius on-premise or in the cloud. Multiple languages are supported for international customers.

Ajilius fully supports the Modern Data Warehouse. We can build data warehouses on relational databases, cloud platforms, and Hadoop. Ajilius can source from databases, files, web services and streams.

Ajilius delivers the fully development cycle for a data warehouse. Loads, staging tables, screens, dimensions, facts, cubes, schedules and documentation. We’re fully metadata-driven, using specialised templates to generate all scripts and artefacts. With just a few clicks you can migrate from development to production, or from one DW platform to another, with all code fully scripted for automated deployment in segregated data centers.

You’ll also be delighted by our modern approach to licensing. No per-user, per warehouse shennanigans. Just one, simple rule: if you pay for your target database, you pay for Ajilius. And the amount you pay is just a fraction of the maintenance of competing products. Of course, we offer full training and support to get you up and running.

We aim to be #1 in data warehouse automation. Don’t settle for less.