NGS Breaks Scalability Barrier With OLAP Client
February 10, 2020 Alex Woodie
New Generation Software is putting the finishing touches on an overhaul of its OLAP client, called QPort SmartView, that it says removes limitations on the amount of data IBM i shops can analyze. The Windows program gives users the ease of use and flexibility of Excel on the front-end, but utilizes the scalability and OLAP processing heft of IBM i on the backend to analyze substantially larger data volumes.
Typically, New Generation Software plays it down the middle when it comes to business intelligence and analytics on the IBM i platform. On the one hand, the company’s predominantly midsize clientele would like to slice and dice huge amounts of data, just like their Fortune 500 brethren, and NGS would love to give them this capability. But without the multimillion-dollar BI budgets and the tolerance for technical complexity that bigger companies have, these sorts of OLAP dreams are just out of reach of midsize IBM i shops.
But with the pending launch of the QPort SmartView remake, the Sacramento, California, company may have found a way to deliver some of the large-scale analytical capabilities of more expensive BI and OLAP offerings, but without breaking the bank for its clients or burdening its jack-of-all trade clients with too much technical gook.
Bill Langston, director of marketing at NGS, lays it down for us:
“What we did is we essentially built this application to be a relational OLAP Windows client interface where we can directly query and present Db2 on i data in a multi-dimensional view, with all the filtering and the pivoting and drill-down and charting that you can do in an OLAP solution that are really good eye-openers for studying financial and operational data,” he says. “And thanks to the changes we’ve made, the volume of data that we can comfortably work with is dramatically more than it ever was in the past.”
With the new QPort SmartView, NGS is able to present IBM i data in a drag-and-drop, point-and-click GUI interface, but leverage the power of the Db2 for i database to do the heavy lifting required for OLAP processing. Langston says that’s the goal of the new product: to use as much of the Power System server’s processing power, while delivering an Excel-type of experience for the user.
Equipped with the refreshed OLAP client, a business user will be able to use all of the tricks she learned in Excel – drilling up and down, filtering the data, slicing and dicing with a pivot table – on data extracted from Db2 for i. Meanwhile, the working file remains on the IBM i server, and all the heavy lifting, such as executing filters over million-row files, is handled by the IBM i server and pushed down to the Windows client over a Web sockets connection, Langston says.
This gives NGS clients the best of both worlds: The ability for clients to work with large files in a rich and intuitive GUI, but without burdening the customer too much cost or complexity, including setting up intermediate OLAP servers (which the big tier-one BI vendors typically require) or training users for weeks on end.
“The problem often with the high-end BI or big data solutions is the learning curves,” Langston says. “You have people who spend their whole career on a BI tool, and become really good at it. But if it’s only something you do for an hour a day here and there over the course of the month, you never get any good at it. This NGS new QPort SmartView product is designed to be a way to analyze and look at data that doesn’t require you to be a full-time analyst or a high-powered end user.”
In addition to slicing and dicing data, customers will be able to create charts for sales, inventory, budgets, or whatever data they’re working with. NGS is allowing customers to display multiple charts simultaneously, and also to update existing charts with fresh data. “We really did a lot of things on the visualization side to make it a better tool for doing that kind of analysis,” Langston says.
In addition to providing OLAP capabilities, the new interface, with its Web sockets connection over an Internet connection, can handle a lot more data than the old interface, Langston says. “Thanks to the changes we’ve made, the volume of data that we can comfortably work with is dramatically more than it ever was in the past,” he says. “Now we can comfortably work [with files] in the millions of rows.”
The software requires some technical skill on the part of the user to choose what data to extract from the production Db2 for i database into the working file, which remains on the IBM i server. This is part for the course with BI implementations on most platforms. Plus, Langston says, it’s not that difficult to tweak those queries to extract a slightly different slice, if needed.
With an array of new cloud-based BI and big options available to IBM i shops, Langston hopes this new offering resonates amount IBM i shops who are eager to extract more value from the powerful server they have already purchased: the IBM i server.
“For the shop that really wants to keep it an IBM i-centric environment, that’s where we feel we have a solution,” he says.
QPort SmartView can export data to Excel, or output it to a print file or HTML, if needed. What’s more, because Qport SmartView is a stand-alone Windows application and not an Excel add-in, customers “should not have the compatibility problems they may have experienced with other analytical tools that plug into Office 365,” Langston says.
For more information, check out the February 19 NGS webinar, titled Visualizing Data with the New OLAP Client for IBM i. The one-hour webinar starts at 11 a.m. Pacific. You can register here.