Speaking the language of business intelligence with an Australian accent

Friday, November 13, 2009

Who let the Bulldog out?


‘member what happened when Microsoft said “Hey, let’s bundle a reporting engine into the SQL Server license”, “Hey let’s bundle an OLAP engine into the SQL Server license”, “Hey let’s bundle an ETL engine into the SQL Server license”? Well, they’re doing it again.

The other day I downloaded and installed the latest CTP of SQL Server 2008 R2. Although there are plenty of good things to talk about in this release the one that really interests me (and many others) is Master Data Services or MDS, originally codenamed “Bulldog”. Once again Microsoft is being disruptive by bundling yet another <InsertNameHere> Services product into the SQL Server stack.

MDM is Enterprise only. Not for long…

In its magic quadrants, Gartner splits analysis of Master Data vendors into Customer and Product master data categories. Their analysis of MDM players contains vendors that are very much enterprise focused and don’t sell huge volumes of licenses. Many of these vendors reference Fortune 500 companies as their customers. This reinforced by belief that MDM is very much an enterprise only playground. The license and maintenance revenue from small volumes of customers is enough to sustain these vendors’ business models. Translation: big license fees & big maintenance fees. I’m sure the products are worth every penny, but not every business can justify spending big money on buying and implementing MDM.

Companies that deal with hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of different SKUs or unique customers need a way to manage that one version of the truth for their incredibly large and complex global businesses. This is fine for those that can justify spending the amount of money needed to accomplish this, but what about the company with just 500 SKUs and 10,000 customers? They may still have tons of money, hell they my even be Fortune 500, but they may not have mountains of master data records to manage. Even the most cashed up companies would think twice about spending vast sums of money on ways to manage small volumes of critical master data. IMO the enterprise vendors are not interested in these companies and these companies are not interested in enterprise vendors.

Enter MDS. Cost? Included in SQL Server license.

The Incumbents

I’m sure the established players in the MDM space are snickering behind their hands at Microsoft’s audacity in trying to muscle in on the MDM market. They’re already hard at work compiling comprehensive lists of “but does it have…?”, “can it do…?”, “it can’t…” and the ever-popular “C’mon, it’s Microsoft! Wait ‘till SP1 comes out.”

To be sure, there are plenty of good reasons the incumbents have as to why MDS may pale in comparison to their own technology stack. There is no question that MDS will be playing catch up here. Most of the others have been in business a long time and have excellent, very mature products. No argument there. Keep in mind, though, that MDS is also based on a pretty mature MDM product, Stratature, that was acquired by Microsoft in 2007. Nonetheless I’m sure there will not be as many features baked into MDS v1 when compared with the other market players.

The incumbents are focused on the big enterprise fish who have nasty, hairy, complicated master data problems that need to be solved. Of course, that’s their target market. These are the customers who will can (and want to) pay for what the incumbents have to offer. No doubt it’s good stuff, but what about the business who just wants a central place to manage the names and hierarchies of their 100-ish sales territories and their exclusive list of 2,000 customers? Do they need all the enterprise MDM bells, whistles and cost? Probably not. They’ve been making do with Excel. Until now.

Got Lookup Tables?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever created a lookup table that had to be maintained or watched over by someone who is umm, not so technical. If you suggested forking out a large pile of cash to purchase MDM software to assist this non-technical person maintain proper control of small volumes of simple data you were probably laughed at.

“Do it in Excel”, “Create a table in a DB and build a UI for maintenance”, “Use Access…”. These are the thin-end-of-the-wedge scenarios that will allow MDS to gain footholds in places that the other vendors would not even get out of bed for. Like Analysis Services and Reporting Services the barriers of entry for the IT geeks to start playing around with and eventually deploying MDM into production will be drastically lowered.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still going to be plenty of big, complex enterprise MDM scenarios that MDS will tackle as well. *But* (I think) there is going to be a whole new breed of non-enterprise MDM customer that will start making themselves known very soon.

The 4 P’s of MDM

When you start looking into the world of MDM one of the first things you quickly realize is that the software, while critical to the process, is not even close to the complete solution. Anyone who has been involved with an MDM project will tell you that while good software definitely helps, the real success of a master data initiative is inexorably linked to all of the 4 P’s of MDM:

  • Processes
  • People
  • Politics
  • Product

Notice that product only makes up 25% of this. Figuring out the technicalities how to use MDS is not going to be much of a chore for most BI / IT pros. The real challenge is getting the other 75% of the 4 P’s in place.

MDS, as part of the SQL stack, frees up funds to spend on getting all four P’s right. There is reasonable about of consulting hours that can be purchased with the money saved when you don’t see any increase in SW license costs.

What’s under the hood?

As I get stuck into the internals of the product I will blog more. From what I’ve toyed around with so far the product looks interesting, is simple to set up, and should be pretty easy for both geeks (getting stuck into the DB, web services and API) and the non-geeks (who will use the web-based UI to manage things) to get a handle on. On digging into some of the more complex looking objects within the repository DB and web-based UI you can see that there is a lot of good stuff to explore and experiment with.

Jamie Thompson blogged about his delight in discovering that MDS implements some very cool Regex and Fuzzy lookup functionality. I’m sure Jamie’s next question was whether there are any MDS-flavored custom SSIS transforms or tasks included in the initial release. I asked the same question. Answer: There aren’t any. Yet. The group PM for MDS is Kirk Haselden, you may remember Kirk from such products as SSIS where was the dev manager and one of the product’s primary designers. With Kirk’s involvement you can be pretty damn sure there will be some SSIS goodness that will make its way into MDS at some point in the foreseeable future. For now, though, you can interact with data via the MDS web service, API or just plain ‘ol TSQL. Plenty of options there for SSIS to hook into. More on this as I play around with the product.

Final Thoughts

MDS will go head-to-head with the established enterprise MDM players, no question. In the short term the product will probably not make much headway in that market, though. No surprises there. However, think of what the potential is for businesses that the big vendors don’t care about right now. Those who own SQL Server licenses and have even the smallest requirement for managed master data are all fair game.


pionium said...

nice post Nick,

my company is using Bulldog and I'm not so impressed by the validation process. It's just painfully slow.

Do you know if this has improved in MDS?


Nick Barclay said...

By referring to Bulldog do you mean the CTP build of MDS or do you mean Stratature's product? Either way I can't really comment on performance as I haven't used either in a production environment as of yet.


pionium said...

Hi again, and sorry for the late reply.

the version is Microsoft MDM v4.3.0.1003.

Kasu said...

I totally agree with you regarding the MDM product landscape. Having spent a significant amount of time looking at MDM tools, I believe that Microsoft will have a hit with MDS. There are large companies that do not have large amount of master data. So, trying to sell them an all in one, super MDM solution does not go over very well.
MDS nicely fills a gap in the MDM landscape. As you said, the tool is just one of the components of an MDM solution. Companies better be prepared for a long journey (years), if they want to implenet an MDM solution.