Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Introduction to Palo

Most everyone has never heard of a powerful open source BI solution called Palo. Started in 2001, it has been in quiet development for almost 7 years, and only started gaining significant adoption in Western Europe and Australia just 3 years ago.

That's all about to change - you will hear more about Palo in the coming months, especially if you are living in the Greater China region.

This is a series of introductory posts about Palo, starting from an introduction (this particular post) and moving into more functional detail in later posts.

So what is Palo?

Palo's Web Interface
Palo is a Business Intelligence solution created by a German company called Jedox. It is currently at version 3.2 SR3 with multiple interfaces including an iPad application that can be downloaded for free in the iTunes App Store. 

It is an MOLAP technology, meaning that it is operating on pre-computed results which is stored in an multidimensional array. There are several advantages of MOLAP over ROLAP, but that's a subject best explained in another context.

I still don't get what Palo really is...

The best way to frame Palo is listing some competitive solutions on the market today: Oracle Hyperion Essbase, IBM Cognos TM1 and Microsoft Analysis/Reporting Services.

Surprisingly enough, the above 3 products are really only the main MOLAP tools on the market. There's not a lot of choice. High penetration exists in the industry sectors of finance, budgeting, planning, marketing and data analytics. Chances are if you work at a company of 200-300+ people, you may have one of these solutions in your company.

Note that 2 of the 3 solutions above were acquisitions in the last 5 years alone.

So how does Palo stack up?

In the partner community, we like to say that Oracle, Microsoft and IBM are our best customers. After a year of adopting one of the above proprietary solutions, end-users and IT departments will be desperately searching for an alternative: Expensive, lots of performance issues and maintenance is very heavy (to the delight of BI consultants like us...).

According to our customers, Palo's best features are:

  • VERY FAST! Palo is all about speed. The first time I tried the solution with a dataset of around 200GB of raw data, the report came back in less than one second. Drill-downs, pivots, ad-hoc calculations are similarly speedy.

    After dealing with ROLAP data warehouses for years, I could feel the wind in my hair...
  • Total integration with Excel - Most BI tools have somewhat of a learning curve, you have to learn the interface and there's a methodology to creating a report. If you have been creating reports in Excel, then Palo will feel like an old glove. You can even use native Excel formulas alongside Palo.

    Many BI tools are marketed as "user friendly". Well, there's really nothing more friendly than Excel...

    Keeping true to its open source roots, Palo also works with OpenOffice.
    Excel and Palo operations side by side
  • Designed for concurrency - Anyone that's ever dealt with Essbase or IBM Clarity will know what I'm talking about. Put ~5 people in the same room, and have them start entering their budgets into the solutions. Make sure that everyone has their smartphones with them, because soon enough these solutions will lock up and everyone will have a lot of free time to do something else, like play Angry Birds.

    Palo was ground up designed to handle concurrency, and add the speed of which Palo processes data, we've had up to 25 people entering data simultaneously without a single hiccup.

One more thing...

Many BI solutions today have some sort of iPad application or mobile interface. These iPad applications are typically a marketing gimmick (I admit that I love doing iPad demos in front of a projector with a black turtleneck and blue jeans...).

With Palo Mobile, the ability to write-back using an iPad increases the usefulness of this app from pretty charts and grids to actually being functional. You can change data directly on the iPad and it goes right back to the Palo server in real-time. Your colleagues at the office will never know you were out of the office!

Palo on the iPad
Download the Palo app today from the iTunes store for free and see for yourself: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/palo-mobile/id429176062?mt=8

Note: Write-back capability is to be released in late Q3 of 2011.