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Oracle's cloud analytics platform comprises several tools

Oracle Analytics Cloud rounds up a number of the company's business intelligence and big data cloud services. Expert Robert Sheldon takes a look at the cloud analytics platform.

As is often the case with Oracle, understanding exactly what the company is trying to sell is no small matter, and Oracle Analytics Cloud is no different. The company hawks the platform as a set of business intelligence (BI) tools for analyzing traditional data and big data, whether residing on premises, in the cloud or with third-party applications. But what does that mean, exactly?

An initial foray into Oracle territory might lead you to believe that its cloud analytics platform is merely another attempt to revitalize the company's stalwart product line: Human Capital Management (HCM), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), ERP and Supply Chain Management (SCM). And, certainly, these products play a role in the Oracle Analytics Cloud story.

But if you push past the vagaries of Oracle's marketing hype, you'll find that the term Analytics Cloud is essentially an umbrella to cover several cloud offerings: Business Intelligence Cloud Service, Big Data Cloud Service and Big Data Discovery. The services are built on Oracle BI and database technologies and, according to the Oracle promise, can deliver secure and scalable analytic solutions for data of all types and sizes.

The term 'Analytics Cloud' is essentially an umbrella to cover several cloud offerings.

To keep things interesting, Oracle also throws Transactional BI into the Analytics Cloud mix, a service that leverages the embedded BI capabilities in Oracle software as a service (SaaS) and on-premises applications. And that's where HCM, CRM, ERP and SCM fit into the company's cloud analytics platform.

BI Cloud Service

Oracle offers its Business Intelligence Cloud Service as a subscription-based platform for creating interactive applications based on data originating from a variety of formats, whether text files, spreadsheets or relational tables.

As with most products and services of this type, you can explore data, create dashboards and generate reports full of charts, graphs and trendy visualizations. (Yes, even the treemap makes an appearance, though it has nothing to do with trees or with maps.)

To help create these visualizations, the service includes prebuilt filters, functions, analytic modules and advanced calculations. These features should enable organizations to build sophisticated analytics and predictive modeling, without requiring a high level of technical expertise.

Another way BI Cloud Service is falling in line with its competitors is by offering mobile support out of the box. Users can interact with the data, even if they're working offline, making it no longer possible to blame bad Internet connections. Organizations can also choose what information to share with each user, regardless of the shape of the original data, so users see only what they're supposed to see.

With BI Cloud Service, Oracle has set out to insulate users from the complexities inherent in the typical data structure. Like many BI and analytic solutions these days, BI Cloud Service tries to make it possible for users at all technical skill levels to create analytical applications based on data from diverse source types. And like most cloud services these days, Oracle manages the infrastructure and ongoing maintenance so users can focus on the solution itself, rather than on the environment needed to make it work.

Big Data Cloud Service

Along with Microsoft and other commercial ventures, Oracle has had to face today's big data realities, even if that has meant embracing open source technologies such as Hadoop. In fact, Oracle built its Big Data Cloud Service on a Hadoop framework in order to provide a platform for processing, analyzing and storing large amounts of data. It gets worse: You can use the service to analyze not only Hadoop data, but also NoSQL data, another open source technology and another concession that Microsoft, too, has had to make.

At least Oracle has been able to add its own thumbprint to Big Data Cloud Service. You can deploy it on the Oracle Compute Cloud and Storage Cloud services or on the Oracle Exadata and Big Data Appliance. Plus, the Big Data Cloud Service is fully interoperable with on-premises Oracle databases and can be integrated with other Oracle services by big data connectors.

Big Data Cloud Service provides a massively scalable environment based on the Cloudera Distribution with Apache Hadoop and Apache Spark (another open source concession). On the bright side, the big data connectors are reported to deliver load rates up to 15 TB per hour between Big Data Cloud Service and Oracle Exadata Cloud Service. The service is hosted on dedicated instances in the Oracle cloud and provides tools for working with big data, such as Cloudera Impala (yet another concession).

Big Data Cloud Service also provides tools to accelerate graph, geospatial and regression analytics. For example, the service supports scalable geospatial analytics and map building, and Oracle R Advanced Analytics offers scalable R processing on Hadoop and Spark.

According to Oracle, users can also utilize Big Data SQL Cloud Service to extend the Big Data Cloud Service platform. Users can also bring their own tools, making it possible to issue a single query that spans data warehouses in multiple environments.

Big Data Discovery

Much of the information about Oracle's cloud analytics platform often points to Big Data Discovery as one of the three cornerstone services. Oracle describes Big Data Discovery as the "visual face of Hadoop," allowing analysts and data scientists to collaborate on big data projects to transform raw data into meaningful insights. Built natively on Hadoop, the service is supposed to let users transform business data, without having to undergo complex training or bring in highly trained personnel.

According to Oracle, Big Data Discovery will make it possible to combine data sets, enrich the data to make it more meaningful and then generate interactive visualizations. Users will also be able to share projects, as well as bookmarks and snapshots. They'll even be able to publish the enriched and transformed data back to the Hadoop File System.

Transactional BI

And, finally, we get to Oracle's Transactional BI service, which brings us back to HCM, CRM, ERP and SCM. The Transactional BI service embeds analytics into a number of Oracle products and services, providing real-time analytic and reporting capabilities.

Oracle has integrated Transactional BI with the SaaS applications and their security roles, making it possible to implement interactive dashboards, key performance indicators and alerts that can target both desktops and mobile devices. The service also supports Oracle on-premises applications and can be extended to external sources, allowing analysts and information workers to gain real-time insights into a variety of transactional data.

Transactional BI is built on Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition. Users can create real-time visualizations that highlight data patterns and support data exploration, without needing to understand the structure of the underlying data source, a theme Oracle emphasizes over and over. And like BI Cloud Service, Transactional BI offers users a range of visualization options, from standard graphs to advanced visuals such as performance tiles and, of course, the ubiquitous treemap. Users can even assemble dashboards, relying mostly on drag-and-drop operations and their creative sparks.

Oracle Analytics Cloud

Clearly, Oracle is serious about the cloud -- and even more serious about getting its fair share of the cloud analytics business. The company need only convince all those potential business customers that the Analytics Cloud platform can provide the type of comprehensive portfolio of analytic services for which they're looking.

Oracle Analytics Cloud promises to deliver traditional BI with big data capabilities, while providing embedded analytics for SaaS and on-premises solutions. By combining the power of BI Cloud Service, Big Data Cloud Service and Big Data Discovery, Oracle has taken an important step into the world of cloud analytics -- one potentially big enough to send tremors through the likes of Salesforce and SAP.

But the question that Oracle must ask, just like Salesforce and SAP, is whether it has the capability to remain flexible and responsive enough to meet the real challenges of the information age, where the only guarantee is change.

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