Interview: Does Business Intelligence benefit from Cloud Data Warehousing?

Interview with Ross Perez, Senior Director, Marketing EMEA at Snowflake

Read this article in German:
“Profitiert Business Intelligence vom Data Warehouse in der Cloud?”

Does Business Intelligence benefit from Cloud Data Warehousing?

Ross Perez is the Senior Director, Marketing EMEA at Snowflake. He leads the Snowflake marketing team in EMEA and is charged with starting the discussion about analytics, data, and cloud data warehousing across EMEA. Before Snowflake, Ross was a product marketer at Tableau Software where he founded the Iron Viz Championship, the world’s largest and longest running data visualization competition.

Data Science Blog: Ross, Business Intelligence (BI) is not really a new trend. In 2019/2020, making data available for the whole company should not be a big thing anymore. Would you agree?

BI is definitely an old trend, reporting has been around for 50 years. People are accustomed to seeing statistics and data for the company at large, and even their business units. However, using BI to deliver analytics to everyone in the organization and encouraging them to make decisions based on data for their specific area is relatively new. In a lot of the companies Snowflake works with, there is a huge new group of people who have recently received access to self-service BI and visualization tools like Tableau, Looker and Sigma, and they are just starting to find answers to their questions.

Data Science Blog: Up until today, BI was just about delivering dashboards for reporting to the business. The data warehouse (DWH) was something like the backend. Today we have increased demand for data transparency. How should companies deal with this demand?

Because more people in more departments are wanting access to data more frequently, the demand on backend systems like the data warehouse is skyrocketing. In many cases, companies have data warehouses that weren’t built to cope with this concurrent demand and that means that the experience is slow. End users have to wait a long time for their reports. That is where Snowflake comes in: since we can use the power of the cloud to spin up resources on demand, we can serve any number of concurrent users. Snowflake can also house unlimited amounts of data, of both structured and semi-structured formats.

Data Science Blog: Would you say the DWH is the key driver for becoming a data-driven organization? What else should be considered here?

Absolutely. Without having all of your data in a single, highly elastic, and flexible data warehouse, it can be a huge challenge to actually deliver insight to people in the organization.

Data Science Blog: So much for the theory, now let’s talk about specific use cases. In general, it matters a lot whether you are storing and analyzing e.g. financial data or machine data. What do we have to consider for both purposes?

Financial data and machine data do look very different, and often come in different formats. For instance, financial data is often in a standard relational format. Data like this needs to be able to be easily queried with standard SQL, something that many Hadoop and noSQL tools were unable to provide. Luckily, Snowflake is an ansi-standard SQL data warehouse so it can be used with this type of data quite seamlessly.

On the other hand, machine data is often semi-structured or even completely unstructured. This type of data is becoming significantly more common with the rise of IoT, but traditional data warehouses were very bad at dealing with it since they were optimized for relational data. Semi-structured data like JSON, Avro, XML, Orc and Parquet can be loaded into Snowflake for analysis quite seamlessly in its native format. This is important, because you don’t want to have to flatten the data to get any use from it.

Both types of data are important, and Snowflake is really the first data warehouse that can work with them both seamlessly.

Data Science Blog: Back to the common business use case: Creating sales or purchase reports for the business managers, based on data from ERP-systems such as Microsoft or SAP. Which architecture for the DWH could be the right one? How many and which database layers do you see as necessary?

The type of report largely does not matter, because in all cases you want a data warehouse that can support all of your data and serve all of your users. Ideally, you also want to be able to turn it off and on depending on demand. That means that you need a cloud-based architecture… and specifically Snowflake’s innovative architecture that separates storage and compute, making it possible to pay for exactly what you use.

Data Science Blog: Where would you implement the main part of the business logic for the report? In the DWH or in the reporting tool? Does it matter which reporting tool we choose?

The great thing is that you can choose either. Snowflake, as an ansi-Standard SQL data warehouse, can support a high degree of data modeling and business logic. But you can also utilize partners like Looker and Sigma who specialize in data modeling for BI. We think it’s best that the customer chooses what is right for them.

Data Science Blog: Snowflake enables organizations to store and manage their data in the cloud. Does it mean companies lose control over their storage and data management?

Customers have complete control over their data, and in fact Snowflake cannot see, alter or change any aspect of their data. The benefit of a cloud solution is that customers don’t have to manage the infrastructure or the tuning – they decide how they want to store and analyze their data and Snowflake takes care of the rest.

Data Science Blog: How big is the effort for smaller and medium sized companies to set up a DWH in the cloud? Does this have to be an expensive long-term project in every case?

The nice thing about Snowflake is that you can get started with a free trial in a few minutes. Now, moving from a traditional data warehouse to Snowflake can take some time, depending on the legacy technology that you are using. But Snowflake itself is quite easy to set up and very much compatible with historical tools making it relatively easy to move over.

Benjamin Aunkofer

Benjamin Aunkofer is Lead Data Scientist at DATANOMIQ, a consulting company for applied data science in Berlin. He is lecturer for Data Science and Data Strategy at HTW Berlin and gives trainings for Business Intelligence, Data Science and Machine Learning for companies.

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