Amazon QuickSite --- BI reinvented or SPICEy hot air?

Paul Wallbank Profile picture for user pwallbank October 7, 2015
With its business intelligence tool Quicksite, AWS plans to further trouble companies like Oracle and IBM but there is a risk of collateral damage

amazon quick site
Amazon QuickSite

The opening keynote at Amazon Web Service Re:Invent conference in Las Vegas featured a deluge of product announcements --- including the company’s strangely named ‘snowball’ device for physically moving large data sets.

The cornerstone of the morning’s news was the announcement of the QuickSite service, “a very fast, easy to use, cloud powered Business Intelligence service,” in the words of AWS Senior Vice President, Andy Jassy. Built upon a cutely named technology AWS calls SPICE – the Super fast, Parallel, In memory, Computation, Engine – the company hopes to make BI tools available to the ordinary worker.

Despite Jassy reiterating Amazon’s mantra of putting the customer first and not focusing on competitors, his opening keynote featured pointed remarks about Oracle’s and IBM’s declining revenues and then went onto focus on QuickSite being substantially cheaper and more user friendly than Cognos or Oracle’s BI products.

“Business intelligence tools are the old guard and they are hard to use,” Jassy pointed out as he showed a Cognos screenshot. To demonstrate the cost savings which AWS claims will be 90% cheaper than traditional on-premise solutions, he displayed a thinly disguised Oracle price sheet. That's a bit of a misdirection because anyone buying off the Oracle price list wants their heads examining.

At the subsequent media conference, Jassy played down the focus on price or the attack on IBM and Oracle:

We don’t really focus on any one competitor. One of the things we heard over and over again from our customers was they wanted queries to be quicker and much more responsive. SPICE is going to allow our customers to have much faster queries but also allow our BI partners’ tools to be much faster and more attractive.

Those BI partners however risk being casualties in AWS’s aim to disrupt Business Intelligence’s ‘old guard’. Jassy was at pains to include Domo, Qlik, Tableau, and Tibco in his presentation and the announcement’s media release included quotes from all four companies welcoming AWS’s new service.

Jassy however couldn’t help continuing his snipes at the old guard:

Most technology companies, particularly old guard companies, have lost their will and the DNA to invent. They acquire most of their invention that’s expensive and it really doesn’t fit that well together. We’re extremely long term orientated. We don’t call you on the last day of the quarter and say ‘boy, have we got a deal for you’. You won’t see us auditing our customers and fining them. We’re trying to build relationships with our customers that will outlast everyone in this room.

He has a point. Cognos has always been a pretty thing on the front end but a positive dog with fleas on the back end ETL. In similar vein, BusinessObjects has languished under SAP's stewardship while Hyperion is being replaced with boring regularity by more modern offerings. Add in the fact Tableau and Excel have become the combo du jour in the CFOs office and you have to ask the question: is BI ripe for the kind of disruption that Amazon claims? It appears so, given that vendors like Infor have already standardized on Amazon Redshift as the backbone for their BI offerings. But it is the pricing where Amazon shines.

QuickSite will have a two tier pricing structure, a standard service that starts at $12 per user per month and an enterprise edition starting at $24 per month offering higher throughput and more defined access control. Additional charges will be levied for SPICE storage beyond 10Gb. Pricing of $900/month per TB of data might be a bit too rich for some organizations but large enterprise will barely notice.

The service is currently available for preview with it being released to selected users later this month before being available for general release some time in 2016.

My take

AWS’ BI partners will be hoping the service doesn’t quite meet its promise and that Amazon will quickly learn that 10GB of data is a drop in the enterprise ocean. Amazon has been nimble in that regard so we'll have to see how much of Moore's Law it can squeeze out of the cost equation.

It’s always risky taking a vendor’s promises at face value and as Jitender Aswani points out, there are plenty of technical questions Amazon needs to answer. But if QuickSite delivers the benefits and speed at the promised price points then the service will further upset the market troubles of the ‘old guard’ incumbents like Oracle and IBM.

Smaller players such as Tableau and Qlik may well be hoping the product doesn’t quite meet its promises. Should QuickSite prove to be a ‘good enough’ substitute for their products then they too could find the chill wind of a fading market as customers already experienced with AWS decide a native service meets their needs.

What is clear is the over used cliche that ‘data is the new oil’ is coming true. Amazon is joining a long list of vendors offering to help business refine and use data in new and novel ways. How much of that appears to be snake oil remains to be seen.

Our strategy is to be customer focused, not only do all of our strategies and tactics work backwards from what our customers want but ninety percent of our roadmap is driven by what customers tell us matters to them.

Sounds compelling. Let's see how they go.

Disclosure: Infor, SAP and Oracle are premier partners at time of writing. Amazon covered some of the author's T&E to attend Re: Invent.

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