Tableau Software offers a suite of "rapid fire" (self-service) applications in its Tableau BI suite. Used together, Tableau gives enterprises the ability to reap quick business insights with a rich, fluid desktop authoring experience. Founded in 2003, Tableau Software is currently shipping version 5.0 of its BI application suite.


Tableau Server

·         Windows Server 2008, Server 2003 SP1 or later, Vista, or XP SP3 or later (32-bit or 64-bit versions)

·          32-bit color depth recommended

·         Dual-core, 1.8 GHz or higher minimum recommended CPU

·          2GB minimum system memory

·          500MB minimum free disk space

Tableau Desktop

·         Windows Server 2008, Server 2003, Vista, XP, Server 2000 (32-bit or 64-bit versions)

·          55 megabytes minimum free disk space

·         32-bit color depth recommended

Tableau Reader

·         Windows Server 2008, Server 2003, Server 2000. Vista, XP (32-bit or 64-bit versions)

·         40MB minimum free disk space

·          32-bit color depth recommended


Tableau Desktop and Reader

The Desktop application, which is targeted at information producers, provides a highly interactive analytical authoring experience. The installation experience of Tableau Desktop was simple and straightforward. The Tableau Desktop authoring environment feels very Excel-like; there are concepts of workbooks and sheets. It even has a predecessor to the Excel 2010 Slicer feature, in Tableau terminology called a Quick Filter.

      You begin the analytical experience with a basic pivot table component. You then import data from various data sources including IBM DB2, Microsoft Office Access, and Microsoft SQL Server 2000+ (support for native OLEDB/ODBC connections would have been nice. If relationships exist between the datasets, you can enforce them via relationship definitions. Optionally, you can leverage what's called an Extract to export the targeted data sets into a local file representation for improved performance and to offload analytical workloads. Finally, with a rich set of visualizations available, you construct grids and charts inside a given worksheet.

      There is an integrated dashboard designer component that’s nice too. Using your completed worksheets (and their visualizations), you create composite dashboards. Once your dashboards and individual worksheets are completed, you can optionally publish the analytical artifacts to a Tableau Server Information consumers can view and collaborate on the developed business insights using a thin-client (browser) interface.

      Alternatively, information consumers can download the free Tableau Reader application. Like Tableau Desktop, Reader is very easy to install and supports both x86 and x64 versions of Windows Reader enables the viewing and basic manipulation (sort, filter, and drill down) of Tableau Desktop packaged workbooks.


Tableau Server

As mentioned earlier, the Tableau Server application provides thin-client analytical viewing and collaboration capabilities. Installing and configuring Tableau Server was quite simple; this is a nice aspect of the server component. Tableau Server provides some basic management interfaces (Microsoft Management Console—MMC—compliancy would have been nice) used to configure security. Tableau also provides Active Directory (AD) integration, or it can manage its own set of credentials for server access, storage of extracts, HTTP ports, and SSL certificates.

      Tableau Server’s native portal is a decent analytical portal. Although I don’t have any complaints regarding the server’s native portal, I also don't have any features to report that are outstanding either. The Tableau server portal provides the functionality you would expect to support the collaboration of its Desktop brethrens' authored analytical views. Finally, Tableau doesn't currently offer a rich API. You’re restricted to a basic command line using the tabcmd application, which essentially makes HTTP requests to the Tableau Server.


Comparison Shopping

Tableau’s suite of self-service BI applications is quite impressive, and had I not been familiar with Microsoft PowerPivot, I probably would have given this product a higher rating. If you're in the market for a Microsoft-friendly self-service BI platform that’s strong on visualizations, then Tableau is a strong candidate. Microsoft PowerPivot however, has strong integration with the existing Microsoft BI toolset and can scale to extremely large data sets.

      Organizations deciding on a self-service BI platform, need to evaluate related investments as well. With Tableau your organization will require a single server license and 1+ desktop licenses for the information producers. Information consumers can leverage thin-client viewing or the free Reader product. These products will obviously not provide non-Tableau features and services such as those found in Microsoft SharePoint.

      PowerPivot requires a similar licensing model. A SharePoint 2010 license and installation or upgrade will be required. In addition, (unlike Tableau server), a second server license for SQL Server 2008 R2 will be required to support PowerPivot for SharePoint 2010. Information producers will require Excel 2010 to be installed on their desktops and information consumers can leverage thin-client viewing capabilities with SharePoint 2010 Excel Services.

      Each organization’s self-service BI requirements will be different, but I hope this product review (and comparison with the upcoming PowerPivot) has provided you some good content to begin your evaluation process. Both products have their strengths and weaknesses. Tableau has issued a blog post regarding how it foresees future integration with PowerPivot (http://www.tableausoftware.com/blog/microsoft-project-gemini-compelling-to-tableau-software ). A hybrid environment of leveraging Tableau for rich visualizations querying against the scalable In-Memory BI (IMBI) databases of PowerPivot for SharePoint 2010 would be the best of both worlds, but also the most costly.



Tableau BI Suite
PROS: Rich, exploratory self-service analytical environment; free Reader and thin-client viewing capabilities; easy installation and configuration
CONS: Extracts do not support in-memory storage; Separate client required; non-MMC management consoles
RATING:4 out of five stars
PRICE: Reader – Free; Desktop Personal Edition - $999; Desktop Professional Edition - $1,800; Tableau Server – Contact Company B
RECOMMENDATION: If you want rich self-service Business Intelligence (BI) interfaces, Tableau is a strong choice. However, if you're more focused on tight integration with the Microsoft BI platform, altering data sets inside of a client tool, and scalability for large datasets wait for Microsoft PowerPivot.

CONTACT: Contact: sales@tableausoftware.com • 206.633.3400 http://www.tableausoftware.com