Business Intelligence Software
By: Matthew Caton and David Crolene
Business Intelligence software comes in all shapes and sizes. Some tools promise industry specific solutions with a relatively narrow set of functionality, while others provide a greater breadth of capabilities that can be tailored to the needs of more sophisticated BI organizations. It is this latter class of business intelligence software – the enterprise class – that is not always easy to install and configure. Tools like IBM Cognos, MicroStrategy, SAP Business Objects, Tableau and Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition (OBIEE) are representative of this class and consistently appear in the upper right-hand corner of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant as best in breed.
Enterprise business intelligence software installs can be time-consuming and extremely involved if incorrectly approached. Without proper foresight and a well thought-out approach, one could expect to spend days, or even weeks, troubleshooting business intelligence software installation issues. This can be avoided if proper care is taken. The following six sections define steps to help avoid many of the common pitfalls with a business intelligence software installation, and ensure an easy and successful installation of your business intelligence software.
1. Do Your Research
The first step when installing Enterprise business intelligence software is to evaluate what will be required of its host system. Installation documentation is a first stop and typically helpful to illustrate validated and supported Operating Systems (OS), databases, application servers, web services, and architectures. In addition to specific business intelligence software installation documentation, consider spending time searching the web, blogs, and available knowledge bases before you begin to expose issues others have run into and resolutions they've employed. For instance, with a recent OBIEE 11g installation on a 64 bit OS, multiple blog resources recommend an approach whereby the Oracle Weblogic server should be installed first followed by a ‘Software Only’ installation which installs the BI components. This approach was not mentioned in OBIEE install documentation, but rather a ‘Simple’ single-pass install was recommended. The method identified on the blogs worked, whereas the approach in the documentation continually resulted in issues.
2. Consider the OS
Business intelligence software is very flexible, with the ability to adapt to any number of software and hardware configurations. With this degree of flexibility and scalability, BI Architects are challenged with very involved installations of business intelligence tools.
Top-tier BI applications not only offer web-based report data distribution but also thin-client, web-based report development and administration applications for developers, architects and power users. Content is managed by back-end database repositories (that typically reside on other machines) and security by other systems such as LDAP and Active Directory. Web services must also be appropriately configured. Add to this, the fact that large enterprise BI architectures that serve 100s of users typically span multiple servers and environments (e.g., high availability, disaster recovery, and support for migration environments including: Development, Test, and Production). This list only scratches the surface of the many customizations and options available across multiple OSs and web browser protocols.
Considering this level of complexity with a business intelligence software, it is essential to carefully evaluate which OS platform will best support the needs of your environment. When selecting an OS for your install it’s important to evaluate factors such as:
- Processing capacity
- Hardware requirements and availability
- Support resources
- Required versions
- Corporate standards
These considerations will help isolate not only whether the OS is suitable for the business intelligence software, but also whether it will fit within the current IT environment.
One final consideration to take into account is which OS platform is the primary development platform for the business intelligence software in consideration. Some vendors will develop on one platform and then port that software to other platforms. For such a situation, installation, configuration, and operation issues may be minimized by leveraging the same OS as the software development platform.
3. If at all Possible, Start Fresh
In an ideal world, installing on a clean machine (one with few other applications) almost always lends itself to a smoother install. That said, the world is not always ideal, and sometimes a less-than-clean environment must play host to a business intelligence software installation. On a recent project, we found ourselves installing an enterprise grade business intelligence software on a computer used for everyday work. The intent was to set up a sandbox for prototyping activities. We used a sizable machine running 64-bit Windows 7 Professional with 8 GB of RAM and an abundance of hard drive space. Per the tool’s documentation, this was a validated system and had plenty of performance to host a simple, single-server install. However, this machine had a number of other applications installed on it that not only prevented shared files from being updated but blocked certain ports and forced the install to throw numerous installation errors.
Many of the errors resulted in a catchall error messages in the log, which upon investigation, could be caused by any number of configuration issues. This led to a time-consuming exercise of trial and error with multiple full business intelligence software installation attempts. Before long, we found ourselves abandoning the installation in favor of a cleaner environment.
It’s recommended that with any Enterprise business intelligence software installation, you start with a clean image if possible. This not only avoids contention and issues spawned from other previously installed applications, but also enables validated prerequisite installs (e.g., the correct versions of Java SDK and JRE).
4. Disable Firewalls and Anti-virus Software
Business intelligence software is, by its nature, external facing, and in most cases requires access to certain web protocols, services, and ports. Anti-virus software and firewalls are designed to monitor and block new and un-trustworthy activity within your computer’s vulnerable areas. Disabling firewalls and anti-virus software is mentioned in some business intelligence software installation documentation, but it is easy to forget as you start and re-start an OS (common during many installations). The installation for OBIEE software, for instance, will throw a configuration error relating to unavailable ports when pre-installed anti-virus software communicates back to your OS during an install. The error message never explicitly suggests turning-off or disabling your firewall and searching online for a resolution will present multiple possible causes.
5. Take Inventory of Other Applications
Challenges with business intelligence software may arise when attempting an install on an OS with previously installed software. With proper administrative privileges, taking ownership of shared files is acceptable in most environments, but sometimes such changes are over-written by scripts from other pre-installed software applications.
As an example, when using DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) which is standard in most Windows environments, it may be necessary to update a hidden administrative file (e.g., Host) that communicates directly with your OS. However, some VPN (Virtual Private Network) applications reverse such a change (back to its original state) when the computer is rebooted. Searching online to resolve such an error may be problematic because there is no clear indication that an external application is causing the problem.
6. Ensure Proper System Requirements & Versions
An additional error that can be difficult to track down relates to business intelligence software versions necessary for your installation. Java errors, for example, won’t always explicitly call out that your business intelligence software is not compatible. This can usually be diagnosed within the installation documentation and effort should be made to fully prepare the host environment before an install.
By spending the time up front to address the above 6 steps, one stands to greatly reduce the time and increase the probability of a successful enterprise grade business intelligence software installation.
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