Planned Microsoft Realtime Reporting Server Could Rock Analytics World

The company is quietly working on a realtime reporting server, to carry the Office label, that theoretically would deliver timely updates from all manner of back-office applications, several sources said.

The planned server, going under the code-name Maestro, is expected to hit beta this summer. It will be built on various pieces of Microsoft's stack, including SQL Server reporting services and notification services, as well as the score carding expertise from the Office group, sources said.

"As I understand it, it will take advantage of those pieces to let users create executive dashboards tapping into Siebel or PeopleSoft or SAP data," said a large integrator based in the Midwest.

Microsoft insiders confirmed the plan. Officially, Information Worker Group Product Manager Dan Leach said there is nothing to announce but the company continues to think "about how we can innovate and improve the Office system of products, servers and services."

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Such a product would be a huge blow to erstwhile Microsoft ISV allies Cognos, MicroStrategy and Business Objects, which offer such capabilities at a premium price. Some observers say those companies are still reeling from Microsoft's decision two years ago to build reporting services into the SQL Server database.

This product would open up a new front in an important battle around realtime or near-realtime reports. Most reporting now is done in batch mode from a snapshot of data taken at a certain point in time that is, by definition, in the past.

"Maestro will be huge. Nobody has 'real' realtime updates in business intelligence. It's all still looking in the rear-view mirror," said one East Coast partner. The goal is to give business user, not just analysts, graphical reports with the most current data possible.

Of course, there is a big gap between the theoretical and real world. Microsoft is still struggling to deliver SQL Server 2005, which would be a big piece of this puzzle. The company now says to expect that next-generation database by year's end.

A realtime reporting server could win Microsoft more share both for its Office franchise and in enterprise apps, said one reseller in the Midwest. "This is a real big deal for obvious reasons: The premise that [Microsoft] Great Plains and Axapta [ERP] will take over enterprise applications is one no one believes. Bringing Office into that environment more is a huge play for Microsoft," the reseller said.

Integration of realtime capabilities is a big push for Microsoft in general, and the Information Worker product group specifically. That group is working to further integrate realtime buddy-list and presence functionality in the next version of Office, sources said.

"They're expanding presence integration further, adding call options and calendar integration, and saving [instant messages] automatically in the Outlook folder," said one well-placed source. With the current Office 2003, the company already offers some IM integration provided the customer also has Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005. Buddy names that appear in Word documents or Outlook show up live with the IM icon if they are online, for example.

This is just the latest news to leak of a planned generation of new Office Servers. CRN reported last fall on plans for an InfoPath server, which would ease the creation and distribution of data-driven forms that tap into back-office content.

Microsoft executives, including Information Worker Group Vice President Jeff Raikes, hope that additional server-based functionality paired with 'smart client' Office applications will drive revenue and spur upgrades.

Microsoft is also working toward converging SharePoint Portal Server and Content Management Server functionality into a single set of server systems.