chris-testa-oneilChris Testa-O'Neill is a Senior Consultant for Coeo Ltd, a leading provider of SQL Server Managed Support and Consulting in the UK and Europe. He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for SQL Server, sole author of the MCTS SQL Server 2008 Microsoft E-Learning courses and technical reviewer for SQL Server 2012 BI Official Microsoft courses for Microsoft Learning. He is heavily involved with the SQL Server community as a speaker and an organiser of SQLBits, a Regional Mentor for SQLPASS and he runs his own user group in Manchester, UK. As well as being certified as a SQL Server MCDBA, MCTS and MCITP in all tracks. Chris is also a Microsoft Certified Trainer, and a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer in Windows 2000 and Windows 2003. In his spare time Chris loves playing in a band as a guitarist/lead vocalist. You can contact Chris at chris@coeo.com or on twitter as @ctesta_oneill.

Over the last 5 years I have observed Microsoft persevere with the notion of Self Service BI over a series of conferences as far back as SQLBits V in Newport. The release of SQL Server 2012, improvements in Excel and the integration with SharePoint 2010 is making this a reality.

Business users are now empowered to create their own BI reports through a number of different technologies such as PowerPivot, PowerView and Report Builder. This opens up a whole new way of working; improving staff productivity, promoting efficient decision making and delivering timely business reports.

There is, however; a serious question to answer.

What happens should any of these applications become unavailable? More to the point, how would the business react should key business users be unable to fulfil reporting requests for key management meetings when they require it? While the introduction of self-service BI will provide instant access to the creation of management information reports, it will also cause instant support calls should the access to the data become unavailable.

These are questions that are often overlooked when a business evaluates the need for self-service BI. But as I have written in other blog posts, the thirst for information is unquenchable once the business users have access to the data. When they are unable to access the information, you will be the first to know about it and will be expected to have a resolution to the downtime as soon as possible.

The world of self-service BI is pushing reporting and analytical databases to the tier 1 application level for some of Coeo’s customers. A level that is traditionally associated with mission critical OLTP environments. There is recognition that by making BI readily available to the business user, provisions also need to be made to ensure that the solution is highly available so that there is minimal disruption to the business.

This is where High Availability BI infrastructures provide a solution.

As there is a convergence of technologies to support a self-service BI culture, there is also a convergence of technologies that need to be understood in order to provide the high availability architecture required to support the self-service BI infrastructure. While you may not be the individual that implements these components, understanding the concepts behind these components will empower you to have meaningful discussions with the right people should you put this infrastructure in place.

There are 7 worlds that you will have to understand to successfully implement a highly available BI infrastructure

1. Server/Virtualised server hardware/software
2. DNS
3. Network Load Balancing
4. Active Directory
5. Kerberos
6. SharePoint
7. SQL Server

I have found myself over the last 6 months reaching out to knowledge that I learnt years ago when I studied for the Windows 2000 and 2003 (MCSE) Microsoft Certified System Engineer. (To the point that I am resuming my studies for the Windows Server 2008 equivalent to be up to date with newer technologies). This knowledge has proved very useful in the numerous engagements I have undertaken since being at Coeo, particularly when dealing with High Availability Infrastructures.

As a result of running my session at SQLBits X and SQL Saturday in Dublin, the feedback I have received has been that many individuals desire to understand more of the concepts behind the first 6 “worlds” in the list above.

Over the coming weeks, a series of blog posts will be put on this site to help understand the key concepts of each area as it pertains to a High Availability BI Infrastructure. Each post will not provide exhaustive coverage of the topic. For example DNS can be a book in its own right when you consider that there are so many different configuration options with Forward Lookup, Reverse Lookups, AD Integrated Zones and DNA forwarders to name some examples. What I want to do is share the pertinent points as it pertains to the BI infrastructure that you build so that you are equipped with the knowledge to have the right discussion when planning this infrastructure.

Next, we will focus on the server infrastructure that will be required to support the High Availability BI Infrastructure, from both a physical box and virtualised perspective.