Big data is transformative and having the capability to consolidate, store and refine your data into valuable insights is fundamental in driving organisational agility and competitive advantage.
Business intelligence (BI) tools are the main way businesses derive insights from their historical big data. To make better business decisions, you need a way to bring data together and examine various metrics, KPIs and trends. One of the best ways to achieve this ideal platform for data storage and analysis is by deploying a data warehouse.
Data warehouses bring together your operational data into one place, improve reporting and help produce better business decisions. However, the rising prominence of big data and the reality of disparate data sources means warehouses grow exponentially and rapidly. Cloud-based data warehouse solutions fill this gap, with scalable storage, consistent performance and faster insights to produce the level of BI every business needs.
What is a data warehouse?
A data warehouse is a central database that brings together all of your business information from disparate data sources, with powerful capabilities that allow it to organise, represent and structure data from a unified approach.
Gartner provides a helpful summary of what a data warehouse fulfils in the data pipeline:
“A data warehouse is a storage architecture designed to hold data extracted from transaction systems, operational data stores and external sources. The warehouse then combines that data in an aggregate, summary form suitable for enterprise-wide data analysis and reporting for predefined business needs.”
The process of moving data into a warehouse is called ETL (extraction, transformation and loading) and is simple:
- Data is extracted on a set schedule from source systems (whether on-premises or cloud-based databases)
- Data is uploaded to a dedicated server which houses the data warehouse itself
- Data is stored in the warehouse, where it is refined, structured and transformed using data processing and analytics tools
Data brought together from multiple sources supplements each other. When used properly, a data warehouse can become an effective central source of information for your data analysis tools to derive greater insights and generate more accurate reports and dashboards.
Advantages of using a data warehouse for BI
BI is about finding insights which tell you what is happening in your business now and in the past, with the best platforms providing real-time data to help you shape an accurate overall picture. The best way to gain this information is by leveraging consolidated data from a data warehouse, which provides the following benefits.
- Accessible, consistent information: Businesses have one unified tool to store, organise and analyse data in a more efficient, cost-effective way, improving information accessibility and visibility across the organisation. Data warehouses also allow you to standardise your data from your disparate operational and external sources, apply a uniform format to keep it clean, and improves overall accuracy so you’re better prepared.
- Better business decisions: Data warehouses are core components of successful data-driven strategies. Other than empowering you to access and analyse refined and structured data sets more efficiently, it provides a better organised viewpoint of your business-critical data so you can can extract reliable insights that will guide your enterprise decision-makers to make more informed business decisions - and remain competitive.
- Historical overview: With all of your data cleaned and in one central repository, a data warehouse provides a faster historical overview of your business - including where and when you have been successful. This empowers your decision-makers to pinpoint exactly where you can fine-tune your current business strategy to lower expenditure and improve efficiency.
Ultimately, the data warehouse is just the ideal starting point for your BI efforts. It handles all of the data collection and distribution, back-up and recovery planning, metadata management, and cleansing and transformation to prepare it for analytic consumption by BI tools like Microsoft Power BI.
With the right BI software, you can apply user-set metrics and techniques to hone in on important statistics and produce visualisations that help you pinpoint how to improve business performance. Some examples include data mining, online analytical processing (OLAP), performance monitoring, predictive analytics, reporting and querying.
Disadvantages of using a data warehouse
Traditional on-premises data warehouses often limit the full potential of BI because it there's only so many concurrent queries it can process - in layman's terms, you’re often limited in the amount of people that can access or query data warehouses at the same time, leading to decreased BI efficiency and slower insights.
With the high-availability of the cloud, major platforms such as Microsoft Azure have cloud-based data warehouses which offer all of the above benefits and more features unique to the nature of the platform. They provide enterprise-grade security to protect the integrity of the data while providing full access across the organisation, and scale instantly according to your business’s evolving storage, transformation and analysis needs.
What is Azure Data Warehouse?
Azure SQL Data Warehouse (Azure SQL DW) is Microsoft’s primary SQL Server analytics solution, available for businesses with SQL databases in Microsoft Cloud. It enables you to scale compute and storage independently and pause and resume data warehouses depending on your unique data needs, with optimised query performance.
Azure SQL DW is made of up numerous compute nodes, and each of them run an instance of SQL Server to host your data. It also runs a Data Movement Service (DMS) for re-partitioning operations. Essentially, it’s the cloud-based version of SQL Server Data Warehouse which exists for on-premises SQL Server environments. However, the difference is it’s a fully dedicated service which offers additional data storage advantages only on the cloud.
- Fully managed data warehousing: Azure SQL DW lets you build a data warehouse within the cloud using the unlimited scale of the Azure platform to store big datasets in one place. It’s also fully managed by Microsoft, so you don’t have to spend time or money managing infrastructure or worrying about patching - you can use the time on improving your business insights instead.
- High-availability and geo-redundant storage: Microsoft guarantees 99.9% uptime for all Azure SQL Data Warehouses. Your data warehouses are also automatically copied to geo-redundant storage for disaster recovery (DR). If you need the best for your data storage with the lowest risk of downtime or failure, Azure has long proven to be one of the best options.
- Cost-effective and compliant: There’s no licensing or upfront costs involved with using Azure SQL Data Warehouse, as you just pay for the compute and storage you use per data warehouse. If you want to discontinue your data warehouse, you don’t have to worry about termination fees either, and if your Azure SQL DW is inactive, you’re only billed for the time it existed. It’s also offers full regulatory compliance and protection, reducing risk.
- Native connectivity with Azure BI and data integration: Azure SQL Data Warehouse offers native connectivity with data integration and visualisation services, including Azure Data Factory and Power BI. This allows you to more efficiently leverage your data stored in Azure SQL DW with data workflow automation or business intelligence purposes that use the same interface and system.
Ultimately, making better decisions than competitors is important to most businesses. Creating a central storage space to consolidate the data you need to support your data analysis, business intelligence and reporting initiatives is a key component to gaining the meaningful insights you need to succeed - and Azure SQL DW is one of the best.
Why do I need a cloud data warehouse?
Imagine having several different databases or data stores for different departments. This means compartmentalised data silos, decreased information accessibility, and overall slower insights into how you're doing.
If you're seeking better and more consistent business intelligence, a properly implemented cloud-based data warehouse brings together data of large volume and velocity into one location, makes it readily accessible for analysing and insights, and allows you to report performance and plan business decisions in a much more transparent, efficient manner. With all the benefits of a managed service, it's also extremely cost-effective.
Cloud data warehouse: Key takeaways
If data-driven decisions and actionable insights are part of your business strategy, a strong foundation of structured, timely data is the bedrock. A flexible, organised data environment is key for efficiency in the decision process.
Cloud services like Azure SQL Data Warehouse offer greater data management and enhanced business intelligence by giving you an ideal storage platform to produce reliable insights. For any enterprise serious about BI, it’s important to examine how data warehouses help your business stay competitive in a fast evolving marketplace.