View all newsletters
Receive our newsletter - data, insights and analysis delivered to you
  1. Technology
April 5, 2005

Tableau breaks mould for data analysis

Tableau Software has launched an innovative desktop application that cleverly melds data visualization with relational and multidimensional databases.

By CBR Staff Writer

The Seattle, Washington-based start-up unveiled Tableau Software, its first commercially shipping product, which offers an exciting new way to graphically query and analyze database tables through a novel drag-and-drop interface.

Tableau Software Version 1 is a downloadable Windows based application (it requires Microsoft Windows 2000 or later release) built around a proprietary query language engine called VizQL. Unlike declarative SQL queries that return results as text or numeric data, the VizQL kernel effectively marries a database query to a visual response.

Tableau calls this approach visual thinking, which the company explains produces interactive pictures (graphs or other visual representations) of data rather than static rows and columns. Tableau argues that analyzing data in this way allows users to quickly spot trends, outliers and relationships that might otherwise be difficult to glean from conventional row and column displays of text and numbers.

In effect Tableau is visually extending the classic tabular displays commonly used by most business intelligence (BI) tools today; i.e. cross-tab, pivot tables, grids, etc. Tableau replaces the rows and numbers in a cross-tab with graphs, each representing a unique cross-section of data dimensions and measures.

While Tableau lacks some of the statistical and analytic sophistication of other cross-tabular BI analysis tools, the software ships with useful array of tools and features for grouping data values on the fly, transforming measures into dimensions, and automatically creating date hierarchies.

In its initial release Tableau connects directly to the following data sources: Microsoft Excel, Access, SQL Server, and Analysis Services, MySQL, text files, Hyperion Essbase, IBM OLAP Server.

Surprisingly Tableau has yet to add support for Oracle. The only enterprise-class relational database currently supported is SQL Server. Another restriction is that relational data must also be denormalized prior to visual analysis.

Content from our partners
Rethinking cloud: challenging assumptions, learning lessons
DTX Manchester welcomes leading tech talent from across the region and beyond
The hidden complexities of deploying AI in your business

Tableau promises support for DB2 and Oracle in subsequent releases. It is also planning to add support for direct access to star schema designs.

Even though Tableau is the company’s first commercially available product, an earlier version is already being used by AOL, Google, Wells Fargo, Dow Chemical, Safeway and the US Navy. Last year BI software maker Hyperion Solutions also licensed the technology to embed in its software.

The experience is like a visual Q&A session, Tableau’s CEO and co-founder Christian Chabot told ComputerWire in a recent interview.

Chabot says that the software gives companies a more intuitive understanding of trends affecting the business than traditional analysis methods.

Sometimes using a cross-tab is the right way to look at a business problem. But usually its not.

We’re not asking companies to get rid of their cross-tabs. Rather we’re introducing a new [visual] analysis layer to BI stack that’s missing.

Chabot believes the ability to dive into data and visually analyze it in seconds holds considerable advantages for companies seeking to drive BI adoption across the enterprise.

Complex data tables and columns are exposed in our powerful visual interface and easy analytic navigation scheme…which means users of any technical ability can easily query and walk through a database, visually layering in more interesting dimensions as they proceed with their analysis.

Tableau is privately-held and received $5m in series A funding last summer from New Enterprise Associates. Tableau Version 1 is a product of nearly seven years of research at Stanford University’s department of computer science where the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer Pat Hanrahan is a professor. Hanrahan is also a founding employee of Pixar Animation Studios. The initial research for Tableau was funded by a DARPA grant sponsored by the Department of Defense to develop a way to get more meaningful insights from its databases.

Tableau is still a small company that employs 18 people. But its software has piqued the interest of around 100 companies to date; including those listed above as early adopters.

Chabot sees a large publicly-traded opportunity for the company and its visualization technology, and is hungrily eyeing the $20bn database and BI sectors as the low hanging fruit.

However Chabot also points out that the software is horizontal and has applications for everything from analyzing retail supply chains to network data analysis. For example, supermarket chain Safeway uses Tableau to pick out their under-performing stores.

We’re going to be a disruptive technology…we want to be the database equivalent of what MapInfo is for geographic data analysis and visualization.

Chabot said the company is also starting to ramp up its distribution channels and is on the verge of announcing a deal with a major database vendor.

Tableau is a downloadable product and can be purchased directly from the company’s Website. Licenses range from $999 for a Standard Edition (for connection to Excel, Access and text files) up to $1,799 for a Pro Edition (which also connects to wider relational and OLAP databases). Pricing includes a year of software maintenance.

Websites in our network
Select and enter your corporate email address Tech Monitor's research, insight and analysis examines the frontiers of digital transformation to help tech leaders navigate the future. Our Changelog newsletter delivers our best work to your inbox every week.
  • CIO
  • CTO
  • CISO
  • CSO
  • CFO
  • CDO
  • CEO
  • Architect Founder
  • MD
  • Director
  • Manager
  • Other
Visit our privacy policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications. Our services are intended for corporate subscribers and you warrant that the email address submitted is your corporate email address.