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Tuesday, 03 March 2015 18:01

Tableau 9 coming in 60 days

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Australian users of the Tableau analytics and visualisation software seem keen to get their hands on the next major release.

Tableau senior director for product management Marc Rueter used the Melbourne leg of the company's Tableau Conference On Tour to introduce Australian customers to the forthcoming Tableau 9, which he described as "smart meets fast."

It features "smarter features that do the work for you," he said, so users can stay in the flow rather than being distracted from exploring their data.

New features in Tableau 9 include a data interpreter (to help load external data, for example removing headings and comments from spreadsheets), improved maps (available down to the street level, which he demonstrated with a visualisation of the City of Melbourne's data about trees), and the ability to automatically split fields (eg, the tree data had the common and formal names in one field).

And in what Rueter said was an industry first, Tableau 9 supports level of detail expressions. This makes it possible to perform aggregations that are needed for a calculation, but without displaying them.

For example, a user might want to explore differences between this year's new customers and those from previous years. Previously, it would be necessary to identify the two groups during the ETL (extract, transform, load) process while preparing data for Tableau. Now it can be done very simply within the program so "you don't have to think ahead," he explained.

Multi-level aggregations are also possible in Tableau 9, such as determining the number of unique visitors to a web site each day and then averaging the data over a particular week, month or year.

Tableau Server has been rebuilt, he said, providing more speed, simplified administration, and a new search capability. The speed improvements are the result of multiple changes, including the use of parallel database queries, exploitation of all available CPU cores, and the use of vector instructions.

Overall, the product is now "faster and more scalable," he said.

Connectivity has also received attention, with new support for SAS, SPSS and R, plus improved links to various Hadoop-based big data products (including Spark SQL, IBM BigInsights and Amazon EMR) and to Salesforce.com, and SSL encrypted links to MySQL, SQL Server and Progress.

Customers wanted better connectivity to files from statistical programs, he said, but it required a major effort from Tableau, which had to do all the work itself, without help from the other vendors.

Tableau 9 is currently in beta, and "we hope to release version 9 in the next 60 days," said Rueter.

"It makes so many things people want to do simpler or automatic," which means they can do more with their data without requiring help, he told iTWire. These capabilities are the dividend from Tableau's "investment in simplicity."

Another example is the auto-complete function for geographical searches when data is visualised on a map. Work done by Tableau's research group means that the intended location is usually very close to the top of the list of suggestions after just a few keystrokes.

The audience - mostly existing Tableau users - gave a warm welcome to the features Rueter outlined.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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