Test driving the New MicroStrategy on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Logo used by permission

MicroStrategy recently released a new version of MicroStrategy on Amazon Web Services (AWS). A process for setting up and managing new MicroStrategy environments on the fly. I was looking for a way to host a demo environment with MicroStrategy, so I decided that I would give it a try and do the 30 day trial.

A Note on new AWS accounts
If you think you might want to try out this new offering and this is your first time working with Amazon Web Services, go ahead and set up your AWS account now, while you consider it.

You see, there’s a quirk to AWS itself, where they don’t like you using the account for the first 24 hours it’s active. I had a failure both with my initial MicroStrategy environment, and with a MySQL database I created directly in the AWS console. I kept at it, assuming I did something wrong, but apparently just waiting 24-48 hours will smooth out those issues.

The free tier for AWS gives you 12 months of free usage, and especially for my limited data needs was a great way to set up my test environment.

Also worth mentioning in terms of pure AWS configuration – you have to enable the AWS databases to allow ODBC connections in order for MicroStrategy to be able to connect to your AWS hosted data warehouse. There’s information online about this. I was really confused, because I was able to connect to the server via various other tools – and then I realized they all used JDBC except for MicroStrategy. JDBC is enabled by default.

Using MicroStrategy on AWS
Barring the AWS specific issues, I found the setup very straight forward. I’ve created a lot of MicroStrategy environments in my day, but this was just as they promised – a couple of clicks and I had what I wanted. And using MicroStrategy itself in this type of environment is… well, I hate to say this because it’s such a boring answer, but it’s just like using MicroStrategy anywhere else.

Once everything is set up, working with the environment is simple. The management page is slickly designed, and setting up management tasks, or shutting down the various environments is just a few clicks.

I have to say, I especially love that the environment includes a remote desktop solution that can be used from a browser. It includes RDP, VNC, and SSH – directly within the browser itself.

It’s a nice way to manage things. My only issue with it was that cut and paste into the browser’s RDP, VNC, and SSH didn’t work. However, I ended up accessing my email directly on the server machine in VNC (rather than using SSH) to get the activation code for registration, and it was no issue for me.

Speaking of Activation
I tried to perform the server activation via SSH, because command line has always been the easiest process to follow to activate a server. Unfortunately, the process errored – so I recommend that you look into the location of the License Manager GUI on Linux, as you will need to run the activation that way.

I brought this up with the MicroStrategy team, and they tell me they are looking into this, and trying to make the process better.

Developer Instance
The Developer instance option works great, but you can also use MicroStrategy Developer installed locally within your own infrastructure to connect to the Intelligence Server on AWS, with some configuration changes.

By default, for security purposes, the standard MicroStrategy Server port of 34952 is closed to the outside world. If you want to use your own Developer install on your own machine, for example, you need to open up that port (that process may get easier in the future).

This is is good news, given that the Developer instance is the most expensive part of the AWS environment, but I’ll get into that in a minute – spoilers: that cost isn’t as bad as it sounds.

And, a single Developer instance in one environment can be used to manage multiple MicroStrategy AWS environments without modification.

So, basically, you have options there.

Licensing
This won’t come to a shock for current MicroStrategy customers, but MicroStrategy uses a bring your own license policy on AWS, so you will need to talk to an Account Executive to sort out MicroStrategy Licenses.

To be clear, the costs of the license itself are not included in the AWS pricing shown on the page:

This is only the pricing for the infrastructure.

​A note on the costs shown
If you choose to create a small environment, and have a developer instance, the interface tell you that the estimated costs for the month are “Starting from $586.”

It isn’t as high a cost as that, though, in practice. At least in my practice. That estimate assumes you never turn off the server or the developer instance.

Note that even with the 30 day free trial, you will be paying for AWS costs, and the size of the machine is too large for the free tier of AWS to cover it. But given my limited usage of the environment (again, it was just for testing purposes), I paid considerably less. Let’s say it was closer to 100 than 600 US Dollars. Your mileage may vary.

Now, none of this should be especially important to larger companies, and larger projects, but for it was of interest to me, and so I’m explaining it here. This is from a small test environment perspective.

The key for me was to shut down everything when I didn’t need it at all, and shut down the developer instance when I wasn’t using it. If that fits your needs, you’ll have a significant savings.

For you larger companies doing actual production work, timed shutdowns and startups are also easy in the interface, so if you work on a specific schedule (say 9am-6pm) that can help make certain you save money, as well.

Speed
I live in the Netherlands. I wasn’t paying attention when I built my environment, and accidentally built my servers in Virginia. I’m glad I did that, because I still found everything responsive, quick, and easy to work with. That’s kind of Amazon’s thing, I grant you, but seeing it in person made me feel confident saying that this just works.

Consider the benefits of using this option for bringing in a decentralized team of consultants and in-house developers. (Seriously, please consider that, I’m being self-serving here).

Joking, aside, this seems to give you all of the advertised benefits of an ideal cloud environment, at least in my testing. Granted, Virginia and the Netherlands both have solid internet connections. So if you have any reason to be concerned, it’s always a good idea to test the connection.

Responsiveness of the AWS team
Lastly, let me say that the MicroStrategy AWS team is very responsive, and very engaged. They’re welcoming feedback and acting on it. And that can be one of the most important parts of any service like this. The absolutely have the human touch.

In Summary
Listen, only you can decide if you need to put your Business Intelligence environment in the cloud. But if you have made that decision, then I have to say MicroStrategy on AWS is a great option functionally and will give you a proper MicroStrategy experience. You have to decide if it fits your needs, but take a look and you’ll find a lot to love.