An image of Tableau's website logo
Tableau PHOTO: Tableau

Tableau is business intelligence (BI) and analytics platform created for the purposes of helping people see, understand, and make decisions with data. Based in Seattle, Tableau Software was founded with a simple mission, to "put the power of data into the hands of everyday people, allowing a broad population of business users to engage with their data, ask questions, solve problems and create value." Businesses ranging from global conglomerates like Unilever, which sells more than 400 products in 190 countries, to Marination, a Seattle-based Asian-Hawaiian food truck eatery, use Tableau "vizzes" to glean visual insights into their businesses which would be difficult to discover in Excel spreadsheets or rows of data. Tableau recently reported that 41 percent of its customers have deployed its platform to 1000 or more users.

Tableau Public

Take, for example, this "viz" which Tableau enthusiast Bevin Olszewski created to tell the story of how homelessness could be ended in the United Kingdom. It was built on Tableau Public which can be used by anyone without charge.  Tableau’s other products run on-premises or in the cloud, primarily by subscription.

A screenshot of Tableau's Public view
A screenshot of Tableau's Public viewPHOTO: Tableau/CMSWire

Tableau Ushered-in Era of Visual Analytics

Constellation Research vice president and principal analyst Doug Henschen whose practice focuses on data-driven decision making told CMSWire that Tableau is "a data-visualization oriented analytics platform that helped to usher in the era of self-service analytics. The company has seen rapid growth over the last 10 years and by most accounts is, today, the market leader in terms of new license sales. It's used broadly across many industries. In recent years Tableau has beefed up administrative and data-governance capabilities to meet the needs of the large Global 2000 companies."

Gartner analysts Rita L. Sallam, Cindi Howson, Carlie J. Idoine, Thomas W. Oestreich, James Laurence Richardson, Joao Tapadin have described Tableau as a "highly interactive and intuitive visual-based exploration experience for business users to easily access, prepare and analyze their data without the need for coding" in their Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms report 2017.

Tableau offers three primary products, which we'll discuss below.

Related Story: Tableau, Microsoft, Qlik Lead Gartner's BI & Analytic Platforms Magic Quadrant

Tableau Desktop

Tableau Desktop is considered by many to be the gold standard in data visualization tools. Its power and ease of use encourage data exploration. It includes interactive workbooks and dashboards to help users uncover insights as questions or hunches arise and to make discovery easy via visual patterns.

A screenshot of Tableau's desktop product
A screenshot of Tableau's desktop productPHOTO: Tableau/CMSWire

Tableau Server

Tableau Server enables users to publish the dashboards they created in Tableau Desktop. It makes it easy to securely distribute interactive workbooks to the right stakeholders (integration with Active Directory, Kerberos, OAuth), thereby making sharing and collaboration simple and decision making more participatory. Tableau server allows users to publish and share their data sources as live connections or extracts. It connects to more than 100 data sources including MapR's Converged Data Platform, SAP Hana, Salesforce.com, Marketo and more. Administrators can easily track and manage content, users, licenses, and performance as well as manage permissions for data sources and content and monitor usage visually. It is available for deployment on-premises or in the public cloud (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform.)

A screenshot of Tableau's Server view
A screenshot of Tableau's Server viewPHOTO: Tableau/CMSwire


Tableau Online

Tableau Online is the Tableau analytics platform hosted in the cloud so that there is no hardware or server to maintain. It can be accessed via browser or mobile app. Users can publish dashboards and share "vizzes" with coworkers, business partners or customers and discover hidden opportunities using interactive visualizations and exactly the same data. Tools for site administrators make it easy to manage authentication and permissions for users, content, and data. Tableau Online's infrastructure meets Sarbanes Oxley, Service Organization Control (SOC) 2, and EU-US Privacy Shield standards.

A screenshot of Tableau's Online, cloud-driven view
A screenshot of Tableau's Online, cloud-driven viewPHOTO: Tableau/CMSWire


Ease of Use

According to Henschen, what facilitates the ease of use is Tableau's calling card. "Customers champion it because it is fast and easy for them to explore data and roll out new analyses and dashboards within minutes and hours rather than days and weeks," he says.

The Gartner analysts who authored the aforementioned Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms echoed Henschen's sentiments. They wrote that, "Tableau's reference customers continue to purchase the product for its user experience at a higher rate than for most other vendors in this Magic Quadrant, and score its ease of use among the highest of all these vendors.

Some Challenges Answered in New Release

The challenge for Tableau, according to Henschen, has been handling both high-scale deployments and high-scale data. High-scale deployments tend to require many instances of Tableau Server. "That's where the company has added more extensive global deployment administrative capabilities. These capabilities were also required and have helped the company to manage its own Tableau Online cloud offering," he says.

Tableau 10.5, the platform’s latest release, which was officially made available last week includes a number significant updates. Most notable is Hyper, its new, main memory database. It replaces Tableau's TDE database, and brings with it increased performance, faster loading and scalability.

Visual representation of what makes Hyper database faster.
Visual representation of what makes Hyper database faster.PHOTO: Tableau/CMSWire


At its annual user conference last Fall (see our coverage here,) Tableau demonstrated Hyper before a live audience proving that it could support as many as tens of thousands of users. The vendor showed that data loads that used to run overnight now take seconds. Henschen said he has seen a demonstration in which 400,000 rows of weather data per second were ingested with simultaneous analysis and data refreshes.

Linux is Here

Tableau's new release is also now available on Linux, in addition to Windows Server. This is a significant change because Linux is open source and less expensive to run.

What’s Next?

If Tableau sticks to its schedule, then it will unveil Maestro later this year. According to Francois Ajenstat, Tableau's chief product officer, " (with Maestro) we are doing for data prep what Tableau did for visual analytics 10 years ago."

Like most vendors, Tableau has plans for adding machine learning, artificial intelligence and natural language capabilities to its platform. It will, more than likely, do the latter by leveraging technology from ClearGraph, a small startup it acquired in August 2017. If Tableau is successful in leveraging its advanced NLP capabilities, users should be able to have more of an interactive dialog as compared to asking individual questions and getting results based on keyword searching.

Tableau Pricing

Tableau Desktop Personal Edition: $35/USD/month/user (billed annually)

Tableau Desktop Professional Edition: $70/USD/month/user (billed annually)

Tableau Server On-Premises or Public Cloud* $35/USD/month/user (billed annually)

Tableau Online Fully Hosted* $42/USD/month/user (billed annually)

*Tableau Desktop Professional required to publish workbooks and data sources.