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Cox Communications Increases Productivity Using Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services

  • June 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

CATEGORY: Business Intelligence

REVIEWER: Tim Winebarger, manager of OSS development for Cox Communications.

BACKGROUND: Cox Communications is the fourth-largest network service provider in the U.S., with close to 21,000 employees, 6.3 million customers and $8 billion in annual revenues. Our company offers a range of telecommunications services that include digital video programming, local and long distance telephone services, high-speed Internet access, and commercial voice and data services. At the heart of this success is our network operations center (NOC) that continually monitors our nationwide broadband network and works with local resources to keep operations running smoothly.

PLATFORMS: The solution uses Microsoft Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition. Reporting Services reports are designed with Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2003 and are augmented with TARGIT Analysis 2003. The solution is built on the Unisys ES7000 platform with 64GB RAM and 24 Intel Itanuim2 64-bit processors to support the data storage and calculation needs for the reports.

PROBLEM SOLVED: We needed a way to capture real-time event data generated from devices throughout our network, correlate that data with other information stored in several heterogeneous databases and deliver the combined results to end users without requiring extensive software development for each new report needed. Without the ability to perform historical trending across all those systems, NOC personnel previously had little information on which to base timely and broad business decisions. Without analysis and information, managers operated in a reactive manner and had limited visibility into the causes of problems, draining precious resources to manage these problems, thus preventing the management team from undertaking additional proactive projects, impacting our company both strategically and tactically.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services provides a consolidated environment and toolset across all phases of the report life cycle: authoring, management and delivery. Our reporting system currently supports 80 concurrent users, 300 total users and 30 reports. Using an intuitive visual designer to create reports enables our group's business analysts to take over report writing from developers - Reporting Services is expected to free an estimated 800 developer hours per year. The increased flexibility enables our analysts to combine several ASP reports into one Reporting Services report, giving end users freedom to tailor report results in real time with user-friendly mechanisms. With Reporting Services, report management and delivery tasks do not require developer assistance. Because it integrates seamlessly with our domain infrastructure, the administrative console can be used to set properties for each report, eliminating extra work to identify and authenticate users. Because data sources for multiple reports can be changed by editing a single shared data source object, manageability is greatly improved as the reports pass from a development environment to staging and production environments. A robust interface into data eases delivery and exporting of reports into other systems. Reporting Services provides an extensible, comprehensive and scalable solution for our reporting needs. It has proven to be easy to use, tightly integrated, cost-effective and highly productive. It has improved the company's troubleshooting capabilities, report processing and system architecture. Reporting Services is allowing timely access to information needed by personnel at all levels to make better, faster business decisions.

STRENGTHS: Reporting Services is a solid tool to help us offer business intelligence to users across our organization. We especially enjoy the ease of report development, out-of-the-box flexibility in the reporting architecture, multiple format rendering, VSS support, data caching and snapshot history.

WEAKNESSES: During the product development life cycle, some report properties do not transfer well from server to server and need to be manually scripted, which is slightly inconvenient. It's also challenging to manage snapshots for multiparameter reports.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We chose Reporting Services based on the cost-effectiveness of the solution and the fact that it integrates seamlessly with our extensive Windows-based environment.

DELIVERABLES: Our company uses Reporting Services to produce customizable reports to a wide variety of outputs, including CSV, Excel, HTML, PDF, TIFF and XML.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Microsoft has always readily assisted us both in reacting to problems and making strategic decisions.

DOCUMENTATION: Technical documentation is extremely helpful and thorough, making it very easy to deploy and fully utilize the product.

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