This article will answer your questions about data warehouses for Microsoft Dynamics AX, so you can make a decision about what your best options are for your organization.

Because data is a buzzword in the business world, it follows that data warehouses are going to be relevant by proxy.  But the who, what, when, where, why, and how questions quickly surface for a lot of us because first of all, what are we picturing here?  Is it an actual physical storage space, like an external hard drive?  Who manages it?  When should we be considering an investment in such a device?  Where is it staged?  Why would we need one?  And how do we deploy a data warehouse?  For Dynamics AX customers, these might be questions you have – and there might be other outlying confusions and curiosities that need answered before any action can be taken.  This article will explore the details of data warehousing for Microsoft Dynamics AX customers, including the key features, so you can understand your team’s specific data warehousing needs now or in the future.

Who?  Let’s start with the details of installing and automating the data warehouse.  First of all, when first installed, the data warehouse is empty.  It obviously does not come with your Dynamics AX (or other source) data when it comes “out of the box.”  A consultant who specializes in extract, transfer, and loading (ETL) will deploy the data warehouse and establish the automation of data ETL from data sources like Dynamics AX.  From there, a consultant who focuses on streamlining, accelerating, and optimizing reporting, budgeting, and/or dashboard processes, will help you to query data from the warehouse.  After the initial setup and training, data warehouses are managed by the business end user, not the IT department.
What?  A data warehouse is a multi-dimensional, smart database.  If you are trying to understand what exactly it is, what it looks like, and what it is similar to, look no further.  A data warehouse is a database and a digital space, hosted on a server – which can be its own server or on a shared server.  While external hard drives (or internal hard drives for that matter) allow you to store multiple types of files, programs, and/or software in one place, modern data warehouses allow you to store multiple types of transactional and operational data in one space.  In other words, it could be equated to a multi-dimensional version of Excel in the sense that you can track your transactions and operations in dynamic, consolidated, and smarter ways, with filters and structures in place to avoid error in a simple and business user friendly environment.
When?  There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but think about it like this: if the pain of manual documentation and potential errors to data storage and analysis in a program like Excel becomes noticeable in terms of time and money spent on related processes (or even staff morale), it might be time to move to a data warehouse.  Additionally, if the Dynamics AX server is sluggish because too many users are simultaneously querying potentially larger data queries, you might opt for the high performance you get from the stability of a data warehouse.
Where? A data warehouse is a digital server, so nothing will be sitting on a desktop or a shelf in the server room.  It used to be a project that developers and IT professionals would put together, sometimes taking years, for specific company needs.  Nowadays, data warehouses are on the market as off-the-shelf products, customizable for your business requirements and data storage particulars.  With a modern data warehouse, you can pull it up and access your data through a generic application that manages data sources, like Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio.  One example: Solver, Inc. produces their own program, called BI360 Data Warehouse Manager, which functions as an interface to manage the database that is part of the BI360 suite of BI tools.
Why?  The answer to why is similar to when, but let’s go a slightly different direction.  Usually, data warehouses are discussed in comparison to online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes.  Lots of Business Intelligence (BI) solutions encourage or require OLAP cubes to store data for data analysis.  The difference is that OLAP cubes are not SQL server data storage sources that can be managed by the typical business user.  They are technically complex and require specific OLAP skills such as MDX query language.  Moreover, they focus on analytical data instead of transactional data – analyzing information versus storing transactional information.  Data warehouses also focus on organizing by subject, and you can replicate multiple types of data to a stable, business user manageable space for analysis via BI tools.
How?  Again, this question might evoke a similar answer to the question of who.  However, beyond the consultants who will likely come in to set up the data warehouse and train your team how to manage and optimize your reporting, budgeting, and/or dashboard processes using the data warehouse, you will be able to easily maintain modern data warehouse solutions.  You can schedule data replication to happen once or routinely, and you can also replicate data any time you would like with the simple click of a button.  Today’s commercial data warehouse software solutions are built for management with the business end user in mind, simplified and powerful technology that allows you to store and access your confidential and diverse company data intuitively.  Furthermore, in the Microsoft world, they are SQL server relational databases that are structured around topics, like customer, product, and/or sales and by their very nature, are consolidation hubs.  Finally, they stand on their own, and usually without any transaction processing, concurrency control mechanisms, or recovery necessary.  They are “smart” products with processes like currency conversion, eliminations, data cleansing and data integration techniques to make data management and analysis easier for you.
As data continues to grow in size and decision-making processes increasingly rely on analyzing stored company information, data warehouses will also continue to grow in relevance in the business world.  If you are looking for a consolidated space to store Dynamics AX data as well as multiple types of other data sources without the involvement of the IT department, a data warehouse may be exactly what your team needs.  Solver offers a fully built, configurable Microsoft SQL Server-based data warehouse stand-alone and as part of the comprehensive suite of BI modules and would be happy to answer questions and generally review BI360’s easy-to-use Data Warehouse solution that enables collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities for your Microsoft Dynamics AX experience.