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A Detailed Guide to The Most Powerful MySQL BI & Reporting Tools

by Tuan Nguyen

A Detailed Guide to The Most Powerful MySQL BI & Reporting Tools

MySQL is the second most popular SQL database in the world, so undoubtedly BI vendors are competing to get its users' attention.

Deciding which BI tool, then, is a daunting task for any data analyst. So in this post, we'll try to give you some pointers to the most suitable MySQL reporting tool for your company.

If you're from a startup and are looking for a free or affordable BI tool, we've covered the topic in this post.

If you're from a small-medium company that wants to advance its analytics game, this post is for you.


Top 05 Powerful MySQL BI & Reporting tools

Holistics

Holistics is a self-service BI tool that let data analysts and engineers to model and set up centralized metrics definitions in MySQL and many other SQL data warehouses. Then, non-technical users can explore data and create their own charts, without going to the technical team for basic help.

Holistics is best-known for its self-service and modeling capability, which helps analysts and engineers to create a single source of truth where you can apply business logic to your own data and make sure it is accurate, maintainable, and re-usable.

You can learn how to connect Holistics to MySQL in their detailed guide here.

Pricing

Holistics’ starting price of $100/month is impressively affordable when compared to all the other BI tools on the market, especially when its features are equally powerful and plentiful. Even if your company scales up with more analysts joining the data team or business users, you will not need to worry about cost per additional head count.

Pros

  • Allow you to query the MySQL database using customizable SQL queries and get fast results with its cache layer
  • Materialized views of query results are stored back to your own SQL database, for immediate access and fast visualizations and reports.
  • Automated scheduling of reports and dashboard with the latest data in MySQL, sent directly to your email inbox.
  • Advanced SQL Editor: Version History, Autocomplete, SQL Snippet, Highlighting, Auto-formatting, Query History, Custom Advanced Logic...
  • Drag-and-drop interface for business users to explore data and generate reports to answer ad-hoc questions.
  • Competitive pay-as-you-go pricing model, which only scales as your company scales.
  • Have a custom-built DSL layer (called AML) to perform mapping between database tables and business logic, thus it's more flexible and customizable.
  • Git Version Control to track every change, perform branching, code reviews to ensure accurate analytics workflow

Cons

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Power BI

Power BI is quite well-known in the BI industry, especially for enterprises that adopt the Microsoft ecosystem. It supports an impressive number of data sources, giving companies the power to centralize their data in one place.

PowerBI has a user-friendly interface with amazing data visualizations capabilities, ranging from simple dashboards that analyze eCommerce metrics to highly complicated ones like the NFL Football analysis one below.

Connecting PowerBI to MySQL is fairly simple. You can follow the instructions here.

However, please note that MySQL can only be used with PowerBI Desktop. MySQL data cannot be accessed directly from the cloud either, and the data connection, which is dependent on many factors, can often be unreliable.

Pricing

PowerBI pricing is also attractive for small-scale companies with small data teams. If you're an individual and only need PowerBI on your local computer to do analysis, then you can download the desktop version for free. However, if you want to use more Power BI services and publish your reports on the cloud, you can take the Power BI Cloud service solution for $9.99 per user per month.

Please note that if your company is concerned about security and on-premise deployment, the price goes up considerably at $4,995 per month, with an annual subscription.

Pros

  • Support hundreds of data sources (which makes PowerBI the go-to BI tool for a majority of companies!)
  • Powerful data visualization capabilities. Besides the basic visualization types, PowerBI allows advanced users to choose from a marketplace of custom visuals or create their own using well-known Javascript libraries
  • Frequent updates and innovations. Follow PowerBI's blog and you will see the team is really active in pushing new features and changes.
  • PowerBI has an active community of power users and employees who are willing to deep dive into your use case to help you out.

Cons

  • PowerBI has a steep learning curve. Data analysts must learn DAX (Data Analysis Expression) language to fully leverage PowerBI's power, which is complicated and rigid sometimes.
  • Limited data delivery capability. If you want to view a PowerBI report, you must have PowerBI desktop installed or have PowerBI Report Server already setup. This is difficult for Mac users since PowerBI can only be installed on Windows devices.

Looker

Recently joined as a part of Google Cloud Platform, Looker is a powerful BI tool that provides an innovative approach for real-time data exploration and analytics.

Looker has powerful dashboard capabilities that can cover most data discovery use cases. However, unlike Power BI, it requires a full semantic model for storing all your business logic and metrics without having to add multiple versions of a slightly different metric to your database tables. That means you cannot just take Looker, point it at a database, and get your visualizations in minutes. It requires an upfront definition using their own language LookML, which will take a considerable amount of time to master.

Looker's team has written a comprehensive guide to connect to MySQL as well as other databases here.

Pricing

Looker does not publicly release its pricing information because they will customize for each company. From my conversations with a few Looker users, the price could range from $3000 - $5000 per month for 10 users with an annual subscription. As I mentioned above, Looker is designed for companies with mature and dedicated data teams that are willing to adopt a completely new modeling language and spend time setting up Looker to fit their whole data stack.

Pros

  • Looker runs entirely in-browser, so there’s no need for desktop install and it's better for collaboration and data delivery between internal and external users
  • Looker operates entirely on the data in your database. That means that you’re operating directly on your full dataset and getting all the horsepower of your database, whether that be an MPP like Vertica, Redshift, Bigquery; a SQL-on-Hadoop setup like Impala or Spark; or a standard RDBMS like MySQL or Postgres
  • Automated reporting - Looker allows you to schedule emails for  daily/weekly/monthly reports or send alerts if there are anomalies in  data.
  • Looker has GitHub integration, so you can see every change made to the modeling layer and combine the work of multiple developers seamlessly

Cons

  • Looker has a steep learning curve when it comes to adopting a new language (LookML) & the model-view approach for the end-users. You definitely need to have an internal team that is dedicated to just setting it up and getting the rest of the people on board.
  • Being locked in the platform. LookML takes over most of the work of preparing tables for visualization. Moving from Looker to another visualization tool will require additional work to migrate everything that has been defined by LookML.
  • Although Looker provides a large library of custom charts, it can be very difficult to customize the visualizations to your exact need.

For more Looker analysis and evaluation, check out:


Tableau

Tableau is most famous for its unparalleled capabilities of visualizing information. The application’s data visualizing quality is superior to what Tableau software competitors offer. If you want to create complicated dashboards with seamless interactivity, Tableau is definitely the must-have tool.

You can connect Tableau to MySQL, using their connector.

Pricing

Tableau pricing is fairly complicated and is charged both based on your use-case and number of team members. Moreover, Tableau also charges based on the roles of users, with a Creator costing $70/month, an Explorer $35, and a Viewer $12. Since this number is dependent on your business, you really should plan ahead and prepare for an upsurge of additional cost if you decide to purchase Tableau.

Pros

  • Great visualization capabilities: a large library of charts and highly interactive dashboards
  • Tableau's friendly interface allows data analysts of all experience levels to quickly begin producing compelling and useful analysis and visualizations.
  • Tableau handily deals with millions of rows of data, from various data sources, including spreadsheets and SQL databases. This allows users to integrate disparate data sources that may have been difficult to connect otherwise.

Cons

  • Like PowerBI, Tableau cannot handle too big a dataset. It will get very slow. If you import data from multiple sources and the data is huge, it sometimes tends to lag crash.
  • Lack of BI capabilities. Tableau lacks functionality required for a full-fledged business intelligence tool, such as large-scale reporting, the building of data tables and static layouts.
  • Tableau Desktop lacks the basic functionality of cleaning and prepping the data to be imported in Tableau Desktop. This is one of the major features which it lacks, you need additional support from Tableau to get these things added.

Sisense

If you knew about Periscope Data, you will know about Sisense. It's an attractive product with substantial data visualization capabilities and a friendly UI that bought Periscope back then at the end of 2019.

The portability, ability to build data cubes in the tool, and the low learning curve are Sisense's greatest advantages that make any other BI tool look behind their back.

Pricing

Sisense has a custom price for each client, so there's no publicly available fixed number. Based on online forums, looks like its $10,000 a year for a self-hosted solution, and a starting price of $21,000 in the cloud (for 5 users), and can go up to $60,000/year for 12 full users and unlimited viewers.

Pros

  • Sisense’s dashboards are well designed (image above). Sisense provides users with easy-to-understand dashboards that are well designed with good widgets, varied chart types, and informative KPI and metrics views.
  • Web-based JavaScript scripts allow for endless customization. This is a strong advantage that not many other BI tools have.
  • Customer support - the commitment to excellent customer service and ensuring organizations get the most out of their investment.
  • Handling large datasets very well. Millions of data can be loaded in fewer seconds which didn't seem possible with other traditional reporting tools.

Cons

  • Mobile system is not optimized yet and not as intuitive as the desktop version
  • Permissions are a pain at times - only the owner of folders and dashboards can publish any changes.
  • Be aware that Sisense is a heavy application. It consumes a considerable amount of server power, space and resources, and also the amount of time needed for setup and configuration and user adoption.

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Note: Thumbnail photo by Caspar Camille Rubin on Unsplash

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