This is probably the most generic title I can come up with but at my current company  we are looking into new ways of visualising and sharing our data within the company.

This sounds like it should be very easy to find but after the guys from WagonHQ got bought by Box there seems to be quite a gap in the SQL dashboarding landscape.

We used Wagon for quickly pumping out some shared chart we can embed into a page, which we can then send across the office. Nothing complicated. We use Redshift as a data warehouse.

Keep in mind that when I’m saying the tools below are “bad” or “not working” it’s because they aren’t doing the thing I want them to do. Doesn’t mean its a crap platform or wouldn’t work for you.

Where do we use the SQL tool for?

To set-up dashboards that need to be looked at on a daily/weekly base a tool look Looker, Periscope or DOMO is ideal. It has great visualisation capabilities and amazing support. But is A) very expensive and B) not quick enough or pumping out small, one-off reports.

The best way of describing what we need is an example: last week a Facebook campaign went live, the goal wasn’t one of our standard conversion points but something a bit more unorthodox, plus we wanted to see what effect it has across the site as the audience we targeted was very broad.

This means writing a base SQL to get the audience and keep attaching the points we want to measure until we find something interesting. Doing this in something like the tools above (DOMO, Periscope or Looker) takes long as you constantly need to import your SQL and then can work with any of the visualisation reports.

A SQL tool that allows us to quickly visualize data is vital in our business.

What does the tool need to do?

First lets talk about what the tool needs to do from my perspective:

  1. Proper SQL editor with auto complete. We have a Redshift data warehouse with heaps of tables, shouldn’t have to remember every single column in every table when we got to do a query.
  2. Connect to different database types, one of them needs to be Redshift/Postgres
  3. Visualisation and charts, bar chart we can stack, line chart, etc. Dashboard features would be great but not necessary.
  4. Collaborative features. Share and embed charts, share SQL queries within the team.
  5. Costs that scale well with increasing amount of users. As a startup our team grew with 300% over the last 9 months.. Costs shouldn’t grow at the same rate.
  6. Look and feel, for something that you are working with most of the day it needs to be easy on the eye.

Then we got the “nice to have” items which are in no particular order:

  • Web based.
  • Multi logins (i.e. login with own account which is also a database account).
  • Python Environment which can easily use SQL.
  • Self hosted/open source (should keep the costs down and makes it possible to make changes yourself if necessary).

The tools we tested as an alternative for Wagon

  • Mode Analytics
  • Re:dash
  • Apache Zeppelin (to be written)
  • Metabase (to be written)
  • SQLPad (to be written)