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How to analyze data with Metabase? A comparison to 5 most popular analytical services

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What is Metabase? How to connect it to your database and use it for your analytics? What are the most popular Metabase alternatives and how do they compare? Read this article to find out everything about Metabase.

What is Metabase and how does it work

What makes Metabase such a popular tool

How to set up Metabase

How to ask Metabase questions

How to visualize data

Metabase API

How does Metabase compare with similar top industry solutions

The best way to try out Metabase

What is Metabase and how does it work?

Without the right tools, a database can be as impenetrable as a medieval dungeon crawling with carnivorous spiders.

But fear not, brave adventurer — Metabase is here to help you find and unlock all of the riches in your database.

With its intuitive UI, Metabase is your master key to accessing, presenting, and analyzing everything that lives inside your databases. Metabase is the open-source application that unlocks the full potential of your databases, allowing you to access, search, and share data in the easiest way possible. what is Metabase

It is like having an intelligent, proactive and efficient digital analyst who’s always on the alert, and who can help you process and retrieve any of your data quickly and painlessly.

The simple and intuitive UI makes it possible to query even the tiniest piece of data in your database. More importantly, it presents the information in a clear and understandable way, so that you and your team can get the full benefit from the results of your query.

What makes Metabase such a popular tool?

I.T. professionals are known for their logical and analytical thinking. So when they get excited about something like Metabase, you can bet they have solid arguments to back it up.

Here are just a handful of features that have made Metabase the tool of choice for so many I.T. professionals:

  • Advanced query system that is equally effective with generic searches and laser-targeted database interrogations. Accessing data is as simple as asking a question about anything in your database. The Metabase query builder will serve up information you need in a way that is easy to digest for both analysts and non-technical users.

  • One-time-setup automated report generation. Metabase will automatically create reports about data changes in your database.Set it and forget it.

  • Intelligent tracking of important data changes with alerts. Set up alerts to keep owners up to date on changes in key data for which they are responsible.

  • Charts and dashboards that are as useful as they are visually appealing. With a strong focus on UI and UX, Metabase excels at presenting data and changes in a style that is clear and immediately understandable.

  • Craft dedicated embedded analytics. Metabase can also be used very effectively as a full-fledged data collector and manager for your clients.

How to set up Metabase

Before you can start working with Metabase, you need to follow a simple deployment and setup procedure.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Deploying

There are many ways to launch Metabase on your production platform.

The simplest way is to use cloud services like Hostman that automated all the processes. All you need to do is to:

  1. Sign up in Hostman. In just a few moments, it will create an instance of the application on a fast and reliable server.

  2. Configure Metabase after the deployment is over.

Another (more complicated) way to install Metabase is to use the dedicated JAR file:

  1. Download the file from the official Metabase website

  2. Run the following command: java -jar metabase.jar

Alternatively, you can use the Docker image of Metabase If you’re used to working with containers.

There are also other methods for running Metabase. You can find them in the official Metabase documentation.

Setting up

Once you’ve set up Metabase on your server, you’ll be able to access it via localhost:3000

Just open that address in your browser to begin.

Metabase will ask you to create an admin-account. You’ll need to insert the standard personal details — name, last name, email, password, etc.

The next step is to connect your database. To do so, you’ll have to specify:

  • the hostname of the server with the database

  • the port to connect to the database

  • the database name

  • the username and password for accessing the database.

Metabase setup

And, that’s it. Once you’ve connected your database, you can check out the Metabase interface and start exploring all of its exciting functionality.

How to ask Metabase questions

Asking Questions is a key element of the Metabase system. It is like “queries on jet fuel” for your database software.

As an analyst, formulating the right Metabase Questions will be one of your main activities. They are the tool that will help you extract all of the important insights from the data you’re inspecting. While Metabase Questions are extremely powerful, creating them is an incredibly simple and intuitive process.

Let’s say you have a table with order data. It contains columns for subtotal, tax, total, etc., and you want to find all the orders with a tax of more than 5 dollars.

Using the filter system, you can ask Metabase to check the orders table for how many rows there are with a tax exceeding 5 dollars. To do this, you click on the Filter button, choose a column, choose the criteria to filter, and then click “Add filter”. Next, you might want to use the “Summarize” option to add up all of the rows with a tax of more than 5 dollars.

Filters in Metabase allow you to pick out the necessary data and get direct answers to your questions.

To help you get the most out of Metabase, we’ve prepared for you an in-depth Metabase query syntax tutorial.

How to visualize data

Presenting your data in a way that is appealing and easy to digest, is one of the key features of Metabase. All of the numbers, columns, rows, and cells are organized in a logical manner to facilitate understanding and data-driven decision-making.

Both visualization tools in Metabase are optimized for analyzing and monitoring any volume of data.

Creating charts

Metabase Charts depend heavily on the questions you ask. You can use built-in query editors to visualize data as charts.

To create a chart, you need to choose the “Visualize” option. Next, you’ll be able to choose one of the chart views that will present the data it gets from the question you ask. Finally, you will need to formulate the question.

Metabase charts

Let’s say you have an orders table with various categories of goods that your company sells. You can ask Metabase to filter some categories, summarize their performance characteristics and Visualize as a histogram.

Most importantly, you’ll be able to drill deeper into the data presented in your chart. You can click through to find exactly the number you need, and zoom in to get closer to the information around a certain period of time, or vice versa.

Creating dashboards

Business intelligence dashboards help you monitor the outcome of your actions so that you can make informed decisions about the further development of your company or product.

Dashboards are visually similar to charts. However, instead of focusing on a few specific elements, dashboards allow you to present an array of different types of information in different visual forms on one screen. This approach helps to monitor sensitive performance indicators on one screen. Metabase dashboard filters will help out on this task. And all the data in a dashboard will always be up to date.

Metabase dashboard

In Metabase, you can find many ready-made dashboards for efficiently presenting different data collections. These dashboards are made by other Metabase users. And since they’re based on real-world scenarios, you’re likely to find something that closely fits your use case in no time.

Metabase API

There are many platforms out there that are great at what they do, but fail miserably when it comes to integrating with your environment.

That’s why Metabase comes with its own API for integrating its features into other products.

The API allows you to ask for any data that is passed through Metabase via a different application. You can also create custom queries and pass them into Metabase by means of the API.

Moreover, developers can use curl requests to set users, groups, and permissions; even generate reports.

You’ll find a ton of API use cases in the official Metabase documentation.

How does Metabase compare with similar top industry solutions?

Metabase is a great tool but it’s neither the first nor the only one of its kind.

There are many other business intelligence tools that help businesses collect and analyze data. But Metabase isn’t afraid of competition. In fact, in the next section, we’re putting Metabase toe-to-toe with some of the best, most powerful and most popular data analysis platforms.

Punches will fly, but you’ll find that Metabase puts up a strong show of force.

Metabase vs Tableau

These two platforms have a lot in common. Both were created for the purpose of presenting a large amount of data via the most visually comprehensive tools.

Tableau launched in 2003. By 2021 it had earned the trust and admiration of many businesses.

By comparison, Metabase is a relatively recent addition to the scene. While it doesn’t have the huge exposure and reputation that Tableau has built over the years, Metabase has the advantage of having been built on the lessons learned from other platforms (including Tableau).

You could say Metabase stands on the shoulders of giants, but reaches higher because of that.

Metabase vs Superset

Superset is a free alternative to Metabase. It is a quite popular tool made by developers of Airbnb and now belongs to Apache. It is open source too and in many cases functionally similar to Metabase.

People love Superset due to its easy migrating system. If you’re migrating to Superset, the process is painless and straightforward.

Superset users are particularly fond of a feature called “Time Dimensions”, which allows you to monitor data from several time segments without having to update the whole dashboard at the same time.

While it’s a brilliant tool, Superset suffers in the documentation department. This becomes a real problem when dealing with some of the more advanced or obscure functionality.

On the flip side, Metabase boasts clear and detailed documentation. More importantly, we’ve placed huge emphasis on UI/UX, to the extent that most functions can be performed without spending too much time digging through documentation. Metabase’s easy query system and intuitive charts and dashboards have won over many users from Superset, simply because they were tired of all the guesswork.

Metabase vs Redash

One of Redash's main claims to fame is that it supports JSON files as a data source. In other words, it can be connected to NoSQL databases like MongoDB, which many users consider an asset.

Metabase and Redash also have a number of useful features in common, such as the “Query Snippet” function, which helps to create reusable bits of SQL queries to quickly recreate requests to the database.

In Redash it is easy to set up query parameters. Therefore, it is simpler to pass the arguments and data sources into SQL and NoSQL requests.

Unfortunately, Redash falls short when it comes to the visual element of the applications. In a side-by-side comparison, you’ll see that Metabase’s charts and dashboards are much better presented and more informative (hence, more useful) than the ones that Redash provides.

Metabase vs Looker

True to its name, Looker is a very well-presented tool that is loved by thousands of users. Its main focus is data modeling and it is actually good at it.

Metabase is also very good at data modeling. In fact, Looker and Metabase have a lot of strong points in common. Where Metabase outclasses Looker, is in performance. Put the two head-to-head and you’ll find Metabase much faster and more comfortable to use.

Many Looker users love it because of its LookML language — a proprietary syntax that is used to pass queries to databases. It has quite a steep learning curve, but many businesses consider it to be the most powerful and efficient way to work with a large amount of information. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty expensive.

By comparison, Metabase is free as long as you host it yourself, and still brings very powerful features bundled with a well-designed UI/UX.

Metabase vs Power BI

Power BI is Microsoft's business intelligence tool, created for those who primarily work within Microsoft’s ecosystem.

It is a feature-rich and massive product, but its power comes with an equally steep learning curve. As a result, the product is very hard to penetrate, which means that most users will rarely be able to get the full benefit of its powerful features. Just getting Power BI up and running is a mammoth of a task, requiring a considerable investment in time, effort and money to get it to work efficiently.

Just like many other Microsoft products, Power BI has its niche of users for whom it's an excellent fit. But it’s definitely not for everyone.

On the flip side, Metabase was designed with a very low barrier to entry. The intuitive UI makes it easy to deploy and start using within minutes. And of course, it’s not lacking in powerful features either.

The best way to try out Metabase

Metabase is a powerful tool that will dramatically change the way you work with databases. But you shouldn’t take our word for it. That’s why we recommend that you try out Metabase for yourself and come to your own conclusions.

How do you do that?

With Hostman.

As part of its suite of hosting services, Hostman has just launched a Marketplace where administrators and developers can find a variety of tools such as OpenVPN, Docker, Metabase and many more, which can be deployed in one click.

All you have to do is:

  1. Visit the Metabase page in the Hostman Marketplace

  2. Click “Deploy to Hostman”.

Metabase at Hostman

Nothing else is necessary.

You won’t need to download Java and JAR files, or create Docker containers. Everything will be set up for you. All you need to do is

The Hostman Marketplace also carries loads of other exceptional tools that you can easily deploy and use. You can try any of them for free for 7 days. And if you like what you see, you can continue to use it for just 5 dollars per month.

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