Visallo - The i2 Analyst's Notebook Alternative

IBM’s Analyst’s Notebook software is a popular visual data analysis tool that has been around for a while. It was originally developed by Cambridge, England’s i2 corporation and was acquired by IBM in 2011.

We’re regularly asked by organizations of all kinds if Visallo is an alternative to IBM’s Analyst’s Notebook. Put simply, yes, we certainly are, but inquirers are normally looking for specifics. This post will highlight some of the major differences between i2 Analyst’s Notebook and Visallo.

Differences that Matter

Feature-wise, Visallo and i2 Analyst’s Notebook are very similar. The main features like link and geospatial analysis are much the same, with each product having a few point features the other doesn’t. However, feature-by-feature comparisons are often fruitless as products change quickly and feature lists are rapidly outdated. The important differences are where products differ architecturally and philosophically. Those aspects have the biggest impact on your success using the software and aren’t easily changed. This is where Visallo has some significant advantages over Analyst’s Notebook.

Architected for Big Data

It’s hard to argue that we’re not awash in more data than ever and it’s only going to continue growing. Buried in that data are hidden connections and insights that are critical to cracking the case, uncovering the crime, or finding the criminal.

Built on the Hadoop platform and other big data software like Accumulo and ElasticSearch, Visallo is designed to scale to massive datasets. Analyst’s Notebook is not. As desktop software, Analyst’s Notebook can only handle the amount of data you can fit on your desktop or laptop. Even with a large hard drive, you’d still have to wait for data to download over the network before doing any analysis. With Visallo, your data is centralized and most analysis is done on the server, saving you time and network bandwidth.

Retains Institutional Knowledge

With a centralized datastore, all the data collected and analysis performed for one case is available for the next within Visallo. Users can freely share data and insights across cases at any time. Insights gained in one investigation can be used to solve the next. Over time you’ll build a rich knowledge base of data and analysis to draw upon in future work.

Such a concept doesn’t exist in Analyst’s Notebook. Every investigation in i2 Analyst’s Notebook is separate and disconnected from any other. You are essentially starting over every time you begin a new investigation.

Built for Today’s Distributed Teams

Today’s teams are diverse, distributed, and rapidly changing. Your team may be spread across different countries, contain members from multiple domains, and incorporate external consultants or part-time help for short periods or specialized projects. Visallo’s user interface is accessed entirely through a web browser. With nothing to install, adding and removing people is simple.

Collaborating on a case with your team couldn’t be easier with Visallo either. Taking inspiration from Google Docs, Visallo immediately pushes changes to all collaborators of a shared case, so team members can work together in real-time and no one ever sees out-of-date information.

As a single-user tool, i2 Analyst’s Notebook has no real collaboration features at all. It’s possible to save an investigation to a share drive or send it to a teammate via email, but then you’re working on different versions of the file. Additionally, the person you send it to will need to have Analyst’s Notebook installed on their computer to view it. It’s just not built for collaboration.

Facilitates Data Discovery

Finding the right data for an investigation is often just as challenging as doing the analysis. Fortunately, Visallo provides a range of searching options, including full text and filtered searching, searching related to (i.e. around) a given entity, searching for entities common to a set, searching for entities textually similar to a given entity or set of entities, and saving these types of searches for later execution. Basically, Visallo offers a lot of help in finding exactly what you’re trying to find. Of course, all of this is made possible because Visallo maintains a persistent knowledge base of all your data.

By comparison, i2 Analyst’s Notebook doesn’t provide searching of any kind. It assumes you’re going to find and import data some other way, putting additional burden on the analyst.

Secure by Default

Visallo has the finest-grain access control of any competing product. You can enforce access controls at the individual entity, relationship, and/or property level. Security could hardly be any finer grained. By contrast, i2 Analyst’s Notebook doesn’t have any access control.

Wrapping Up

Clearly Visallo and Analyst’s Notebook are different products, architected differently, and tailored to different uses. When combined with a collection of other IBM products like Enterprise Insight Analysis and iBase, Analyst’s Notebook starts to look more like Visallo. However, by that point you would be spending several times what Visallo costs.