You can email Carsten Bange, the author of this section, if you have any comments, observations or user experiences to add. Last updated on November 14, 2008.
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The BI vendors’ product strategies are becoming clearer after the large takeovers in 2007, and one thing is becoming increasingly clear: OLAP technology and applications are heading for a revival. All the “big five” BI vendors are investing heavily in OLAP and have announced numerous initiatives to increase support for fast multidimensional analysis.
We have seen very little development or marketing in the area of OLAP technologies for some years now, probably for several reasons:
Let us look at the new initiatives the large vendors have announced.
Oracle: The future Oracle BI product strategy was laid out clearly at the Oracle OpenWorld Conference in September 2008 and OLAP played a surprisingly large role in it.
Oracle now uses OLAP Option MOLAP (Analytical Workspace) cubes to boost the performance of relational materialized views. This is actually the first time an RDBMS vendor has conceded that MOLAP can be used in this way to boost a relational database’s performance. Any SQL query tool can access the OLAP Option in this way, although the SQL syntax is a subset of the native OLAP capabilities of the product. It's early days but, if it works, the Oracle RDBMS will routinely be responding to SQL queries from MOLAP cubes, without the SQL tool even knowing this is happening.
With the acquisition of Hyperion in 2007, Oracle has added another multidimensional database – Essbase – to its product portfolio. One key element of Oracle’s newly-defined BI architecture is the Oracle (former Siebel) BI Server, which serves as a middle tier between clients and data sources and provides a semantic layer reminiscent of a Business Objects Universe. Hyperion Essbase is supported by the BI Server as a data source to provide Oracle BI tools and applications with access to Essbase. Similarly, Hyperion Essbase can use the BI Server to simplify data access to other data sources.
Essbase is also being integrated with the Central Enterprise Model, the logical integration hub for all Oracle BI applications. Hyperion Planning and its profitability and cost management add-on applications cover two important BI areas in Oracle applications. Both applications are based on Essbase, cementing its role in Oracle’s application portfolio.
Looking ahead, OLAP will continue to grow in importance for Oracle. According to Paul Rodwick, Oracle’s head of BI strategy in his presentation at Oracle Open World in September 2008, “additional OLAP capabilities in Answers+ is THE defining feature for the new Oracle BI EE 11g release”. Answers, the ad hoc analysis tool in Oracle BI EE, currently flattens hierarchies for analysis and ad hoc reporting. In the overhaul for the 11g release, due in Sep 2009, hierarchical analysis and other OLAP features are expected to improve the analytical capabilities of Answers and move it from simple ad hoc analysis in the OLAP category.
SAP Business Objects: After many failed attempts to develop a competitive OLAP client tool, Business Objects showed — with the new Voyager product for OLAP analysis — that it was prepared to invest in yet another attempt. And OLAP has been fueled greatly by SAP’s acquisition. With development underway for Pioneer, the successor for both the SAP Business Explorer Analyzer Excel add-in and Business Objects Voyager, Business Objects is actually targeting a 20 percent market share of the overall OLAP client-tool market (coming from close to zero). OLAP is supposed to be the major BI segment where Business Objects plans to grow significantly, exploiting the large number of SAP BW users that are using the OLAP Excel add-in already. Click here for a subscriber-only investment guide to the future product strategy of SAP/Business Objects.
IBM Cognos: PowerPlay, the OLAP classic which had been neglected for some years, has just been revived with its inclusion in the Cognos 8 BI platform as ‘PowerPlay Studio’. Users of Cognos 7 and previous versions were unimpressed by the limited capabilities in Analysis Studio, and saw the missing OLAP capabilities as a hindrance in upgrading to Cognos 8 BI. After several years of pushing its all-inclusive enterprise approach, Cognos gave in and announced the revival of PowerPlay in the latest release of Cognos 8. In the meantime, data from The BI Survey 8 suggests that, thanks to its loss of focus, Cognos has lost more ground in the OLAP market. The TM1 database, newly acquired from Applix, is one of the most enduring OLAP databases and looks likely to assume a strong place in the Cognos portfolio – perhaps as the future database for Cognos Planning and the core of a new Cognos mid-market offering.
It's also interesting that Applix, as the purest OLAP vendor of the previously independent public BI vendors, had by far the best growth rate, suggesting that OLAP was growing faster than the rest of the BI business. It was certainly growing much faster than the rest of the Cognos business and could increase growth opportunities for Cognos now.
Microsoft has been committed to OLAP ever since it bought Panorama’s multidimensional database and included it with SQL Server 7. Microsoft has also bought two OLAP client tools (Maximal and ProClarity), as well as developing several other apps based on Analysis Services. It has also integrated it with mass market tools, such as Excel, SharePoint and Visio, an option not open to this extent to other BI vendors. The next step will be to bring autonomous OLAP development and use to spreadsheet users with a new in-memory product, code-named Gemini. Gemini seems to be partly inspired by the upstart in-memory analysis tool QlikView and is planned to be available by mid 2010 — see a commentary on Gemini, or a more detailed subscriber-only preview.
SAS is strategically moving out of the ‘end-to-end’ positioning
and focusing on data integration and data quality as well as analytical applications
and BI and analysis tools. It is not pushing general data storage components
for data warehousing very forcefully any more, and prefers to foster partnerships
with database vendors like Teradata. In the meantime, SAS is continuing to develop
its OLAP database, although no new initiative has been announced.
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