Published in Solutions Integrator by Joe Devlin Click here for list of articles
  Oct 15, 1998 Why is Microsoft is making OLAP a standard part of SQL/Server?
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The arrival of SQL-Server 7.0 provides an awesome opportunity to bring decision support to a vast new market that previously couldn't afford OLAP solutions.

Richard Creeth, Creeth, Richman & Assoc.



The Devil's Pitchfork

If you're an Oracle or IBM OLAP partner, take
heed of Microsoft's three-pronged OLAP strategy.

PRONG 1: Bundle SQL Server 70 with an OLAP server. -A free version of OLAP from Microsoft Corp. may not be quite as robust as, say, Oracle-Corp.'s Express OLAP server or Hyperion Solutions Corp.'s Essbase (IBM Corp. markets a version of Essbase for DB2). According to The OLAP Report (, starting prices for a 10- Express or Essbase server license and required utilities range from $25,000 to $100,000. By itself, Microsoft's giveaway strategy will likely wrest market share away from oracle and IBM.

PRONG 2: Promulgate a standard OLAP API. In an OLAP solution, a back-end database (where the data was originally stored) interfaces to an OLAP server (in which that data is optimized)and to front-end clients (which send in queries and display results).

Until recently every major vendor used a proprietary API to integrate those pieces. Missing was a multidimensional equivalent to Microsoft's ODBC, which made mix-'n'-match practical in the relational world. In September 1997 Microsoft published its OLAP API-OLE DB for OLAP.

Designed to be generic enough to hook together any relational or OLAP server or client, OLE DB for OLAP allows for representing, expressing, transporting, and efficiently navigating multidimensional data.

This API has caught on much faster than ODBC, probably because Microsoft was more open to industry input this time around. All of the major OLAP vendors client and server-are on the bandwagon. It's not surprising that the exception is Oracle. (Arbor Software Corp.'s recent merger with Hyperion Software Corp. leaves the new company, Hyperion Solutions, straddling the fence: Arbor's Essbase server doesn't support OLE DB for OLAP; the Hyperion Wired client does.)

PRONG 3: Become the dominant client-side OLAP tool vendor Microsoft didn't build Plato just to give it away. The company is using OLAP as a wedge into an enterprise-database market ruled by Oracle.

As the king of front-end client applications, Microsoft is striving to give solutions providers seamless integration between front- apps and BackOffice and SQL Server. The company is working hard to add OLAP capabilities to Office 2000, slated to ship a few months after SQL Server 7.0.

That means mass-market apps like Excel and Access will be OLAP-enabled. Analysts agree that Microsoft Excel is sure to become the de facto front-end to Microsoft's OLAP server. In turn, software integrators that aren't ordinarily involved in OLAP solutions may find themselves compelled to learn a few tricks of the trade.

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