Now Olap meets the Web
- By Elizabeth U. Harding
The Web, people are quickly figuring out, is an ideal vehicle for deploying query
and analysis tools. Companies that previously found it hard to justify installing and maintaining Olap (online
analytical processing) desktop tools for more than 50 users can now deploy these capabilities across the Web to
hundreds of users worldwide with little or no administration costs.
"There is a wide-spread momentum to do business intelligence on the Web," said Wayne Eckerson, director,
Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing Service, Patricia Seybold Group, Boston, Mass. "By the year 2000,
most business activities will be done over the Web, especially viewing and refreshing reports." Eckerson's
estimates are bullish: "More than half of all DSS [decision support systems] will be executed via Web browsers
Early Web-enabled Olap tools were fairly primitive and "quickly hacked up products that generated Html,"
according to Aaron Zornes executive vice president and service director of Application Delivery Strategies, Meta
Group West Coast Office, San Francisco, Calif. In the last year or so, they have gotten a lot more sophisticated.
"Now Web-enabled query reporting, not multidimensional analysis is showing up on top of the tools list,"
said Zornes. "Web-enabled DSS, more than any other tools, is on top of the list. Companies are expecting to
get into the 500+-user range pretty quickly. If they try to do that with fat PC tools, it's a nightmare to support
With all this user interest, vendors are moving quickly to adapt their products to the Web, and the challenge
today, according to Zornes, is not to find a Web-enabled Olap tool but to choose the right one for one's business
"There are a lot of trade offs on functionality and performance between the client/server world and the
Web," said Eckerson. "Companies need to figure out what their information requirements are in order to
pick the appropriate tool."
Ready for acronyms?
Reviewing assorted Olap categories (and acronyms) that predate the Web onslaught is useful. Each minor Olap
variant will have to take a slightly different route to Web enablement. Categories include Dolap (desktop Olap),
Molap, Rolap and Holap tools. Molap (multi-dimensional Olap) is a multi-dimensional method of getting complex questions
answered from a database. Rolap is the relational method, which is advantageous according to Rolap vendors, because
Rolap tools let users ask questions straight against the data warehouse. Rolap tools allow access to an enormous
database, whereas Molap tool users have to go through a multi-dimensional database, or a cube, which they loaded
from the data warehouse. Vendors marketing Holap (hybrid Olap) tools say that their tools can access a multi-dimensional
as well relational databases.
Matt Calkins, product manager for DSSWeb, MicroStrategy, Vienna, Virginia, called Holap just another acronym.
"Holap does not equal Molap + Rolap," said Calkins. "It has taken our best coders a huge amount
of time to write a Rolap engine capable of creating some incredibly complicated SQL." Meta Group analyst Don
McTavish, said Holap is the future. "Pure multidimensional Olap is history, but the vendors are not,"
asserted McTavish. "Rolap remains viable but it must include multi-dimensional stores."
According to McTavish, products in the Holap space are IBM IDS/Arbor, Oracle/Express and Seagate Holos. Announcing
Holos last June, Seagate Software, Vancouver, Canada, said that its Compound Olap Architecture (COA) allows the
free combination of any number of individual Seagate Holos Olap data stores (Rolap and Molap) which are similar
to joins in the relational database world.
Meanwhile, "Dolap is alive and evolving to the server," said Meta Group's McTavish, who outlined his
views at the recent DCI Datawarehouse Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
Among traditional Dolap vendors that have long emphasized the user-interface, moves are underway to beef up
server offerings. Among Dolap tools are PowerPlay from Cognos, Business Objects from Business Objects, Brio Enterprise
from Brio Technology, and the IQ/family of DSS products from IQ Software. Upstarts in this market are Zanza, Infospace
"Server-based deployment is more important right now than sophistication for the desktop," said Brigitte
Hayes, business development manager, Cognos, Ottawa, Canada. "A key IT agenda is to broaden data access. In
terms of our resources we put on various projects, we have more on server-based ones than on data mining."
PowerPlay, a market leader in the fat-client category of the client/server world, "got a 30% haircut"
as Meta Group's Zornes put it, in its Web incarnation. Cognos announced the Cognos PowerPlay Server Web Edition
"To make PowerPlay thin, we had to rewrite it," said Hayes. "To become a good Web solution and
get throughput, we had to create a multi-threaded engine (server). That was very important to give you the performance
you need to offer it widely."
The Web-enabled PowerPlay tool provides a low cost way for distributing reports, acccording to Norman Leibson,
CIO, Remedy Intelligent Staffing, San Juan Capistrano, Calif. "Before, we had to deliver all management reports
via paper to 300 offices," said Leibson. "The Web-enabled PowerPlay tool allows offices to get reports
electronically and, more importantly, allows them to view the information according to their needs. By delivering
it as a Cognos cube, they can analyze it and look at it in multiple ways straight from their computer."
If he were to distribute information in Olap form to all the desktops, Leibson said, he would have to purchase
full client licenses for the Olap software. "Most people don't need all this functionality," said Leibson.
"For those regional offices that have needs beyond 'view only,' we will purchase the full Olap."
To broaden its Web offering, Cognos recently acquired Interweave Software, Santa Clara, Calif. "Interweave
gives us a fabulous standalone Web query tool that allows people to access either their production database or
their data warehouse from a Web browser," said Hayes. "It's essentially a 'no training' application."
Related to its Web-offerings, Cognos said it will deliver by end of this year DataMerchant, a new e-commerce
tool for enabling users to securely package, distribute and merchandise the contents of a relational database over
the Internet, extranet or intranet.
"DataMerchant is a server-based application," said Terence Atkinson, Cognos DataMerchant product director.
"The user accesses information via a Web browser or via ODBC-compliant applications over the Internet."
Patricia Seybold's Eckerson said, he is excited about DataMerchant's capability to sell information via the
Web. "The product looks ideal for any company that wants to provide customers or suppliers access to their
data warehouses via the Web but are concerned about security issues," said Eckerson.
More move to Web side
Business Objects, San Jose, Calif. announced its Web solution, called WebIntelligence, last June. Business Objects
calls WebIntelligence a Web DSS solution that offers non-technical users ad hoc query and reporting on top of a
semantic layer that shields them from the complexity of relational databases. Since WebIntelligence uses Java and
dynamic Html technology for communication with the user's desktop, it requires none or little administration on
Brio Technology Inc., Palo Alto, Calif., a product called Brio.web.warehouse, gives
users the ability to view batched reports through their familiar Web browser, said Rita Graham, manager of Information
Systems, Delicato Vineyards, Manteca, Calif. As in most of the world, IT at Delicato, a leading manufacturer of
wine with over $100 million in annual revenues, has to deal with a lot of legacy Cobol programs.
"Before Brio, we had to write Cobol programs to do reports," said Graham. "These were static
reports, and it took programmers several hours to write even simple programs. The Brio data warehouse product allows
us to publish not only reports but the data set for access right from within the Web browser. Now we can give our
end users total flexibility with the data, and we can focus our programming resources on other things."
The Web solution from IQ Software Corporation, Norcross, Georgia, is called IQ/LiveWeb. Recently IQ Software
purchased the DataDirect Explorer, an end user query tool, and DataDirect SmartData, a metadata tool for presenting
a business-oriented view of databases to endusers, from Intersolv Inc. For its part, Seagate went into beta last
August with a new version of its Seagate Crystal Info product. Code-named BlackWidow, this new release, the company
says, integrates scalable Olap functionality of Seagate Holos into Seagate Crystal Info's enterprise reporting
infrastructure. Slated for general availability soon, BlackWidow provides customers with flexible pricing and a
function-based modular format.
Arbor Software Corp., Sunnyvale, Calif., which markets the highly successful Arbor Essbase Olap Server, released
its Web solution last September. Called Arbor Essbase Web Gateway, this product is a multi-threaded server application
that gives read and write access to the Arbor Essbase Olap Server using standard Web browsers. According to Meta
Group's McTavish, Arbor has evolved via a viable OEM strategy. Arbor recently announced support for Brio, Business
Objects and InterNetivity.
"We work with many vendors," said Dan Druker, Arbor director of Web-enabled product marketing. "There
is not only one right user interface for every user, not only one tool that's good for every job. We embrace all
types of users with all kinds of requirements."
Arbor's Web strategy spans the gamut -- embracing static Web publishing, interactive Html, interactive Html
plus Java, interactive 100% pure Java, interactive ActiveX, and Vrml.
"The openness of Arbor was key to us when we looked for implementing an Olap tool, said Tim McCutcheon,
director, Information Management, Bell Canada, Toronto, Canada. "When we bought Arbor, we were using Cognos'
PowerPlay and we were able to connect it to Essbase. If someone wants to use PowerPlay or Excel or the Arbor Web
Gateway, they can. I don't care what tool they use, all I care about is that the data is presented correctly."
For its part, Oracle Corp., Redwood Shores, Calif., said it Web-enabled the Oracle Express Server thereby Web-enabling
its pre-built Olap applications Financial Analyzer and Sales Analyzer. "The Web is a natural extension of
Olap technology," said Dave Menninger, Oracle senior dirctor of product marketing, Olap Division. "Though
customers are still in pilot phase, they are going to the Web in droves."
The Web product from Rolap vendor MicroStrategy, Inc., Vienna, Virginia, is called DSSWeb. According to Matt
Calkins, DSSWeb 5.0, to be released by end of this year, "will bring functionality up to the same level as
our client/server tool which allows you to choose your interface of preference."
Thin-Client Web Olap Start-ups
The Web is accelerating change in an already rapidly changing area. Naturally, start-ups come to the Web-enabled
business intelligence market with a clean slate.
Startup Infospace has developed a client/server Web solution called SpaceOlap in Java in order to be both Molap
and Rolap, said Stan Wang, president and CEO, Infospace, Inc., San Mateo, Calif. Everything runs in a Java applet
in a browser. "As they move to the Web, customers want a complete solution," said Wang. "Web users
are not only looking to have someone doing multi-dimensional analysis. They are looking at both, multidimensional
Wei Jin, Advanced Computing Technologies, Boeing Corp., Seattle, Washington, said he is testing the product
to publish data related to production schedules. "We had the choice of setting up a database server and installing
clients on the different locations," said Jin. "But, we would have had to physically go on location to
install updates." Jin said he has used SpaceOlap for a few months but is still in the evaluation stage.
Another startup, Zanza Software, Menlo Park, Calif. shipped Zanza Web Reports last August. Zanza is taking a
simplified approach to reporting following a notion that most users have only simple business intelligence requirements.
A 100% Java product providing dynamic Html-based reporting over the Web, Zanza runs on Unix and Windows NT servers.
It accesses Oracle, Sybase, Informix and Microsoft SQL Server using ODBC or JDBC.
"Zanza is a very, very thin client," said Supreet Manchanda, CIO, Logistix, an outsourcing business
headquartered in Fremont, Calif. "We have been using it for a few months and are very pleased with it."
According to Manchanda, Logistix has about 1000 users -- internal staff and some external clients -- who use
it intermittently. "Zanza is so flexible that our users didn't even need training," said Manchanda. "We
used Business Objects before, which has more functionality but required a tremendous amount of training."
The startup InterNetivity Inc., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, shipped its first version
of dbProbe in February 1997 and its 2.0 release by end of August 1997. Fred Dixon, InterNetivity president, said
dbProbe does not fit into the categories of Web-based Olap tools that, for example, may employ an Html-based thin-client
connected to a server that does the bulk of the work or that may employ a Java-based client communicating with
a Java-based server.
"We have a back-end application that will take data from any database -- multidimensional or relational,
anything that connects to ODBC -- and you can take that set of records and turn it into a cube embedded inside
a Web page," said Dixon. "dbProbe is Java-based, and the analysis happens on the client. There is no
load on the server."
According to Eckerson, this approach offers superb performance for manipulating local data but only after you
get the data and Java applet down to the desktop. Dixon refutes that slow load time is a tradeoff for extremely
fast performance against local data.
"You can set your cube up in a channel -- Microsoft, Netscape, Marimba -- and let users subscribe to them,"
said Dixon. "It downloads automatically for the user and tells them when it's available."
Marina Arseniev, systems architect, University of California, Irvine, Calif., is using dbProbe for expense data
analysis. "We have dbProbe accessing the data warehouse for expense data," said Arseniev. "Users
log in through the Web, and dbProbe Java applets let them drill down to the data and display it in different formats."
As Java grows, some observers see the promise of thin Web clients giving way to the dreaded fat-client syndrome.
This may not be all bad. Although people generally want their Web-enabled tools to have small footprints, they
also want fat clients when they need power, said Meta Group's Zornes. "The [vendors] with thin clients are
finding out that users want fat clients at one point, and those with fat clients find that users want thin ones,"
said Zornes. "To take a fat PC product and turn it into a server-type product and then get it to download
like Java applets is a lot of work." Zornes said, he hopes to see tools executing in Java and not in ActiveX.
"Java has a better model in terms of insulating the browser," said Zornes.
"The ActiveX architecture scares the hell out of IT. [Managers] worry about the next-generation of ActiveX
viruses," said Zornes.
At the recent DCI Data Warehouse Conference, Steve Ballmer, executive vice president, Microsoft, hinted at Microsoft's
strategy entering the Olap market. Speculation on the street is that Microsoft will enter the low-end Olap market,
offering low functionality at low cost. Microsoft, at the time of this writing, would not comment. According to
Meta Group's McTavish, Microsoft's project, code-named Plato, involves the integration of MS SQL Server with MSOlap
Server. Excel & MS Access will be Olap clients.
A Word of Caution: "Web-based analysis is emerging but still immature," said Frank Gillett, senior
analyst, The Hurwitz Group, Newton, Mass. "Wider distribution and access to large-scale analysis capabilities
presents new problems and requires different solutions." The drawbacks of enabling access over the Web are
mainly security and the fact that most Web-enabled Olap products are relatively immature. "If you want sophisticated
analysis, you want a dedicated application, not a browser," said Gillett. "Web access today is good for
display of existing reports in a limited fashion. It may not be worthwhile ... to go through the hassle of upgrading."
Don't jump in for the hype, advises Gillett, define the business problems and then turn to technology requirements.