Now Olap meets the Web

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 by 1998."

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 them."

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 information needs.

"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 and InterNetivity.

"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 last June.

"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 the client.

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 view

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 and relational."

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.

Whither Microsoft?

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.