Microsoft, Hyperion plan joint OLAP specification

By Marc L. Songini, Computerworld |  Software

Microsoft Corp. and data analysis software vendor Hyperion Solutions Corp. yesterday announced

plans for a joint XML-based technical specification aimed at providing a common way for users to

connect their multidimensional databases to analytic applications built to run on the Web.

The two vendors said the new XML for Analysis specification will give corporate users a single

set of interfaces for use in linking Web-based applications to the rival online analytic

processing (OLAP) databases that they sell. That would assure interoperability and let users

install multiple multidimensional databases -- or change from one to another -- without having to

deal with different application programming interfaces (API).

Similar standardized interfaces have been widely adopted for relational databases, and

Microsoft and Hyperion said more than 20 other vendors plan to support XML for Analysis. But

notably absent from the list is Oracle Corp., which also sells an OLAP database. Hyperion

officials said they asked Oracle to participate, but it ignored their requests.

Among the other software vendors that did pledge to support the specification were SAP AG,

Cognos Inc., Brio Technology Inc., Lawson Software and MicroStrategy Inc. The XML for Analysis

plans were announced at Hyperion's annual user conference here. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Hyperion

makes an OLAP database called Essbase.

A software development tool kit that supports the specification is due to be available in May,

but Microsoft already released a beta-test version last month (see story). The specification is

tied to Microsoft's Internet-based .Net technology initiative, which is supposed to to offer a

way for users to access Web services regardless of the underlying systems they have. For example,

the XML for Analysis interfaces will exploit Microsoft's Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) for

tying Web browsers to online applications.

Nigel Pendse, an analyst who co-authors an online newsletter called "The OLAP Report," gave

the move by Microsoft and Hyperion mixed marks. "It does look like XML for Analysis will soon

become the most widely accepted multivendor OLAP query API, but it will not replace native APIs

because it cannot be as efficient," he said.

XML has a big processing overhead that could slow down query performance and increase the

amount of traffic on a network compared with native APIs, Pendse added. As a result, he

predicted, even Microsoft and Hyperion "will continue to maintain their native APIs, which will

remain the preferred choice when performance is an issue."

However, users at the Hyperion conference said a common set of interfaces could make it

simpler and cheaper to provide OLAP services to business managers and other end users.

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