Microsoft, Hyperion plan joint OLAP specification

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. For example, Ronald Harrigal, assistant director for strategic systems and IT support at the U.S. Mint's circulating coinage department in Washington, said the joint specification could help speed up a project to let remote users access financial data via the Web.

Harrigal's department, which makes coins for the federal government, already uses Hyperion's activity-based costing software to analyze labor costs and other variable expenses during its budgeting process. But Harrigal said he wants to make a personalized version of the application available to end users through the Mint's intranet so they can more easily run different budget scenarios.

This story, "Microsoft, Hyperion plan joint OLAP specification" was originally published by Computerworld.

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