Plato Poised to Change OLAP Market

As Microsoft Corp. announced its initial foray into the OLAP marketplace with the forthcoming Plato OLAP tool for SQL Server 7.0, some analysts predict a sudden jump in the penetration of OLAP technology. Given widespread availability and SQL Server 7.0’s commodity packaging, this combination could drive demand for OLAP solutions on an industrywide basis.

The release of SQL Server and the Plato engine is likely to give OLAP increased mindshare among database administrators (DBA) and IT managers, agrees Robert Craig, director of data warehousing and the business intelligence practice at the Hurwitz Group (Framingham, Mass., For many in IT, Craig notes, Plato will represent an initial exposure to the phenomenon of OLAP.

But Plato will have other, more far-reaching effects, says Michael Schiff, a principal analyst for data warehousing strategies with Current Analysis (, an IT consultancy based in Sterling, Va. Schiff recently prepared a report that studied the possible aftereffects that Microsoft’s OLAP engine could have on the OLAP marketplace in general.

According to Schiff, the accessibility of the Plato engine and the accompanying demand for OLAP will likely cause the traditionally high cost of entry into the OLAP market to drop.

In Schiff’s account, this will make for some fierce competition between ensconced OLAP vendors such as Oracle Corp., Arbor Software Corp. (Sunnyvale, Calif.,, NCR Corp. (Dayton, Ohio, and a host of small players that build OLAP solutions on the very same OLE DB for OLAP technology that Microsoft is leveraging with Plato. "Openness is a two-way street, and these marginal vendors may find that data is exiting their server and entering Plato instead," Schiff says.

The end result, Schiff maintains, will be the consolidation of the market into three players. "There’s a war going on out there [in the OLAP marketplace], and you’ve got Microsoft with Plato, Oracle with Express, and Arbor, who’s proprietary but they sort of have a coterie of partners who are interested in working with them."

As a matter of course, Schiff observes, Microsoft will in all likelihood come to assume a position of prominence within the OLAP marketplace. Schiff also paints a scenario where the availability of OLAP technology in a shrink-wrapped product such as SQL Server 7.0 will likely create a possibility where department managers go around IT and implement an OLAP tool on their own. "The overall architecture should be data warehouses feeding data marts, but now it’s going to be a lot easier to go around IS," Schiff explains, noting that IS departments must plan to deal with such situations as they occur. "IS can’t stand around there and say ‘You shouldn’t do this,’" he concludes.