Microsoft Polishes OLAP Services for SQL Server 7.0

Microsoft Corp. unveiled the final feature set for SQL Server 7.0’s OLAP Services, formerly code-named Plato, and announced additional ISV support.

Added to the OLAP Services feature set are write-back, distributed query resolution and member properties, which enable financial and budgeting applications, extend data analysis capabilities and provide a more scalable architecture than SQL Server 6.5.

Microsoft has implemented write-back in OLAP Services with transactional semantics and multiuser concurrency. This takes advantage of the hybrid architecture and partitioning in OLAP Services and uses the relational database to manage the transaction. Write-back provides ISVs and customer applications with the ability to perform financial budgeting and forecasting analysis.

The distributed query resolution feature balances query activity between clients and servers, thereby increasing performance, minimizing network traffic and reducing server activity. This feature now supports server-side computations, automatically selecting where they are best executed, on the basis of the size and complexity of the data.

Member properties enable users to query additional information stored in multidimensional OLAP cubes. These properties can be used just like regular dimensions to filter and sort OLAP data and to execute advanced calculations, but can also be created dynamically by end users, allowing for more sophisticated analysis.

OLAP Services will ship on the same CD as SQL Server 7.0, and automatically installs when SQL Server 7.0 is implemented. "OLAP Services is a necessary complement [to SQL Server 7.0]. If you want to do decision support analysis, you’ll need some kind of a tool, and OLAP Services provides it," says Teresa Wingfield, research director, Giga Information Group Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.).

Along with announcing these new features, Microsoft also stated that eight ISVs announced product plans for SQL Server OLAP Services, joining the eight vendors who announced compatible products when the third beta of SQL Server 7.0 was released.

Supporting products are being announced by Business Objects Inc., Broadbase Information Systems Inc., Decisionism Inc., IQ Software Corp., Portola Dimensional Systems, Maximal Innovative Intelligence Ltd., PowerPlan Corp. and arcplan Inc. These ISVs provide a range of products for querying, reporting, visualization, data mining and system management.

ISV support is crucial for the success of SQL Server 7.0. "If customers don’t have the analytical tools that provide customers with the keys to OLAP Services, then we haven’t built a complete product," says Doug Leland, group product manager for SQL Server, Microsoft. "Industry support is a natural maturation of the product, and we fully expect more ISVs to announce product plans by the time SQL Server 7.0 ships."

Microsoft has garnered such support by keeping the interface to OLAP Services an open standard. "Microsoft, when it bought the server, didn’t buy the front end because it wanted to make the front end Plug-and-Play," says Giga’s Wingfield. "So users can select their own front-end tool and integrate it more easily than with previous versions."