Hyperion Delays Critical Essbase Release

As competition in the OLAP space heats up Hyperion Solutions Corp. (www.hyperion.com) is under a great deal of pressure to get version 6.0 of its Essbase Server out the door.

When Hyperion first merged with Arbor Software, the creator of the Essbase OLAP engine, in 1998, analysts expected the combined company would be a business intelligence/analytic powerhouse capable of competing with vendors such as Oracle Corp.

A revamped version of the Essbase product -- Essbase 5.0.2 -- was released in March 1999, and introduced advanced new parallel query and centralized administrative capabilities to the Essbase product.

But as the year went on, analysts soured slightly on the union as the combined company has not successfully integrated its distinct product sets. Because of this concern, Hyperion has become susceptible to competitive allegations of dis-integration among its product offerings.

"While Hyperion can export data from its analytic applications -- such as Hyperion Enterprise into Essbase -- it still does not deploy Essbase as the underlying OLAP server, leaving it open to criticism from competition," says Mike Schiff, director of data warehousing strategies at Current Analysis (www.currentanalysis.com). "Now that the Hyperion-Arbor merger is almost a year old, we believe Hyperion Solutions should escalate its porting efforts and more tightly integrate the products."

Consequently, analysts say Hyperion’s first full release of an Essbase product -- Essbase 6.0 -- is crucial if the company hopes to convince existing Essbase users that it plans to remain committed to the Essbase platform.

Essbase 6.0, however, has not advanced from its beta status announced in August 1999 -- despite Hyperion's initial promise to ship the product before the end of 1999. In early December, the company acknowledged for the first time that version 6.0 would ship sometime in the early 2000.

"Our plans to ship in early 2000 will be driven by a product that meets the expectations of our customers, partners, and our high internal standards," says Lance Walter, director of OLAP product marketing at Hyperion.

According to Walter, because of the complexity of Hyperion’s next-generation Essbase product and the number of end users and organizations that leverage Essbase as a strategic OLAP platform, his company is committed to shipping the next version of Essbase 6.0 only after it feels that the product is ready.

"As the leading OLAP vendor, with thousands of customers and more than 300 partners depending on us, [we’re] fully committed to investing the time and energy in the quality of our release," Walter explains. "Even with our beta sites uniformally giving us the go-ahead, we have extremely high internal standards and will continue with our testing."

Walter says version 6.0 of the product will provide the ability to use compression techniques to store up to 10 times more data in memory and to leverage an increased number of built-in analytical functions that in the past would have required the use of customized calculation scripts. Other new features include the use of attribute dimensions to enable the creation of virtual dynamic dimensions and hierarchies and direct I/O capabilities that can bypass the operating system file cache for improved performance.

Although some may contend that Hyperion’s delay in getting Essbase 6.0 out the door has made it vulnerable to attack from the SQL Server-based Plato OLAP engine from Microsoft Corp. -- which is expected to dominate the low- to mid-end segments of the OLAP space -- Current Analysis’ Schiff says that is not the case.

"[Plato is] putting pressure on the smaller vendors, but if you look at the real leaders, which are Oracle and Essbase, it hasn’t really cost them any share," Schiff says. "Microsoft came in and started to dominate the market with its API, and because of this a lot of the smaller vendors were squeezed. But I see this as coming down to a war between three big players -- Oracle, Hyperion, and Microsoft."

Hyperion’s Walter says his company hopes to position Essbase as the OLAP underpinning for a variety of analytic applications.

"Customers leverage our products on all platforms and databases, and we continue to see demand for Hyperion Essbase across these platforms and leading databases including IBM DB2, Oracle, SQL Server, and more," he says. "We expect Hyperion Essbase 6.0 will enhance this position and help us ride a wave of new analytic applications and platforms.