IBM Showcases OLAP on AS/400

In mid-December, IBM partnered with online analytical processing specialist Hyperion Solutions Corp. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) to bring OLAP to S/390 mainframe environments. In early March, IBM’s collaboration with Hyperion again bore fruit, as Big Blue announced a technology partnership with Showcase Corp. (Rochester, Minn.) to market an AS/400-based OLAP solution—dubbed the DB2 OLAP Server for the AS/400.

While Showcase brings business analytic applications to the table in this latest agreement, IBM’s DB2 OLAP Server for the AS/400 is actually based on the Essbase OLAP server from Hyperion.

Among other business intelligence-related solutions, Showcase currently markets Strategy, which the company positions as a fully integrated data-warehousing solution that also provides Web-based content management technology. According to Hershel Harris, director of strategy and market management for IBM data management solutions, Showcase’s Strategy provides the crucial business intelligence underpinning that lets customers get the most out of OLAP.

IBM Adds Higher-Order Analysis to AS/400, DB2 UDB

By Ken Deats

IBM is listening to the plaintive pleas of its AS/400 customer base and extending the reach of the business intelligence capabilities of the stalwart server with the recent introduction of several BI tools: DB2 OLAP Server for AS/400 and Query Management Facility (QMF) for AS/400.

Prior to the announcement, IBM did not have an OLAP server for the AS/400, forcing those users who required a deeper level of analysis than that provided by a spreadsheet to make use of multiple tools and build a data warehouse on some other platform. The addition of the DB2 OLAP Server for AS/400, says Mamie Ryan, IBM AS/400 business intelligence segment manager, allows those users to keep that data in the DB2 Universal Database on the AS/400. “There’s no need to move it anywhere else now.”

“This raises the notion of a higher order or higher power of analysis capability than queries or spreadsheets can bring to AS/400 customers,” adds Jeff Jones of IBM’s data management solutions group. “Old-fashioned analysis is two-dimensional. Customers want to look at more dimensions simultaneously in a cube design.” He cites a retail operation that may want to parse the same data into slices that determine sales figures by region, by product or by color as an example.

Jones adds that Hyperion’s Essbase interface is implemented completely so that other Essbase implementations from a variety of tool partners can run on top of DB2 OLAP Server for AS/400. Those Essbase implementations may be tailored to fit a specific industry mold or to solve a specific problem, he says. “This product opens an array of tools that AS/400 customers can use on top of DB2 OLAP Server for all kinds of interesting analysis.”

QMF for Windows for AS/400 provides a Windows client with a full-function graphical query interface to augment what can be done with DB2 OLAP Server. QMF is IBM’s query product previously offered on the System 390, OS/2 and Windows that now is supported on DB2 UDB for AS/400.

“Users can easily and quickly format queries and reports and store query objects so they can reuse them over time. And there’s a way to publish the query results and analysis to the Web,” says Jones. “It’s a full blown query and reporting tool that’s geared for working with the DB2 database.

Ryan adds that the vendor IBM worked with on developing QMF, Rocket Software (Natick, Mass.) has also developed migration tools so that customers with queries created using IBM’s Query Manager for OS/400 can migrate those queries over to QMF for Windows for AS/400.

“Customers are demanding better tools and higher forms of analysis, more business intelligence power,” says Jones. “That’s the motivation for [these products].” Adds Ryan, “The statement we want to make to our customers is that for the AS/400, we want to provide to them all the strategic, leading data warehouse applications and products and tools in the marketplace, and give them a choice.”

"With the DB2 OLAP Server for the AS/400, we are now able to provide companies who are using the AS/400 with a more fully integrated server platform to meet their growing business intelligence and analytic needs," Harris comments.

It’s the Web-based content management capabilities of its Strategy suite that really constitute Showcase’s value proposition in its technology partnership with IBM, some analysts contend. Indeed, Strategy’s Web-based content management interface amounts to nothing less than the Minneapolis vendor’s implementation of the industry’s next-big-thing-du jour, says Mike Schiff, director of data-warehousing strategies with consultancy Current Analysis (Fairfax, Va.): the Enterprise Information Portal (EIP).

As for the prospect of marrying analytic applications such as those produced by Showcase with an OLAP server running on top of DB2, Schiff says it’s a natural fit.

“An analytic application is basically an application built on top of a datamart or data warehouse,” Schiff explains. “If you’re an analytic application, you’re analyzing data, and you’ve got to have the data somewhere—in the data warehouse.”

Industry analysts have long maintained that greater than 70 percent of mission-critical corporate data still resides on VSAM data stores attached to mainframe and AS/400 systems. In this regard, not only will the combination of Strategy running in conjunction with the DB2 OLAP Server for AS/400 let IT organizations introduce business analytics to mission critical data, but Strategy’s EIP support will also provide a simple way for end-users to access AS/400 information through the convenience and familiarity of a Web browser interface.

Ultimately, the two companies say, IT organizations could potentially transform terabytes of data residing in VSAM data stores—which include data warehouses as well as ERP, CRM and e-business applications—attached to AS/400s into actionable business information.

Showcase CEO Ken Holec says that the realities of the business-to-business landscape are driving the need for solutions that can bring sophisticated analytics to bear on all kinds of corporate data.

“Within the rapidly expanding enterprise intelligence universe, analytics represent the greatest return on investment for organizations today,” Holec maintains.

Current Analysis’ Schiff says that as e-businesses continue to look to do more with their data, OLAP solutions will likely become even more important for B2B scenarios.

“While in the past people may have been satisfied with or accustomed to simple query or reporting solutions, now they want to drill down and do advanced analysis or do other things that only an OLAP solution can provide,” he concludes.

Related Editorial:

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