The Mainframe Loses One: IBM Ends Development, Resale of OLAP Engine

IBM’s decision to eighty-six its DB2 OLAP Server has ramifications for mainframe and iSeries shops

Last month, IBM Corp. announced it would no longer be selling its DB2 OLAP Server—a re-branded version of Hyperion Solutions Corp.’s Essbase OLAP engine—to customers. OLAP (online analytical processing) is a key component of many enterprise business intelligence (BI) initiatives.

At the time, IBM’s decision was mostly assessed in terms of its impact on the hundreds of DB2 OLAP Server customers who run that product on distributed platforms. As it turns out, however, IBM’s announcement also has ramifications for mainframe and iSeries shops.

From the beginning, DB2 OLAP Server has been a mix of shrink-wrapped and custom-built code. The idea, officials say, was to incorporate product- or platform-specific features and functionality into the main Essbase engine, with a special emphasis on extending Essbase support to platforms that weren’t then covered by Hyperion. “There was a kind of added value [to the partnership], [which was] an arrangement to get [Essbase] on to the IBM operating systems that Hyperion didn’t support, principally iSeries and z/OS,” said Richard Wozniak, program director for BI strategy and marketing with IBM, last month.

As a result, IBM engineered a version of DB2 OLAP Server for zSeries. The genesis of the AS/400 version of DB2 OLAP Server is slightly more complicated, however. In 2000, IBM notched an agreement with a then-independent company called Showcase to deliver an AS/400-based version of Essbase. In that situation, IBM couldn’t develop DB2 OLAP Server on its own because Showcase had already locked in an exclusive arrangement with Hyperion to port Essbase to OS/400. Showcase was later acquired by data-mining and statistical-analysis specialist SPSS Inc. in 2001.

In any case, Wozniak concedes, we’re not talking about a heckuva lot of users. With respect to DB2 OLAP Server for zSeries, for example, IBM claims a handful of current customers. At the same time, he points out, some of these shops are running extraordinarily large instances of DB2 OLAP Server.

“The zSeries [version] has not been a very big selling product for us. It’s under 50 customers, but some of them are quite large and they have a large investment in zSeries altogether,” Wozniak comments. “For these customers, they think it makes sense, because the data is already there [on the mainframe]. But most customers who use Essbase decided long ago that it was better to run the OLAP server on a Unix box and just use different data access methods to get data into and out of the zSeries if they need to.”

Whenever a vendor announces the end of life for a particular product, customers almost always demand “What next?” For Windows, Unix, and Linux users of DB2 OLAP Server, the “What next” answer is pretty straightforward: They’re to be given the opportunity to transfer their licenses to Hyperion Essbase on a 1:1 basis. Wozniak says Hyperion’s Essbase maintenance charges should be about the same as what they now pay for DB2 OLAP Server.

IBM’s care plans for both zSeries and iSeries customers are very different, given the somewhat complicated licensing scheme of the latter product, in particular.

For zSeries customers, Wozniak says, Hyperion will support a like-kind transfer from DB2 OLAP Server to a distributed version of Essbase.

“For those customers, Hyperion has generously agreed to help them move across to the distributed platform of their choice, and they’ll be given license credit and be able to transfer that to a mainstream platform, such as Unix or Linux or Windows,” he explains.

What about shops that have deployed DB2 OLAP Server on zSeries because it addresses their business needs? In this case, Wozniak says IBM Global Services will offer some support to customers who want to stay the course. But given the small stable of zSeries users, he argues, it’s not clear any of them will be adversely affected by moving to a distributed version of Essbase.

“It’s a pretty niche market. There really aren’t that many [customers] this is an issue for. Also our support organization will be doing engagements with the [zSeries] customers, too,” Wozniak says.

On the iSeries front, IBM has notched a similar like-kind deal with SPSS. “When we got to the point that we saw for sure we were going to be able to pull off this change of status with Hyperion, we went and began this negotiation with SPSS saying we’d like you to take over [DB2 OLAP Server development and support]. There aren’t so many [customers]—a couple of hundred—but we’ve gone ahead and we have this deal. So this gives them an opportunity to transition to SPSS licenses and support.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.