MicroStrategy Embraces OLAP

Not such an about face for the ROLAP specialist.

MicroStrategy Inc. has gotten a lot of mileage out of its relational OLAP capabilities (ROLAP), which let it create multidimensional tables based on relational database sources more or less on-the-fly.

Last week, however, the McLean, Va.-based business intelligence stalwart reached out to conventional OLAP constituents, too. Ahead of its annual user conference, held this week in Miami, MicroStrategy announced that an upcoming maintenance release of its version 8 BI suite will be able to access multidimensional data sources—including Microsoft’s SQL Server Analysis Services (AS) and Hyperion’s Essbase OLAP engine.

The idea, officials say, is to enable customers to report against, analyze, and monitor both relational and multidimensional data sources alike—all from within the MicroStrategy platform. In this sense, MicroStrategy 8’s new OLAP connectivity doesn’t so much replace its bread-and-butter ROLAP capabilities as complement them by hooking into non-MicroStrategy OLAP sources. In other words, MicroStrategy officials say, the company is a ROLAP only play—albeit one that’s able to accommodate non-MicroStrategy multidimensional sources.

According to OLAP expert Norman Comstock, president of GCRM Solutions, MicroStrategy’s move is a wise one. “If you have the chance to put [OLAP] data into a more elegant BI presentation tool like MicroStrategy, then you have the ability to further leverage the investments made [in other OLAP engines].” He notes that by improving the presentation of OLAP data, you can also make that information more usable throughout the organization.

Comstock also says that pressure from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 makes this MicroStrategy move all the more valuable. “If we could sum it up in one word—standardization,” he says. “One of the issues in the SOX world these days is that if you can move away from the Excel presentation layer, that’s a big plus. There’s a lot of difficulty around end-user computing, much of which is targeted at Excel.”

End-user computing refers to the downstream computations that employees do in Excel, which do not get rolled back up into the enterprise numbers. This creates headaches for auditors by muddying up the coveted single version of the truth. “If you can insulate everyone else on the other side of the funnel by standardizing the presentation layer, all the better,” says Comstock.

MicroStrategy’s new OLAP connectivity is powered by a Multidimensional Expressions (MDX) engine that generates dynamic MDX syntax, which is in turn consumable by MDX-compliant data sources such as SQL Server AS and Essbase. (MDX is analogous to SQL in that it’s a lingua franca for querying multidimensional data sources.) MicroStrategy’s new MDX engine is based on the XML for Analysis (XML/A) standard, which both OLAP engines support.

The next release of MicroStrategy 8, incorporating access to multidimensional data sources, is planned to be generally available in the first quarter of 2006.

About the Author

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