Oracle Comes Clean—Sort of

Oracle last week helped put to rest a few of the many questions raised by its $3.3 billion bid for Hyperion.

Oracle Corp. last week helped put to rest a few of the many questions raised by its $3.3 billion bid for Hyperion Solutions Corp.

The applications and database giant promised to support—but stopped short of pledging to augment—Hyperion’s vaunted Essbase OLAP engine.

At the same time, however, Oracle officials were steadfastly non-committal about what the company plans to do with the rest of Hyperion’s BI assets—such as Hyperion Intelligence, an operational reporting tool based on technology acquired nearly four years ago from the former Brio Technology; and Hyperion SQR, or Hyperion Production Reporting, which is based on technology developed by the former SQRiBE Technologies. (Brio acquired SQRiBE in August of 1999.)

According to an Hyperion insider who spoke on background, SQR is currently embedded in PeopleSoft (the former PeopleSoft actually licensed the SQR compiler technology from Brio shortly after it acquired SQRiBE) and is also used in “thousands of IT shops for producing complex reporting and sometimes ETL.” Hyperion’s Performance Suite comprises both Intelligence and SQR.

Essbase, Essbase Everywhere

Oracle officials last week were quick to stress the importance of Essbase.

“We fully intend to continue to offer Essbase. Given that it is the market-leading open, multi-source, heterogeneous OLAP engine in the industry, we see great advantage of being able to use that,” says Paul Rodwick, vice-president of product management with Oracle Business Intelligence and a veteran of the former Siebel Systems Inc., which Oracle acquired 18 months ago.

Currently, Oracle BI Server can’t natively connect to Essbase, Rodwick concedes—but that should soon change. “Today, Essbase could come in on top of the Oracle BI Server and use its common enterprise data model, the enterprise semantic layer. We’ve already done integrations between Oracle BI Server and a wide range of OLAP engines, including Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services, SAP BW, so we’ll very directly finish up doing and optimizing the integration with Essbase as well,” he indicates.

Rodwick stops short of endorsing a plan to grow Essbase in future iterations, however. One possible explanation is that Oracle not only markets an OLAP engine of its own—Oracle first embedded OLAP capabilities in Oracle 9i—but also controls the assets of still another one-time OLAP market leader: the Express OLAP engine from the former IRI Software.

“Oracle does have an OLAP product, but we do see customers wanting to have this multi-source, heterogeneous system, so we’ll take good advantage of Essbase and we’ll continue as a strategy to offer OLAP functionality, and lots of BI functionality in the Oracle database,” Rodwick comments.

While Rodwick’s (and Oracle’s) statements stop short of an explicit pledge to continue to develop and enhance Essbase, some industry seers say Oracle will at the very least be a good steward to Essbase. It has ample incentive to do so, after all. “Hyperion executives have claimed that most of the world’s financial applications—whether analytic or operational—embed Essbase,” comments Philip Russom, senior manager with TDWI Research. “Assuming Essbase is the cash cow they claim, it’s unlikely that Oracle executives will retire it, as they did Express—although several large Express customers linger on.”

Cindi Howson, a principal with BIScorecard.com, offers another perspective.

"Hyperion is a clear leader in the performance management space, but less so in the BI space," she indicates, noting that while Hyperion Essbase is undoubtedly a best-of-breed OLAP tool, it's also "viewed with a degree of wariness" by IT, thanks to a history of departmental deployments, particularly in finance. “It took years for Oracle to leverage the acquisition of Express—the leading OLAP engine in the early 1990s—and I hate to think that Essbase may fall to the same fate," Howson says. “While Oracle may not need the Essbase engine for its caching abilities which are quite good in Oracle EE [Siebel Analytics], the company would be smart to leverage its analytic engine.”

Oracle’s BI Stack Runneth Over?

The burning question, Howson and other analysts say, concerns the disposition of Hyperion's other, non-Essbase BI assets.

"Hyperion's business query [System 9 Interactive Reports] lags that of leading competitors, Business Objects and Cognos," she points out, noting that Oracle's BI Suite Enterprise Edition—which incorporates Siebel Analytics – is stronger than those of Hyperion’s but lacks a robust customer following. "Oracle will have a powerful portfolio of products. Of course, that's only on the front end, and rationalizing duplicate products, integrating disparate architectures, and integrating them into applications is something that may take years."

Count Mark Peco, a veteran BI technologist and a consultant with BI services firm InQvis, as one industry watcher who waxes not-entirely-sanguine about the prospects of Hyperion’s broader BI tools stack. “Most of the Hyperion product line seems redundant with the advertised functionality of Oracle’s existing BI suite,” he says. “Either the Hyperion products are superior and will replace the Oracle tools or they will be retired from the market. I think this is going to cause confusion in the marketplace and may delay sales as customers ponder the implications.”

Rodwick, for his part, declines to explicitly endorse Hyperion’s non-Essbase BI assets. “With regard to Hyperion Intelligence, we’re just at the beginning of operational and integration planning. We’ve just kicked off on the Oracle side our integration team meeting today. We’ve only got a little bit of time that’s elapsed,” he comments.

Nor does Rodwick say there’s as much overlap between Oracle’s and Hyperion’s product sets as industry analysts and Oracle competitors have claimed. For this reason, Rodwick argues, it’s premature to speculate as to the disposition of Hyperion Intelligence and other assets. “Frankly, we don’t see that much overlap. I think one of the biggest ones [areas of overlap] we’ve talked about is OLAP, [but] if you look at all the Oracle acquisitions, this is number 30 [in the last two years]. In every case, we’ve protected, extended, [and] evolved those products and those customers, and we will certainly take care of all the Hyperion customers.”

Partnerships Preserved?

Elsewhere, Rodwick says, Oracle will stand by some of Hyperion’s OEM partners—including Informatica Corp., with which both companies have existing OEM reseller agreements. “We expect that we will continue to have a good long relationship with Informatica,” he comments, noting that Oracle Data Integrator (which is based on technology Oracle acquired from Sunopsis) will be the focal point for Oracle BI Suite-to-Hyperion integration. “That is the correct product for heterogeneous sources and heterogeneous targets. Oracle Warehouse Builder has heterogeneous sourcing, but its target is the Oracle database always.”

About the Author

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