Monday, September 29, 2008

Oracle OLAP Newsletter - September 2008

The latest edition of the excellent Oracle OLAP Newsletter has just been released here

Highlights this time include a customer feature on Oss Council in the Netherlands who use Oracle OLAP for management reporting, details of the new release, and a guide to delivering summary management through cube materialized views.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Oracle Open World 2008 - HP-Oracle Database Machine launch

The big news at Oracle Open World last week was that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison used his keynote, entitled "Extreme. Performance." to talk about Data Warehousing and launch the HP-Oracle Database Machine featuring the innovative new Oracle Exadata storage server.

You can learn all about these exciting new products on the web site, so I won't bore you with that here, except to tell you that the performance of the Database Machine that we have seen from our Beta test customers is deeply impressive (the "10x" claims in the ads are pretty conservative from what I've seen).

The market reaction to the news that Oracle, together with HP, are now offering a 'DW Appliance' with superior performance, based on proven hardware components & including Oracle Database 11g, has reflected a common view that I heard while answering questions from customers at Open World: that the rationale for purchasing one of the niche vendors' DW Appliances, with their narrow sweet spot and less capable database software is now more questionable than ever.

But why would anyone say that? Surely 'performance' is a game of leap-frogging, and if/when one of the DW Appliance vendors releases a newer faster machine before HP-Oracle does, won't that mean that the Oracle Database Machine's advantage is short-lived?

Not at all.

The HP-Oracle Database Machine is a DW Appliance like no other. This is because Oracle Database has depth & breadth of functionality and power that none of the others can claim. When you purchase a Database Machine you get Oracle Database EE, Real Application Clusters and Partitioning pre-installed and preconfigured, with ASM being used to manage the storage grid. All of the features included in there are available for use as soon as you plug in your new machine. But you can leverage much more even than that, of course.

And this is a key point - all the capabilities, features and options available in Oracle Database 11g are available on the Database Machine. Security, High Availability, Manageability, support for a Mixed Workload, and Embedded Analytics - all of it. And because this is standard Oracle Database, it is easy to run any of your applications on it - no specialised knowledge of rarely used niche RDBMS's required. Anything that runs your existing Oracle servers will run on Database Machine without change.

This includes OLAP of course. Oracle Database OLAP is there too - pre-installed along with the rest of Oracle Database EE. You just need to license it for use on the DB Machine when you choose to use it. And this is great news as it adds multidimensional calculation and analysis sophistication to an already awsome piece of kit.

A majority of the Oracle OLAP Option customers that I have met who report disappointing performance turn out to be IO Bound on their servers. That is, the server and storage they are using is out of balance, and constraining the ability of the Database to process the data. The HP-Oracle Database Machine (like some of the Optimized Warehouses also available from Oracle and it's other hardware partners) provides excellent IO performance thanks to the balanced high speed infiniband interconnects between the storage and the database servers included in the machine, and is optimised for data warehousing queries across the spectrum - OLAP included. Good IO performance directly translates to even more effective OLAP implementations.

So, the HP Oracle Database Machine is a great fit for Oracle Database OLAP Option, and other embedded analytics features of the Oracle Database, including Data Mining, SQL Analytics and Statistical Functions, and the OWB (Oracle Warehouse Builder) Data Profiling and Data Quality features. Delivering BI applications that leverage these powerful capabilities is also much easier thanks to them being pre-installed on the Database Machine.

And Oracle OLAP is a great fit for the Database Machine, too. Which leads to the other question I have been asked by a couple of people: if Database Machine makes queries really really fast, does it mean that OLAP is no longer needed? Can I just dump all the data into tables and ignore all the other optimisations for Data Warehousing that Oracle Database provides?

This question misunderstands the primary reason that people invest in OLAP systems. It is not only about performance, but also (especially) about the calculation capability, and the ease with which even the most complex of business calculations can be expressed. Many business calculations are difficult to do in SQL on regular relational tables. Some are still not even possible. And in turn, many BI tools resort to the transfer of large amounts of data across the network to mid-tier servers, or even the client, where the calcs are performed. Database Machine will allow them to pull the raw data much faster than before, but you still have a more complex architecture than you need, and network performance will be impacted. The OLAP Option makes time series, shares, indexes, ratios and so on that businesses use on all their performance dashboards really easy to define, and really efficient to process. In the Database.

As regular readers of this blog know, the OLAP Option provides sophisticated multidimensional calculation and query functionality, accessible by pretty much any tools via a simple SQL query. There are hundreds of multidimensional-aware analytic calculation functions delivered by the OLAP Option - best of breed capability. This in turn leads to further performance benefits of course, but especially phenomenal ease of use and cost of ownership improvements. If all your KPIs are calculated within the Database, and surfaced to your BI tools, BI apps and Dashbards as simple columns that can be SELECTed; you reduce to trivial levels the amount of work you need to do in each BI Tools metadata layer with regard to (re)defining those calculations.

Other Data Warehouse vendors - appliance & non-appliances alike - cannot do this, and instead force you into further fragmenting your information asset across multiple servers and engines, with the added complications to the BI infrastructure that brings. The other vendors will require you to purchase, install, build and manage seperate standalone multidimensional data marts, usually from 3rd party vendors. None of them have embedded analytics into the core of the Database like Oracle has. And none provide simple high performance SQL access to the results of these analytics.

The combination of extremely fast performance for IO intensive queries (which characterise the work of some of the users of the data warehouse and are typicaly the queries targetted by the DW Appliance vendors) together with the multidimensional calculation power of the OLAP Option (which are commonly consumed by the masses via interactive dashboards etc, as well as used by the analyst users) in an easy to install, pre-configured, balanced hardware platform is very compelling.

Exciting times for Oracle BI and Data Warehousing.