IN REDWOOD SHORES, Calif.--Moves by Oracle Corp. and IBM to embed new business intelligence functionality in their database management systems are designed to improve performance and simplify data warehousing. But they could also add unwanted complexity.
Release 2 of Oracles 9i database, due by June 1, will offer enhanced OLAP (online analytical processing) support and additional data mining and development tools.
Separately, IBM is planning to introduce within six months features to drive BI deeper into its DB2 database, according to a spokeswoman for the Armonk, N.Y., company. The plans include pushing OLAP and data mining further into the database engine.
While database administrators welcome new functionality, they said it comes with a cost: complexity.
"The more you utilize these features, the more overhead and processing that takes place," said Dave Mattia, an administrator at research and engineering company Science Applications International Corp., in San Diego. "You want to evaluate what your needs are."
Oracle9i Release 2 will embed the companys Express OLAP server, replacing the previous versions slower OLAP engine. Placing the OLAP engine directly in the relational database reduces the time it takes to load data into an OLAP cube, said Oracle officials based here.
One database administrator said such a scenario will be useful only in analyses that encompass more than 1 million metadata members—a rare occurrence.
Oracle addresses scalability questions with two new features in Release 2. New Streams technology moves data into a data warehouse in near real time, officials said. The Cluster File System for Windows lets administrators set up a cluster of Oracle9i databases more easily.
Nigel Pendse, author of The OLAP Report newsletter, considers 9i Release 2 an important—but limited—step forward, as front-end development tools for making use of OLAP will not be available until at least the end of the year. And other applications that could benefit from embedded OLAP, such as Oracle Financial Analyzer and Oracle Sales Analyzer, arent due until next year. Until those are available, Oracle customers wont reap the full benefits of the OLAP integration, Pendse said.
"They were way behind and, on the whole, still are," said Pendse, in London. "They havent solved the problem of basic ease of use."
Pendse welcomed another feature in 9i Release 2, Java OLAP API, which will allow users to access OLAP through SQL tools. This should open the way to such functionality as joining relational and OLAP data within the relational database engine, something other vendors cant do, he said.
Vlamis Software Solutions Inc. this week will introduce VSS Business Analyzer, a tool for accessing data in 9i OLAP. Chris Claterbos, consultant and technology manager at Vlamis, said the Express integration was necessary.
"The thing with 9i Release 1 was OLAP was really a separate world, and there was not an attempt to integrate the Express world," said Claterbos, in Liberty, Mo. "It, essentially, was a new product, and if you wanted to start from scratch and build OLAP applications, it was there. Now what Release 2 does is it brings [OLAP] into the mainstream."
Integrating OLAP and a relational database is not a new idea. IBM in 1998 introduced its OLAP Server, which integrates OLAP from Hyperion Solutions Inc. in IBMs DB2 database. Microsoft Corp., of Redmond, Wash., introduced OLAP within its SQL Server data management system in 1998.
Bala Thumma welcomed the added BI capabilities planned for Oracle9i Release 2. "We definitely are waiting for things to mature and to start to become mainstream," said Thumma, president and chief technology officer at Magma Solutions Inc., of Fremont, Calif. "If done right, its a great win for customers. If its not done right, it could cause destabilization [in the database]. The tricky part is getting all the things working well [together]."
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