Microsoft, Hyperion preach XML-based OLAP

Microsoft Corp. and Hyperion Solutions Corp. have teamed up on the Open XML for Analysis specification, officials from the two companies announced on Monday at Hyperion's Solutions 2001 conference in Orlando, Fla.

The specification, according to the companies, will enable client-side, Web-based BI (business intelligence) applications to query OLAP (online analytical processing) servers from Microsoft, Hyperion, and any other vendors supporting the specification, without having to use several APIs.

Right now, there is no standard language for accessing OLAP cubes, according to Mark Shainman, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. Vendors such as SAS Institute, Cognos, and Brio have proprietary methods for interacting with OLAP cubes.

"Microsoft and Hyperion are trying to create a standard language to interface with all these OLAP capabilities and cubes, like SQL for databases," Shainman continued.

The Open XML for Analysis specification has the potential to reduce the number of languages that programmers typically have to write to for reaching OLAP cubes from five or six to just one, Shainman said.

"The object is to enable access to different OLAP servers with a single interface," said Robert Gersten, general manager of Hyperion's Essbase unit in Sunnyvale, Calif.

"If it works as one standard language, that's nirvana. But vendors always want to put on their own extensions. There's always some proprietary extensions," Shainman said.

Currently, the specification has the support of several front-end BI vendors, including AlphaBlox Corporation Inc., Brio Technology Inc., Business Objects SA, Cognos Inc., Crystal Decisions, Knosys Inc., MicroStrategy Inc., and SAP AG.

"We think the market will grow if we make it easy for users," said John Eng, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft's lead product manager for BI. "We're developing software that will be released to help developers access the OLAP servers."

In May, Microsoft will post an SDK (software development kit) on its Web site as an add-on to the SQL Server 2000 database, Eng said.

The technology is likely to become incorporated into the vendors' offerings, rather than a standalone product, Hyperion's Gersten said. "It will become a key part of our OLAP access technologies," he continued.

The companies said that they plan to submit the specification, which is currently available on their respective Web pages, to a standards body in approximately six months, although they have yet to decide which one.

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