Not too long ago businesses found it very difficult to query data out of their recently acquired relational databases. These queries were too slow to be processed by computer systems of the time as well as too inflexible to navigate the data. After trying different solutions offered by various big corporations in the market, OLAP came into being.
One of the primary goals that OLAP vendors try to achieve is to minimize the amount of on the fly processing needed when the user was simultaneously navigating the data. This was achieved by pre-processing and storing every possible combination of dimensions, measures, and hierarchies before the user started their analysis.
The earlier versions of the OLAP cube provided a snapshot of data at a specific point in time. OLAP pre-computes all the totals and sub-totals that need to be reported at a time the servers are usually idle. This allowed data to appear at the same time as it was being investigated by the user.
Because OLAP cubes pre-calculate all the resulting combinations between dimensions, you can do some amazing analysis. For instance, all at once, you can analyze sales by region, by product type, by period of time, by store, by sales representative, and by budget. Crazy, right? It gets so overwhelming that sometimes you may have to back up and try to figure out what kind of analysis you are trying to do. With practice, OLAP cubes speeds up the data modelling and analysis process by significantly minimizing manual operations.
Here are some interesting facts about the history of OLAP technology:
- Edgar Codd, the person who designed the OLAP cube and coined the term OLAP (Online Analytical Processing), he is a veteran in the field.
- SEQUEL (Structured English Query Language) was actually the first version of SQL (Structured Query Language).
- ‘Slice’ among OLAP technicians means dividing any cube shaped item into two.
- The OLAP cube is made up of dimensions, measures, and hierarchies.
- Arrangement of data into a cube is what allows large amounts of data to be analyzed as it is displayed instantaneously.
- The query language used to interact and perform tasks using an OLAP cube is called multidimensional expressions (MDX). It was first developed by Microsoft in 1990s and then got taken up by numerous other vendors in the market.
- OLAP cubes are designed for business users and therefore use business logic and understanding. However, business users can query OLAP cubes using Standard English.
Since its early beginning, OLAP technology has evolved together with advances in processing, connectivity, and cloud services. For instance, modern OLAP products are not limited by just calculation of aggregates. It can now calculate custom formulas and run driver-based computations which are useful for financial reporting, planning, forecasting, and predictive analytics.
Modern OLAP are also more dynamic. By adding connectivity to data sources, OLAP now provides an up-to-date view of a business – even computing on a real-time basis. It is important to note also that some OLAP are available on the cloud as a service, as more companies move toward a virtualized hosted environment.
Interested in trying an OLAP service in the cloud? Check this out.
OLAP technology falls under the umbrella term “Business Intelligence” which is composed of various tools such as data visualization, and more. BI capabilities are being packaged together with business solutions to provide an analytical perspective of the business.
For example, some eCommerce tools such as those offered by Magento development companies incorporate BI capabilities. You can hire Magento developers and see how the integration of these tools improves the outcomes of the business.