OLAP and Business Intelligence History

Brief History of Databases and OLAP

1725 – 2oth century: Punch Cards

Before computers became mainstream punch cards were used as a means of data collection. Eventually Punch cards used in early computing machines had a maximum of 22 columns and 8 punch positions with a capacity of 960bits.

1962: Kenneth Iverson Introduces Foundation of OLAP

OLAP is not a new concept and has persisted through the decades. As a matter of fact, the origin of OLAP technology can be traced to 1962. Kenneth Iverson introduced the base foundation of OLAP through his book “A Programming Language” (APL), which defined a mathematical language with processing operators and multidimensional variables. APL was regarded as the first multidimensional language and its implementation as a computer programming language happened during the late 1960’s by IBM. Iverson created brief notations by employing Greek symbols as operators this required the support of special hardware like special keyboards, screens and printers making maintenance of APL-based mainframe products very costly.

On top of this, since early APL programs were interpreted as opposed to being compiled, it inefficiently exhausted more machine resources and was known for consuming too much RAM space. Most programmers encountered difficulties in programming multidimensional applications using arrays in other languages with APL programs at that time. Eventually, there was a decline in the market significance of APL, but it still survived to a limited degree. Although APL is not deemed as a core component of many modern OLAP tools, several ideas can be seen living through some of the modern day multidimensional applications.

1975: First OLAP Product—Express

In 1975 the first OLAP product—Express was launched by Information Resources. This was the first multidimensional tool to support marketing related demands or application needs. It later on evolved into a hybrid OLAP after its acquisition by Oracle and has thrived for more than three decades. It remains, even till date as one of the well-marketed multidimensional products. One of Express’ more famous successors is the Oracle9i OLAP. Although several enhanced versions have been released throughout the years, the concepts and data models remain unchanged.

1979: First Spreadsheet Program—VisiCalc

In 1979, the first spreadsheet application —VisiCalc was introduced to the market. This product was originally released for Apple II. VisiCalc was distributed by VisiCorp previously called Personal Software and developed by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankson. VisiCalc had the basic row and column structure that is standard in most spreadsheet applications today. VisiCalc sold about 700,000 copies in six years and was incorporated as a software option for the IBM PC in 1981.

1982: OLAP for Financials—System W

By the year 1982, a new decision support system software, was developed by Comshare as a result of their attempt to expand the scope of their market and services offered. System W was the first OLAP tool to cater to financial applications and the first to apply hypercube approach in its multidimensional modeling. But though it proved to be a profitable venture for Comshare for quite some time, it didn’t really achieve much success in the market. It was even less favored by technical people because it was more difficult to program in comparison with other software of its kind. It also took up much of the machine resources and harbored the risk of database explosion.

1983: Lotus 1-2-3

In 1983, Lotus 1-2-3 was launched. It was similar in structure to Visicalc but gained more sales and quickly replaced Visicalc. Lotus 1-2-3 became the mainstream spreadsheet application before the Windows. Lotus Software is now a part of IBM. Lotus 1-2-3 incorporated graphing and database functions, keyboard commands and menus much like spreadsheet applications today.

1983: Lotus 1-2-3

In 1983, Lotus 1-2-3 was launched. It was similar in structure to Visicalc but gained more sales and quickly replaced Visicalc. Lotus 1-2-3 became the mainstream spreadsheet application before the Windows. Lotus Software is now a part of IBM. Lotus 1-2-3 incorporated graphing and database functions, keyboard commands and menus much like spreadsheet applications today.

1984: First ROLAP Application—Metaphor

The first ROLAP product was published by Metaphor in 1984. This multidimensional product established new concepts like client/server computing, multidimensional processing on relational data, workgroup processing, object-oriented development and was basically designed to cater for companies of consumption goods. The vendor of Metaphor was compelled to create proprietary PC and networks since hardware in those days could barely support Metaphor’s requirements. In 1991, IBM acquired Metaphor and launched the product under the new name IDS (Informix Dynamic Server). The product still remains operational to support remaining loyal users.

1985: Excel 1.0

The rise of the competitor Microsoft’s Excel product marked the beginning of the decline of Lotus 1-2-3 in 1985. Excel steadily gained on 1-2-3 and ultimately proved to be the superior product which dominated the market. Excel 1.0 would serve as the milestone for spreadsheets as we know it to be today. Microsoft’s integration of the Pivot Tables feature in Excel was probably one of the most important enhancements of the Excel product as PivotTable has become the most popular and widely used tool for multidimensional analysis. Throughout the years, Microsoft has continued to produce new and enhanced versions of Excel which showcase more sophisticated Pivot Table features and functions as a desktop OLAP tool.

Structured Query Language (SQL)

SQL (Structured Query Language) was developed in 1989 as a way to extract and manipulate data from relational databases where data from transactions are stored. SQL was developed at IBM by Donald D. Chamberlin and Raymond F. Boyce and was initially called SEQUEL (Structured English Query Language) but changed to SQL due to copyright infringements. SQL is primarily based on Edgar F. Codd’s relational model as described in “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks.” 

1985: The New MIS Using Graphical User Interface

A new type of Management Information System product emerged during the mid-1980’s in the form of Executive Information System (EIS), or more commonly known as EIS which emphasizes the use of Graphical User Interfaces (GUI). And in 1985, Pilot Command Center, which was branded as the first ever client/server EIS was released.

Other client/server products that came out are Strategy, Holos, and Information Advantage. Pilot phased out Command Center but has implemented some of the concepts in its Lightship Server product. Some of Command Center concepts such as automatic time series handling, multidimensional client/server processing and simplified human factors can still be seen living through some modern OLAP products.

1993: Introduction of the term OLAP

In 1993, Edgar F. Codd known as the “Father of Relational Database” coined the term OLAP in his White Paper: “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks.” In this paper he established the 12 rules for an OLAP product.

Spreadsheet Evolution

The spreadsheet market was fast prevailing toward the end of 1980’s and compelled some of the vendors to create multidimensional applications that could reside on a spreadsheet environment.

Compete initiated the opening of the multidimensional spreadsheet. Compete was later on acquired by Computer Associates, in addition to its other spreadsheet products like the SuperCalc and 20/20. Computer Associates offered Compete at a lower cost and heavily advertised it, but even at this rate it still did not make much market significance. Computer Associates later on came out with the version 5 of SuperCalc which was clearly influenced Compete product.

Improvements from Lotus followed suit after Compete. Lotus 1-2-3 began to develop Improv for the NeXT machine under the code name ‘BackBay’. This became a reality as Improv was later on launched on NeXT machines. This became a phenomenal success and increased Lotus’ sales until after the efforts to port Improv in Windows and Macintosh system software.

Sinper Corporation came into the OLAP market during the late 1980’s and presented its multidimensional analysis software product for DOS and Windows, then known as TM/1. Sinper turned TM/1 to serve as a multidimensional back-end server for Excel and Lotus 1-2-3. Essbase by Arbor followed suit. Market for a multidimensional spreadsheet was fast growing attracting more and more vendors to plunge into the emerging business. Traditional vendors of host-oriented products like Acumate, Express, Gentia, Holos, Hyperion, Mineshare, MetaCube, PowerPlay and WhiteLight all offer products which provide highly integrated spreadsheet access to their OLAP servers.

Spreadsheet Ad-Ins go mainstream

After the release of OLAP@Work Excel Add-In with features that enable users to make full use of OLAP Services, Excel Add-ins went mainstream in 2004. Vendors like Business Objects, Cognos, Microsoft, MicroStrategy and Oracle launched their own versions of the product. Concurrently, IntelligentApps, a main vendor of Analysis Services Excel Add-In, was acquired by Sage.

Revolution of OLAP 1990’s to 2000’s 

The 1980’s period played a significant role in the advancement of the OLAP and Business Intelligence Industry as we know it to be today. The OLAP technology and Business Intelligence software solutions industry is now booming with many applications that fit individual business needs and preferences. The evolution of OLAP over the years has paved the way for the more advanced solutions that are available now.

Rise of Business Intelligence and OLAP products 1990’s to 2000’s*:

1990: Cognos PowerPlay launched in 1990 and eventually acquired by IBM.

1992: Essbase (Extended Spreadsheet Database) Published by Hyperion Solution this became a major OLAP server product in the market in 1997. Essbase had the tendency for data explosions, this problem was finally solved through the release of the Essbase 7X Version.

1994: Microstrategy DSS Agent launched (Multi-pass SQL)

1996: Business Objects 4.0 published

1997: PARIS Technologies launches PowerOLAP: Integrating Spreadsheets and transactional databases for instant data updates in spreadsheet applications such as Excel.

1998: Hyperion Solutions launched

1999: Microsoft OLAP Services published which became Microsoft Analysis Services in 2000

2012: PARIS Technologies releases OLATION which fuses relational and multidimensional database technologies (in SQL Server, SAP HANA, Oracle, etc.), ensuring “true online” data updates for both actual and plan data.


*Not an all-inclusive list of all products launched during this time period.


Related Content:

Codd’s Paper
Multidimensional Basics
Types of OLAP Systems

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