The Oracle Business Intelligence Stack
Yesterday, I attended a seminar covering the Oracle BI landscape. My aim was to come out of this session with a clearer idea of how Oracle products correspond to the Microsoft BI stack. My impression going into this seminar was that Oracle had many, many applications bundled under the BI umbrella. Nevertheless, I was surprised by the sheer number of options available. Practically every piece of the MS BI Stack has at least two parallel products on the Oracle side, in some cases many more. My second impression was that Oracle has done some very credible work to integrate the vast number of applications they’ve developed alongside their Siebel and Hyperion purchases.
Here’s how Oracle visualizes their BI offering:
OBIEE Plus is the unwieldy acronym assigned to Oracle’s central BI bundle, the Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition. Our speaker said the “Plus” was tacked on after integrating Hyperion’s reporting and analytic applications. He also mentioned this moniker was likely to be change in the near future.
It’s probably obvious, but the first thing to understand is that OBIEE is a separate product from the better known database server. It can source data from SAP BW, Analysis Services, standard relational sources, XML, Excel, etc.
The first point of contact for users will be the EPM (Enterprise Performance Management) Workspace . The EPM is both a concept and a product, intended to combine all BI systems and datasources into a cohesive presentation layer. The Microsoft equivalent is roughly SharePoint – however from watching the demos it appeared that EPM applications were more customizable and easier to integrate than Web Parts running on a SharePoint page.
There are many applications available for reporting and analysis within the EPM Workspace. Particularly with reporting, there seemed to be some functionality overlap. The principle applications demoed were:
• Oracle BI Answers – BI Answers is a web-based, ad-hoc query tool, similar in concept to ProClarity. BI Answers can work with a variety of data sources, but is optimized for Essbase.
• Oracle BI Publisher – While Oracle is maintaining ex-Hyperion reporting applications such as Oracle Hyperion Financial Reporting and Hyperion SQR Production Reporting, the prominent reporting tool is Oracle BI Publisher. BI Publisher is touted as “pixel-perfect” reporting, with a tool ribbon and drag-and-drop interface similar to Report Builder 2.0. Like Report Builder, users can create expressions and calculations, and publish reports to EPM.
• Oracle Interactive Dashboards – This application is quite comparable to Performance Point’s scorecarding capabilities. However, while creating scorecards in Performance Point locks you into zoned layouts, dropping content into Oracle’s application looked more like putting text into OneNote –i.e., the layout was very flexible. In addition, pivot table created in Oracle BI Answers could be dropped alongside reports created in BI Publisher.
• Oracle Real Time Decisions – RTD is used for predictive modeling and what-if analysis. The capabilities and visualizations presented were similar to the data mining capabilities found in Analysis Services. Oracle also provides offline tools for data mining and analytics.
Common Enterprise Information Model
The reporting and analytic applications coexist and interoperate within EPM as a result of the Common Enterprise Information Model. This BI Server component uses a mapping technology to connect relational engines, MOLAP data stores and flat files. Rules are applied to these sources to align the dimensional and measure values into common hierarchies and dimensions. The result of this customizable mapping is that EPM is able to uniformly query data sources integrated by Oracle’s BI Server.
Essbase and Oracle OLAP
Oracle has two offerings parallel to SQL Server’s Analysis Services. Prior to acquiring Hyperion, Oracle developed an OLAP engine which can be purchased as an add-on to Oracle’s database. The OLAP engine is situated within the database itself, and is queried through SQL extensions. While Oracle continues to develop Oracle OLAP, Essbase seems positioned to become the de facto OLAP engine within Oracle’s BI offerings. It supports XMLA and MDX, and analytic tools such as Oracle BI Answers are optimized for Essbase. One important consideration: Essbase is a separate purchase from OBIEE.
Oracle Hyperion Planning
Hyperion Planning corresponds to the now-defunct Performance Point Planning pillar of PPS. Like PPS Planning, Hyperion Planning uses an OLAP engine for budgeting and forecasting calculations – in this case that engine is Essbase.
Oracle ETL Tools
Oracle provides two ETL tools to choose from. The first, OWB (Oracle Warehouse Builder) is a traditional ETL tool in the mold of Informatica and SSIS which Oracle has offered since 2000. The second, ODI (Oracle Data Integrator), was acquired from Sunopsis in 2006. ODI is said to perform at a much higher level than OWB due to fundamental workflow changes – ODI Extracts, Loads, then Transforms data. While Warehouse Builder is considered the legacy tool, Oracle continues to develop both products and plans to converge them in a future release.