Online Anaylytical Tools (OLAP)

Online Analytical Processing (OLAP).

The most popular technology in data analysis is OLAP. OLAP
servers organize data into multidimensional hierarchies, called cubes, for high-speed data analysis. Data
mining algorithms scan databases to uncover relationships or patterns. OLAP and data mining are
complementary, with OLAP providing top-down data analysis and data mining offering bottom-up
discovery.

OLAP tools allow users to drill down through multiple dimensions to isolate specific data items. For
example, a hypercube (the multidimensional data structure) may contain sales information categorized by
product, region, salesperson, retail outlet, and time period, in both units and dollars. Using an OLAP tool,
a user need only click on a dimension to see a breakdown of dollar sales by region; an analysis of units
by product, salesperson, and region; or to examine a particular salesperson's performance over time.
Information can be presented in tabular or graphical format and manipulated extensively. Since the
information is derived from summarized data, it is not as flexible as information obtained from an ad hoc
query; most tools offer a way to drill down to the underlying raw data. For example, PowerPlay provides
the automatic launch of its sister product, Impromptu, to query the database for the records in question.
Although each OLAP product handles data structures and manipulation in its own way, an OLAP API,
developed by a group of vendors who form the OLAP Council, standardizes many important functions and
allows IT to offer the appropriate tool to each of its user groups. The MD-API specifies how an OLAP
server and client connect, and it defines metadata, data fetch functions, and methods for handling status
messages. It also standardizes filter, sort, and cube functions; compliant clients are able to communicate
with any vendor's compliant server.

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