June 16, 2008

Kaleidoscope - Monday

10:00PM - Dinner
After the presentation, the 6 people here from interRel tried to find a restaurant that everyone could agree on. Every one of us had one or more bizarre dietary issues making a single restaurant problematic. Here were some of our individual quirks:
- One person can't eat seafood.
- One person is a vegan (and doesn't like to eat salad, go figure).
- One person can't eat anything with pepper in it.
- One person can't eat wheat.

Combine all of those and we have no options at all in New Orleans (at least for traditional French, Creole, or other New Orleans fare). We ended up at an African restaurant serving food from Cameroon and Ghambia (seriously: Bennachin). The food was tasty if a bit unpronounceable and in some cases, unidentifiable. I had fried plantains (adios, diet), black eyed pea fritters, and something that merged eggplant, cous cous, and curry. Those were all good, but I really did not enjoy the pounded yams. I was expecting mashed potatoes and got, well, paste. It brought back not so fond memories of my kindergarten years. I think it was supposed to be really bland to blunt the spiciness of the curry, but the cous cous worked just fine for that.

I'm actually getting to bed early tonight to prepare for programming & automation sessions tomorrow from 8AM-6PM. Note to self: design next year's agenda to be a lot densely packed with presentations.

6:00PM - Migration to ASO from BSO
Steve Liebermensch, Consulting Technical Director in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Oracle, gave a presentation on converting BSO cubes to ASO cubes. I came up with the topic and asked Steve to deliver it and he did a bang up job.

He covered why to migrate to ASO, functional differences between BSO and ASO, MDX to Calc Script equivalents, migrating Sample Basic (as an example), and Gotchas of migration.

Why to migrate from BSO to ASO:
-Decrease update window
-Reduce database size
-Increase dimensionality
-Increase dimension size

Functional differences between BSO and ASO:
-Upper level loading
-Procedural calculations (calc scripts to do things like currency conversion)
-Native expense handling
-Dynamic time series (not in 9.3.1 or 11.1.1, despite rumors to the contrary)
-Stored results of subtraction (as soon as a dimension has a minus sign on a single member, that dimension must be dynamic in ASO)
-Attribute dimension functionality (any dimension can have an attribute in ASO and it's worth pointing out that attributes perform must better on attribute dimensions)
-Time intelligence
-Formula syntax
-Performance characteristics

Some gotchas:
-Unit * Rate calculations
-Upper-level data load
-Custom functions

He made a good point that people shouldn't convert a cube to ASO if BSO is working just fine.
Steve's giving a presentation on Wednesday about optimizing ASO cubes and I'm sure it will go as well.

5:00PM - ASO: Understanding MDX
Glenn Schwartzberg, Oracle Hyperion ACE and ODTUG Ambassador, wore a jester hat to introduce Gary Crisci, Oracle Hyperion ACE. Glenn gave a personal ad for Gary that was Hyperion-centric and humorous. Gary started off by thanking me and Tim for putting the track together which was extremely gracious. He commented that some people told him that they feel they've gotten better information so far at this conference than at any Hyperion conference they've been to.

I won't be able to repeat everything Gary Crisci said, but I'll try to draw out some points that some people might not know. Gary pointed out that MDX is used to query both Essbase BSO and ASO cubes but can only be used in ASO cubes. He also pointed out that MDX is used for both querying metadata and data. For additional MDX help, go to the Essbase Technical Reference and visit MDX->Aggregate Storage Topics->MDX Outline Formulas (in System 9 and later).

Steve Liebermensch pointed out that some of the tips Gary gave for doing things like Time Balancing change between Essbase ASO 7x, System 9, and 11.1.1. Steve promised to go into these more on Wednesday during his ASO optimization presentation.

Gary recommended two MDX books:
- Fast Track to MDX; 2004; by Whitehorn, Zare, Pasumansky
- MDX Solutions with Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Server 2005 and Hyperion Essbase, 2nd Edition; 2006; by Spofford, Harinath, Webb, Huang, Civardi

Tracy McMullen (best co-author ever) pointed out that the Read Me files with each file list all the new MDX functions in each version. You have to read all the Read Me files if you started MDX under 7 and are now on later versions. She also pointed out that MDX shouldn't be used for bulk exports; one should look to report scripts or do a calc script export.

Someone asked if MDX has variance financial intelligence? The answer was that you can do it with a UDA and an IIF function.

Gary promised to get his slides & examples up on the ODTUG website. When I notice, I'll blog it here. Gary gave a great presentation (he's a fun guy). I'm going to ask him to speak at events in the future.

3:40PM - 64-Bit Essbase
The "Power of 64-Bit Essbase" presentation with Tim went well. I ran about 10 minutes over, but that's because we had time at the beginning of the presentation for interRel and AppliedOLAP commercials.

While my presentation went on for 30+ slides, there were two points that I wanted everyone to remember:
- Consider using 64-bit if you want to build bigger cubes with more concurrency on users and CPUs but be aware that 64-bit is not as stable as 32-bit.
- Throw away all the old optimization tips and try everything again with 64-bit.

After the presentation, we're breaking for 20 minutes for soft drinks and cookies.

2:15PM - Large Scale Implementation Panel
I just attended a panel on Large Scale Implementations of Essbase headed by Steve Liebermensch from Oracle who is also the moderator for the day. I was the one who recruited the panel members:
-Jay White, MDAnderson Cancer Center
-Andy North, Alcon Laboratories
-Rob Donahue, WhittmanHart
-Gary Crisci, Morgan Stanley
-Jason Novikoff, interRel Consulting

Here are the questions as best as I can paraphrase:
Q: What's your definition of a large-scale implementation? User count, number of cubes, large number of cubes?
Gary: Anything that would cause a block storage cube to break. Maybe the biggest dimension has 50-60K members, but it takes a lot of people working together to get it to work.
Jay: Number of users, number of load files, number of dimensions. A lot of it has to do with complexity.
Rob: A departmental solution isn't enterprise-wide. Number of users, cubes, and infrastructure requirements.
Jason: Number of users can drive your architecture. You can make several services redundant, you can load balance your cube... You need to load balance your cube.

Q: What should you do to load balance using what used to be Spreadsheet Services then Deployment Services and is now APS?
Gary: We're setting up SAN-based storage with clustering. Multiple servers are accessing a central SAN drive storage. It's good for business continuity planning (BCP) if the building burns down or whatever.
Andy: We basically ZIP up exports for backup purposes.
Jay: We run multiple servers. We literally run from 3 different physical locations for redundancy and continuity.
Steve: If you want true redundancy, you have to double your storage, but if you just want duplicate servers, you can feed everything off a central Storage Area Network.

Q: Are you running multiple environments?
Jay: We run multiple versions, because not everyone at our company is comfortable with System 9.
Gary: Our SQL farm is better funded and staffed than our Essbase farm, so we leverage the SQL farm to help us recover from backups more quickly.

Q: Has Oracle changed messaging these days? Why is IT supporting Essbase more?
Gary: Oracle buying Essbase has gained IT support?
Rob: Compliance and SarbOx. IT has to have a compliant system and support that system. Essbase is now a multi-tier solution used across the enterprise.

Q: Have you discussed why you might want to go to System 9?
Andy: We just signed the contract to go to System 9.
Gary: Good month for Oracle sales: we just signed ours to.
Andy: Our reason is mostly to stay in support not features really. It's a small group involved right now.
Jason: One of the driving factors for RadioShack for going to System 9 was for reporting purposes. For our new reporting project, they wanted to go from Crystal Reports to Interactive Reporting. We wanted to be on System 9 for the new IR reporting.

Q: How do you enforce playing nicely with others in a shared environment?
Jay: We don't play nicely. We were wholly owned by finance and now we're owned by IT. What we did (as a not for profit) was to break across multiple servers.
Andy: We broke up servers along departments, so if you're stepping on someone, you're stepping on your own group.

Q: How many people in the audience report up through IT?
A: [about 20%]

Q: How many report up through finance?
A: [about 80%]

Q: And how many of those have changed from finance to IT or the other way around?
A: [about 10%]

Q: How do you measure ROI on a large-scale implementation
Jay: We're rolling out System 9 right now. Part of our methodology is you must prove ROI. We justified our ROI was single sign-on across all the various applications we use.

Q: Have you built BI Competency Centers (AKA Centers of Excellence)?
Rob: We've seen some at some of our clients but leadership has to be on-board.
Jay: We've hired outside help to work with us to create a Center of Excellence.

Q: What blows away your capacity planning? Lots of concurrent users? Running big queries? Lots of simultaneous calcs?
Jay: We set limits in our Essbase config so queries can't run more than 180 seconds.

Q: How do you handle backing up Essbase cubes and defragmenting cubes with users demanding 24x7 uptime?
Steve: A Planning cube has to have downtime. A reporting cube can do things with partitioning and swapping cubes (even if you don't use clustering) to give close to 24x7 uptime.

Q: How many Essbase support people do you have?
Jay: We have 3 areas and have 42 people supporting the applications across those 3 areas. 3 of those are admins and we have 5 Oracle DBAs supporting our Hyperion apps too.
Gary: We have 7-8 developers, 6-9 production DBAs, and 5-6 people in our infrastructure team.

I enjoyed the panel although like most panels, a couple of people dominated the panel answers. Steve did a fabulous job of getting the panel to open up as much as he could and spread the answers around. I don't know if he'll let me talk him into something like this again, but I would definitely hit up Steve Liebermensch to host a panel for me again. Not only is he entertaining, he keeps the off-topic questions to a minimum.

Tim Tow and I are about to deliver a vendor presentation on 64-bit Essbase. It's officially a paid presentation, but that's only because I didn't want someone else buying the timeslot and making me sit through a 60-minute advertisement. If anyone wants the slides because you're considering going to 64-bit Essbase, e-mail me at info@interrel.com.

1:15PM - Lunch
Lunch was a hot plated meal. It was admittedly tasty but I liked the options of the yesterday's buffet more. I'm still satiated, though, and they brought me a vegetarian portobello and potato cake.

It's time to head back to the Essbase room for the Large Scale Implementation Panel.

11:33AM - Essbase Keynote
I did indeed miss both breakfast and the general session. I got to the Essbase ballroom 30 minutes before the keynote only to find that some guy from Pinnacle snagged my choice spot by the only power supply near the seating area. I'll have to blog without a table today so I can go sit by an electric outlet.

ODTUG Ambassador Gary Crisci (Oracle ACE from Morgan Stanley) introduced Robin Hazel, Oracle's Director of Strategy for Essbase. Robin Hazel has what seems to be a very realistic British accent, so I can only assume he's intelligent. He started off with the boring disclaimer slide that most people in the audience can quote from memory at this point. He then continued on into the EPM System Vision slide (the cycle of EPM that Hyperion created: Set Goals, Plan, Monitor, Analyze, Report, Align, repeat as necessary).

He covered the architecture of Oracle's EPM layer. The EPM Workspace sits on EPM Applications (Planning, HFM, Strategic Finance, Profitability Management, etc.) and BI Applications (the pre-packaged OBIEE apps that came from Siebel Analytics). Those sit on the BI Foundation (Essbase, BI Server, and Predictive Analytics). The BI Foundation sits on Fusion Middleware which sits on all the underlying data sources. That's a lot of sitting. I really should find the EPM architecture slide to show this visually. I just found an image at http://www.oracle.com/solutions/business_intelligence/docs/epm-system-graphic.pdf:

Robin addressed the Oracle OLAP elephant in the room: What's going on with Oracle OLAP (the old Express) now that Essbase is owned by Oracle? Here are Robin's differentiators:
- Essbase is for heterogeneous data and OLAP is for Oracle-centric data.
- Essbase is owned by lines of business (end users) and OLAP is owned by IT.
- Metadata in Essbase is owned by users and OLAP metadata is owned by IT.
- Essbase has hot pluggable data sources whereas Oracle OLAP has hot pluggable BI Tools.
In other words, Essbase is driven by the users whereas Oracle OLAP is driven by the IT organization for enhanced data warehousing.

He tackled the question of "Why does Oracle love Essbase?" (his words, not mine):
- It has the richest business user experience. It has excellent Microsoft Office integration and a range of superior reporting tools (like Financial Reporting, Web Analysis, and Visual Explorer). It also has Smart Space (the only persistent, always on BI/EPM gadgets in the world).
- It has a highly advanced calculation engine. They're now claiming 350+ functions which is a stretch unless you count some functions multiple times based on optional arguments, but the function library is impressive nonetheless.
- A bunch of other reasons that the readers of this blog already know. At one point, Robin opened up the keynote to the audience to tell their stories about non-financial applications of Essbase.
Oracle seems interested in getting Essbase out of its "financial niche."

Robin gave an interesting slide titled "10 Things You Can Do Today to Prepare for Oracle Fusion Applications":
  1. Move to the latest applications releases.
  2. Prepare a roadmap to evolve to Oracle Fusion applications.
  3. Inventory your enterprise assets.
  4. Rethink your "customization" strategy.
  5. Consolidate your master data.
  6. Embrace SOA-based integration.
  7. Extend your BI applications portfolio.
  8. Adopt enterprise reporting & publishing.
  9. Secure your global enterprise.
  10. Centralize your application's lifecycle management.
Robin opened it up for questions at the end. There was only one: "What direction is Oracle planning on taking with underlying databases feeding into Essbase like DB2, for instance?" Robin didn't know the answer specifically, but did say that Oracle's direction for Essbase was to sit on top of every source database they possibly could.

It's off to lunch. After yesterday's foodapalooza, I'm excited. I can't say that I've ever really felt that way about conference food before.

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