September 15, 1998 1:25 PM PDT

Microsoft adds to Plato feature list

Surprising few observers and worrying some potential competitors, Microsoft has detailed additional features for its upcoming online analytical processing (OLAP) server, code-named Plato, which assertively positions the software giant as a player in the high-end online analytical processing market.

The Redmond, Washington-based company yesterday released a final feature set and additional independent software vendor support for Plato, now officially named Microsoft SQL Server OLAP Services, positioning it as a platform for enterprise-class OLAP applications when the software ships later this year.

The additional features make clear Microsoft's intentions to take a leading position in the OLAP market, said analysts. While the company was expected to stake out turf in the low end of the market, the new features indicate a broader focus.

"Many analysts predicted that Microsoft would dominate the low-end and mid-end OLAP market by the end of 1999," said Teresa Wingfield, an analyst with Giga Information Group. "Now this looks like this could happen in the high-end market as well."

By providing these particular services, Microsoft may seriously hurt smaller companies that makes money selling tools that do the same thing, said Wingfield. "They give customers one less reason to buy their tools," she said.

The new features include write back, member properties, and distributed query resolution technology, said Microsoft product manager Doug Leland. "The code was released to a small group of independent software vendors first, and will be released this week for full beta [testing]."

The new write-back feature allows users to do financial budgeting and forecasting, as well as "what-if" analysis. The feature takes advantage of the hybrid architecture and partitioning in SQL Server OLAP Services and uses the relational database to manage the transactions, the company said.

As for the member properties, this added technology lets users query additional information stored in OLAP cubes. These properties can be used just like regular dimensions to filter and sort OLAP data.

And Microsoft adds distributed query resolution that gives users the ability to "load balance data between your client and server," said Leland. The feature also allows users to decide whether a task would run better on the client or the server, he added.

Leland did not shy away from pointing out the differences between his product and those already established in the OLAP server market, naming Oracle, and Arbor Software as two companies that offer similar features in their products as those announced by Microsoft yesterday.

The decision to add these high-end OLAP applications could be bad news for a whole slew of OLAP market players big and small. And an earlier decision to bundle SQL Server OLAP Services with SQL Server 7.0 database, could also add to competitor demise as it provides customers with a substantial back office application bundle.

Oracle, IBM, Sybase, and Informix Software are already battling Microsoft in the database market. SQL Server's relatively low price tag has forced both Oracle and Sybase to cut prices on NT-based software in order to remain competitive.

Also, smaller OLAP players, such as Arbor Software and Information Advantage, will now find the world's largest software company trudging through their backyards.

Although Microsoft has not released the exact price of the OLAP Services, or the SQL Server 7.0 bundle, some analysts are predicting Microsoft will take advantage of its unique position as a software titan and provide a low-cost package that will provide many of the same high-end features as the traditional players in the market.

Mike Sun, an analyst at Giga Information Group said the company's moves in the OLAP market is typical of Microsoft. "They enter into a new market and more companies will follow. It is sort of like the ODBC market a few years ago, but some companies [besides Microsoft] benefited in the end. This could be good news."

 

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