FAQ: Oracle’s New Version 11g Single BI Foundation Suite
In an interview with Jon Ainsworth, Oracle EMEA Business Development Director for Business Intelligence, we question the impact that the new OBI Foundation Suite will have on customers, and drill into some of the frequently asked questions.
So what is Oracle BI Foundation Suite exactly?
This is a new license that combines BI Enterprise Edition, Essbase, the new Scorecard and Strategy Management product, plus some integration components for integrating BI EE with Essbase, and also integrating the BI Platform with the Hyperion EPM products. In a nut-shell it’s a single license for all the key Oracle BI Platform components. Its very existence reflects the deep integration which now exists between these products.
How does Oracle’s new version 11g single BI Foundation Suite add value for customers?
In two ways. Firstly the single BI Foundation Suite provides a single unified platform for all business intelligence and analytic requirements, rather than having separate, siloed tools for various types of analysis. OBI Foundation enables customers to deploy a fully joined-up flow from strategy communication and reporting, the supporting business plans and analytical models built within Essbase, and then tie this back to operational reporting with BI EE core’s functionality – all in a joined up solution using shared data and metadata. Essentially all the functionality that would be required for supporting the full spectrum a company’s BI needs, as well as being a suitable suite to provide full platform requirements needed to deliver a BI Standardisation program.
Secondarily it ought to be noted that the price of BI EE foundation is significantly lower than buying the individual component separately off Oracle’s price-list. That’s surely of value!
So does this mean Customers have to put all their data into one big Oracle Database?
NO! In fact they do not necessarily need to use Oracle database(s) at all. In common with the rest of Oracle’s middleware, the BI Foundation is an open solution, supporting Oracle and Non-Oracle sources and infrastructure. This gives customers tremendous agility and flexibility of deployment options.
Both OBI EE and Essbase are already in use in many of our customers to analyse data held in many non-Oracle data stores such as Microsoft SQL Server, Teradata, IBM DB2, and even spreadsheets and flat files. Of course we’d like customers to buy an end-end Oracle solution, where the components are optimised to work together, but it certainly works well in a heterogeneous environment too.
Oracle Business Intelligence 11g had a lot of new features, what are the most significant in your view?
Indeed – there were more than 150 development projects delivered with BI11g. For me, the key few “value drivers” are the OLAP integration features, the new Spatial map visualisations, the Scorecard & Strategy Management pieces, integration with Hyperion Performance Management Applications and finally the Action Framework.
How will Action Framework add value?
Action Framework represents functionality that delivers what BI Analysts have been talking about for quite a while: connecting BI with Operational Business processes, in order to make BI “operationally significant.”
The Action Framework is an integration framework that enables immediate action to be taken once a condition or threshold has been met or exceeded. This action can be taken by the BI EE environment in a “lights-out” automated fashion, or via direct user interaction. A practical example might be a BI Dashboard highlighting a customer credit-risk issue, and the BI user then being able to directly initiate a credit-hold right there on the dashboard - rather than having to turn to an operational system or send someone else an email etc.
The benefits of being able to connect BI to operational systems (either automatically, or via user involvement) is the reduction in time between problem identification and problem resolution – which can result in significant cost savings and revenue increases. This reduced cycle times, from Insight to Action can have a rapid and direct impact on a companies’ bottom-line.
What is the difference between Action Links & Action Framework in 11g vs. Action Frameworks in 10g vs. BI Application Action Links? Haven’t we always had this? Why better now?
Action Links (a capability in both 10g and 11g) allow a user with the appropriate security to drill to a source that typically resides completely outside of the OBI framework. This process has been previously labelled “Insight-to-Action” too.
In OBI 10g, a developer can write execution code (java, java script, etc.) that calls a third-party system or object from an OBI dashboard/report condition being met. This necessitated involvement of IT and development resources with no delivered integration points to business processes, source systems, and middleware components.
In OBI 11g, the Action Framework (a brand new and large feature) allows definition of actions and linkage to internal navigation or external processes in metadata, as part of the Common Enterprise Information Model. Actions can conditionally appear on dashboards and reports, can carry context from the dashboard or report, can allow the addition of other user parameters, and can initiate an action securely. Actions can be BI navigation (internal to OBIEE), or initiation of an external workflow or process. There is much more flexibility in how to integrate with external processes, but integration with industry standard BPEL can be accomplished without any coding.
What’s been done with BI EE 11g regarding OLAP integration?
There have been things done in this area, but some of the key elements are that we’ve combined the Adhoc capabilities of both specialized OLAP query tools with relational query tools, to give the best of both worlds - with multi dimensional and relational style access from the same toolset. This works on any data source, via the single unified interface of BI EE. This is an industry first because in the past it’s been necessary to use different query tools dependent upon where data is physically stored. Now we can provide sophisticated OLAP calculations, dimensional analysis, hierarchical navigations etc etc on any data source, or combination of data-sources, irrespective of where data is stored: relationally, dimensionally or in flat files, or a mixture of all three.
Why would I use Essbase if I can do OLAP analysis against any data source?
Essbase does much more than just provide OLAP analysis. Oracle Essbase is the leading online analytical processing (OLAP) server available today. Oracle Essbase provides an environment where business users can rapidly develop custom analytic and enterprise performance management (EPM) applications that are managed by business users, like our pre-built Hyperion Planning application. It provides scenario modelling, planning and what-if analysis that is difficult or impossible using relational technology.
Does OBIEE 11g understand the measures-dimension in Essbase?
Yes, in OBIEE 11g, the measure hierarchy is automatically respected and kept intact. Expand and collapse of the levels within the hierarchy is available via OBIEE Analysis (the “Answers+” interface).
In OBIEE 11g, is there support for ragged or alternate hierarchies?
OBI 11g correctly supports ragged display with dimensional column as well as unbalanced and parent/child hierarchies, as well as features such as remove only, keep only, and suppress missing.
Spatial Mapping Support
What’s been done with BI EE 11g regarding Spatial integration?
Oracle BI now provides spatial mappings and visualisation out the box. It’s as easy to create a map view of data, as it is to create a tabular or graphical view. This is helpful for end-users in that it enables rapid intuitive interpretation of complex information. Additionally, integration with Spatial data sources, can enable entirely new types of BI analysis that were previously not possible - for example find customers within a specific distance radius, or driving distance, of a proposed new retail store.
On an anecdotal note we are seeing huge interest from customers in leveraging mapping visualisations in their deployed solutions.
What are the data requirements for the OBIEE 11g Spatial Analysis feature?
Spatial data maps are required, which are available from several vendors. With Oracle BI EE we are including high level data from NAVTEQ, which is available as a free sample download from Oracle Technology Network for Oracle customers. The sample NAVTEQ dataset contains spatial data at the countries plus states/provinces level, plus detailed sample data for 3 world cities. If the customer requires additional data, it can be purchased from NAVTEQ or a NAVTEQ reseller. We are activity working with NAVTEQ in EMEA to ensure this as easy and smooth as possible.
What are the requirements to store the spatial data?
A database (preferably Oracle’s!) is required to store the underlying spatial data. The NAVTEQ spatial data can run on any version of Oracle Database 10g or later with the Locator or Oracle database Spatial Option. Oracle Locator is a feature of Oracle Databases (all editions) that provides core location functionality needed by many customer applications. For more advanced functionality, the Spatial database option is required.
Can the customer create their own maps?
Yes, custom maps can be defined in Oracle MapBuilder and included in the layers to be utilized in OBIEE 11g.
Scorecard and Strategy Management
What’s makes the Scorecard and Strategy Management important for you?
Well, numerous vendors have had similar products for years, including Oracle. The most important point about the new product is that it’s an integrated component of the BI EE product. What this means is that because of the BI Server, and the fact that KPIs are defined within core metadata, it’s easy to correlate the actual performance against plans, targets and objectives. This has always been the Achilles heel of Scorecarding products in the past: great at defining and communicating strategy – very poor at being able to collect and correlate the actual data from operational systems, DWs and other datasources, in order to track performance. What we have now is an integrated piece of the stack, rather than a separate siloed tool.
Is Hyperion Performance Scorecard going away?
No, Hyperion Performance Scorecard is still available. However, the OBI Scorecard product that is part of OBIEE is the strategic product moving forward.
For a current OBIEE 10g customer who upgrades to 11g, will there be any additional fees for the Scorecard application?
Yes, the Oracle Scorecard and Strategy Management (OSSM) product is a separately licensed product.
Is OBIEE 11g a pre-requisite for the 11g Scorecard?
Yes, OSSM does not run standalone. OBIEE 11g is a pre-requisite product. Also note that OSSM, OBIEE Suite Plus and Essbase Plus are all included in the Oracle BI Foundation Suite discussed earlier.
Integration with Hyperion Performance Management Applications
What’s new in this area?
On the one-hand it’s easy to miss this item of functionality in BI 11g, because it’s simply the fact that the Hyperion Performance Management Applications can now be data sources to the BI Server (for Hyperion Financial Management via the direct connectivity or via the new Essbase Analytical Link, and for Hyperion Planning by the fact that we now have great connectivity to Essbase – which is the technology underpins of Hyperion Planning.)
In fact, for Hyperion Application customers, this connectivity is a great thing, and can be very beneficial to them. From a technology stand-point it means that they can now transition to the strategic Oracle BI EE tools, and benefits from all of its rich functionality. Secondarily, from a business perspective it means that they can start to unlock the valuable information within the EPM environment, and disseminate it across their business. EPM plans can now be easily correlated to actual performance via the capabilities of the BI Server; they can move to a self-service BI culture, rather than Finance being burdened with producing lots of adhoc reports; and finally the sharing of performance information can enfranchise and empowering a performance management culture across the company.
Now is certainly the time that Oracle Partners should be taking BI EE or BI Foundation to their Hyperion customers. Similarly, Oracle partners that have come from a Hyperion partnering background ought to start thinking about skilling-up with BI EE if they haven’t already done so.
What products are required to use OBI 11g?
WebLogic Server? - A restricted use license of WebLogic Suite SE (restricted to run the components of OBIEE) is included and installed with OBI 11g. WebLogic SE is sufficient to run Oracle BI EE 11g, but if clustering is desired, a license of WebLogic Enterprise Edition is required.
Enterprise Manager? - Enterprise Manager is included as part of the license for OBIEE 11g. No separate license is required. It is installed as part of the OBIEE 11g installation process.
WebCenter? - WebCenter is not required for OBIEE 11g. OBIEE 11g can be integrated into WebCenter deployments in order to provide rich collaboration functionality. WebCenter Suite is licensed separately.
Oracle Database? - An Oracle Database is not required to install and run OBIEE 11g.
Map Viewer? - Map Viewer is required to take advantage of the Spatial mapping integration of OBIEE 11g. Map Viewer is included as part of the license for OBIEE 11g. No separate license is required.
Does OBIEE 11g require its own database to store metadata?
Yes, OBIEE 11g utilizes a BI Schema (repository) that contains metadata about the 11g environment, including scheduling, annotations, and so on.... This schema can be stored in a supported Oracle database, but also in a Microsoft SQL Server or IBM DB2 database.
How robust is the security model in OBIEE 11g?
All components of Oracle Business Intelligence are fully integrated with Oracle Fusion Middleware security architecture. Oracle Business Intelligence authenticates users using an Oracle WebLogic Server authentication provider against user information held in an identity store. This accesses information about users, their groups, and email addresses directly from the configured identity store, and communication between processes in the middle-tier has been greatly simplified for OBI 11g to use SSL.
Is OBI 11g scalable to large deployments: where is the performance benchmark to prove this?
Several benchmarks have been conducted to prove out the claims of scalability and performance. One such benchmark was performed on two SPARC Enterprise T5440. On eight nodes, OBI was able to handle 50,000 concurrent users at 63% average CPU utilization, with an average response time 0.28 seconds.