Call now: 252-767-6166  
Oracle Training Oracle Support Development Oracle Apps

 E-mail Us
 Oracle Articles
New Oracle Articles

 Oracle Training
 Oracle Tips

 Oracle Forum
 Class Catalog

 Remote DBA
 Oracle Tuning
 Emergency 911
 RAC Support
 Apps Support
 Oracle Support

 SQL Tuning

 Oracle UNIX
 Oracle Linux
 Remote s
 Remote plans
 Application Server

 Oracle Forms
 Oracle Portal
 App Upgrades
 SQL Server
 Oracle Concepts
 Software Support

 Remote S


 Consulting Staff
 Consulting Prices
 Help Wanted!


 Oracle Posters
 Oracle Books

 Oracle Scripts

Don Burleson Blog 









Oracle Data Warehouse OLAP, ROLAP, and MOLAP

Oracle Data Warehouse Tips by Burleson Consulting


Now that we understand that OLAP is a tool that displays summarized data, plotting one dimension against another, let's look at the vendor implementations of this technology. As you saw in the previous section, pivot tables are an excellent way to display multidimensional data, but OLAP involves more than just the multidimensional display of information. OLAP tools also must be able to extract and summarize requested data according to the needs of an end user, and there are two approaches for this data extraction that need to be discussed.

When multidimensional OLAP was first introduced, data was extracted from the relational engine and loaded into a proprietary architecture called a multidimensional database. The data was displayed quickly by accessing the pre-summarized data. This type of OLAP utilizes a multidimensional database, which has become known as MOLAP, or multidimensional OLAP. The other approach to data extraction uses a mapping facility and extracts the raw data from an operational relational database at runtime, summarizing and displaying the data. Because this approach does not require a multidimensional database, it has become know as ROLAP, or relational OLAP.

There are many different types of OLAP and MDDB products on the market today. As shown in Table 5.5, OLAP and MDDB have their own relative advantages and disadvantages, and they are both fighting to achieve recognition for their strengths.


Speed Slow  Fast

Queries     Flexible    Fixed

Disk cost                     Low         High

Table 5.5  OLAP versus MDDB.

Speed Vs. Flexibility

To the end user, ROLAP and MOLAP are transparent. The front ends for these tools are similar, and the types of decision support activities are roughly the same. There are, however, significant differences between the operational details of ROLAP and MOLAP that are of primary concern to the data warehouse designer. The biggest difference between ROLAP and MOLAP involves the tradeoff between speed and flexibility (see Figure 5.16). MOLAP engines, by virtue of their pre-summarization and loading, have the data ready to display and give the end user incredibly fast response times. ROLAP engines, by virtue of their ad hoc data extraction and summarization, give end users incredible flexibility in their choices of queries. This is the very heart of the difference between ROLAP and MOLAP--speed versus flexibility.

Figure 5.16  MOLAP speed versus ROLAP flexibility.

There is also the issue of economics. For non-relational shops, such as IMS installations, MOLAP can be far less expensive than ROLAP solutions. Whereas a MOLAP database can be purchased and configured for as little as $200,000[TZ98], ROLAP solutions have a much higher expense in terms of human resources for setup and configuration, as well as increased processing demands on the computer hardware.

On the other hand, shops that already have a relational database such as Oracle can quickly extract de-normalized data from their operational databases for downloading into MS-Excel pivot tables. This is by far the cheapest approach to OLAP because there is no investment in either hardware or software. Table 5.6 gives a listing of the most popular ROLAP/MOLAP products.

Vendor      Tool  Description

Oracle      Express     Excel spreadsheet extension, true OO

Oracle      Oracle 7.3  STAR query hints, parallel query, bitmap indexes

Microstrategy     DSS Agent   MDDB queries against RDBMS

D&B   Pilot Lightship   OLAP with custom and spreadsheet GUI

IBI   Focus/Fusion      MDDB engine

VMark uniVerse    NT-based MDDB engine

Kenan Accumate ES MDDB with PC-OLAP GUI

Arbor OLAP Builder      Extracts data from DW for Essbase

Arbor Essbase     MDDB engine with Excel spreadsheet GUI

Think Systems     FYI Planner PC-GUI, with MDDB and OLAP server

Table 5.6  OLAP/MOLAP product information.

Over the past 10 years, there have been significant advances in ROLAP and MOLAP, but there remains a chasm between these technologies. Let's take a look at the most salient differences between the technologies.

Multidimensional OLAP (MOLAP)

Multidimensional OLAP is generally thought of as the traditional multidimensional database (MDDB), and many of the early offerings advertised themselves as ?pure? multidimensional databases. As we have discussed, a multidimensional database is a database structure optimized for storing facts categorized along many dimensions. The MDDBs are far more effective for storing OLAP data than relational databases because they were designed exclusively with this purpose in mind. The other major consideration with multidimensional OLAP is the fact that all of the data is loaded, summarized, and stored in the MDDB prior to making the database available to end users. Because all the calculations have already been performed, multidimensional OLAP offers astounding response times. For these reasons, multidimensional OLAP is the best choice for applications with the following characteristics:

*     Impatient end users--MOLAP engines offer end users fast and predictable response times for their queries. In some cases, end users need to be able to quickly create new queries based on the responses from previous queries without losing their train-of-thought. This speed differential is getting smaller as the speed of relational databases improves, but there remains a dramatic difference between the retrieval of pre-summarized data from an MDDB and the runtime extraction and summarization from a relational back end. It is not uncommon for an end user to report a system outage when the ROLAP tool takes several hours to roll-up summaries from a relational database extract.

*     Sophisticated data analysis--MOLAP engines provide a more robust analysis environment than ROLAP tools. MOLAP engines support budgeting and forecasting functions and tend to have a much more advanced statistical toolkit than their ROLAP cousins. ROLAP, on the other hand, has the ability to provide ad hoc groupings while MOLAP cannot aggregate on the fly.

*     Ease of use--MOLAP engines are very easy for end users to configure and use to set up scenarios for decision support systems. Because the data is pre-summarized and stored in the multidimensional database, all an end user needs to do is specify the dimensions and groupings within dimensions. ROLAP, on the other hand, requires an end user with knowledge of the mapping of the operational databases, and it is much more difficult to configure.

Relational OLAP (ROLAP)

The advent of the multidimensional database led to an effort by tools vendors to create a method where data could be extracted from a relational database and presented to end users as if it were from a multidimensional database (see Figure 5.17). There are several methods for accessing a relational database and presenting aggregated data as if it were from a multidimensional database. These alternatives include ROLAP middleware tools and downloading pre-aggregated data to local pivot tables. Another common approach is to insert a metadata server between the OLTP relational database and the query tool.

Figure 5.17  Overview of a ROLAP system.

In order to be considered a ROLAP product, a tool must extract runtime data from a relational database, present summarized data in cross-tabular format, and possess a mechanism for translating the relational design into a multidimensional format. Examples of popular ROLAP products include:

*     DSS Agent by Microstrategies

*     Metacube by Stanford Technology Group

*     Holos by Holistic Systems

*     AXSYS Suite by Information Advantage

*     Red Brick Warehouse by Red Brick Systems

*     Prodea Beacon by Platinum Technology

ROLAP systems provide extremely flexible query engines by making any number of operational data stores available to end users. These back-end databases are usually relational databases, but ROLAP tools can also extract from a variety of different relational database.

ROLAP tools require the definition of the mapping between the OLAP model and the relational database, and generate SQL to extract the required data from the operational databases in a very similar fashion to the SQL generators described in Chapter 4.

Because the entire enterprise can be made available to a ROLAP tool, it is not surprising to acknowledge that ROLAP is far more flexible than its MOLAP cousin. Any data, on any platform or database, can be mapped into a multidimensional format; the ROLAP engine will obediently extract and summarize the data according to the extraction specifications. Because ROLAP is far more robust in this sense, it is the OLAP tool of choice for data warehouses that support the following features:

*     Data changes frequently--In a data warehouse where data is very dynamic and end users require up-to-the-minute summarizations, ROLAP is the only choice. MOLAP tools must extract and summarize data offline for loading into their multidimensional databases. To make matters worse, most multidimensional databases require recalculation of the entire database when a new dimension is added, an aggregation scheme changes, or data is added. These overhead factors make MOLAP inappropriate for decision support systems with highly volatile data sources. Examples of these types of applications include stock market DSS and weather forecasting tools.

*     Large data volumes--For very large database warehouses in the terabyte range, the cost of supporting MOLAP tools can be exorbitant. The pre-summarization of data can require hundreds of gigabytes of disk storage, and many companies cannot afford the millions of extra dollars required to provide sub-second response times for OLAP queries. ROLAP tools allow companies to leverage their existing investment in OLTP databases without having to buy a multidimensional engine.

*     Unpredictable types of queries--Because ROLAP engines can allow virtually any operational data source to be queried and summarized, ROLAP has a clear advantage for the decision support application that cannot predefine its query requirements. Of course, this flexibility comes at the cost of ease-of-use, because the IS department must often get involved to assist end users in creating the mappings to the operational databases.

Today, many developers are using relational databases to build their data warehouses and simulate multiple dimensions, and specific design techniques are being used for this. The push toward STAR schema design has been somewhat successful, especially because designers do not have to buy multidimensional databases or invest in expensive front end tools.

Several methods can be used to aggregate data within OLAP servers. As you can see in Figure 5.18, this method extracts data from the relational engine and summarizes the data for display. Another popular method pre-aggregates the data and keeps the summarized data ready for retrieval.


Figure 5.18  Aggregation and OLAP servers.


If you like Oracle tuning, see the book "Oracle Tuning: The Definitive Reference", with 950 pages of tuning tips and scripts. 

You can buy it direct from the publisher for 30%-off and get instant access to the code depot of Oracle tuning scripts.


Oracle Training at Sea
oracle dba poster

Follow us on Twitter 
Oracle performance tuning software 
Oracle Linux poster


Burleson is the American Team

Note: This Oracle documentation was created as a support and Oracle training reference for use by our DBA performance tuning consulting professionals.  Feel free to ask questions on our Oracle forum.

Verify experience! Anyone considering using the services of an Oracle support expert should independently investigate their credentials and experience, and not rely on advertisements and self-proclaimed expertise. All legitimate Oracle experts publish their Oracle qualifications.

Errata?  Oracle technology is changing and we strive to update our BC Oracle support information.  If you find an error or have a suggestion for improving our content, we would appreciate your feedback.  Just  e-mail:  

and include the URL for the page.


Burleson Consulting

The Oracle of Database Support

Oracle Performance Tuning

Remote DBA Services


Copyright © 1996 -  2017

All rights reserved by Burleson

Oracle ® is the registered trademark of Oracle Corporation.

Remote Emergency Support provided by Conversational