Pilot lands impressive OLAP suite

Pilot lands impressive OLAP suite

Pilot Software's Decision Support Suite (DSS) 6.0 holds good value for enterprises that must perform complex data analysis against very large multi-dimensional data sets. The suite provides both the server and front-end tools needed to get the job done.

DSS' features and functions, together with its high price, mark the Pilot offering as an online analytical processing (OLAP) solution that is clearly geared for higher-end sites. The product compares favourably against other high-end OLAP solutions, such as Oracle Express and Hyperion Essbase.

Microsoft is also poised to enter the OLAP market via built-in functions in its forthcoming SQL Server 7.0 (also known as Plato) as well as features that are found in Excel 2000. These Microsoft tools do a good job of bringing data analysis capabilities to the masses. However, Pilot DSS (and other higher-end solutions) are still better-suited for those who need tools to support extremely complex data analysis requirements.

There are four components that are key to Pilot DSS: Analysis Server, Analysis Library, the Designer module, and the Desktop module. The Analysis Server is the underlying multi-dimensional database engine that runs on the server. The Analysis Library contains 14 pre-built analysis modules that can be used as is or modified using the Designer component. The Designer module can also be used to create custom analysis applications from scratch. Finally, the Desktop module is a Windows-based client that is used to access the analysis applications.

Pilot Software also offers a separate product called Internet Publisher. This is a browser-based client alternative that provides access to the OLAP applications.

The Internet Publisher add-on is most useful for intranet settings where large numbers of end users need to access analysis applications. Pilot's Analysis Server uses a separate queue to service each Windows client.

In contrast, Internet Publisher is designed to let multiple brow-ser-based users access analysis applications via a shared queue.

Not exactly the same

Browser-based access to Pilot Analysis applications is similar to Windows clients, but not exactly the same. Those who wish to use the most complex analysis functions will be better off using the traditional client.

As with other rival OLAP server modules, I found the Analysis Server to be powerful yet complex to set up. I liked the manner in which Pilot gives the administrator greater control over where the data is stored.

In competing products, aggregate data is usually stored in the multi-dimensional engine while the detail data to support drill-down functions remains in its relational form. Pilot's Analysis Server lets you configure where the different aggregate layers are stored.

For example, more frequently used aggregations would be stored in the multi-dimensional database, while the administrator might move less-used aggregations into the relational database with the detail data. This makes access more efficient and also allows for analysis of larger data sets.

However, I found the setup so complex and time-consuming that it was detracting. Some further aids that help an administrator through setup tasks would be of great value.

Extra modules

I especially liked the Analysis Library component of Pilot DSS. The modules included typical OLAP functions, such as ad hoc analysis. There were also other modules that offered greater capabilities, such as quadrant and 80/20 analysis. The 80/20 analysis helps managers identify the 20 per cent of their customers that provide 80 per cent of their business.

The Analysis Library also contains four ranking modules. These modules provide everything from basic ranking on a single measurement to ranking a dimension based on different measures.

Another member of the Analysis Library is the Rising Star module. This component enables the end user to analyse gains and losses at regular time intervals. The exception module is also useful for identifying business metrics that fall outside of predicted thresholds.

Some of the modules had multiple versions that fulfilled everything from basic to extremely specific application requirements. I found the Analysis Library both powerful and extremely useful when working with the modules as provided. I also found that customising the modules was very easy. In fact, it was downright enjoyable.

The Designer module enables OLAP application creation through a graphical interface and a scripting language that is similar to Basic. This version of Designer includes support for ActiveX components and MapInfo objects. After inserting components and writing some script, I used the Designer's debugging tools to flush out my test applications and then got things working successfully.

Second nature

Those who are used to working with analysis tools will find the Pilot client interface - Desktop - easy to navigate. The look and feel of the navigation is similar regardless of the analysis at hand. OLAP novices may feel a bit overwhelmed by the interface at first, but after working with a few analysis applications the navigation becomes almost second nature.

Though high in price, Pilot DSS is a real boon to organisations that must perform complex and precise analysis to support mission-critical business functions.

Additional tools and tutorials to help OLAP administrators better manage the server setup would be an improvement, but if you're comparing potential OLAP solutions, Pilot's DSS belongs on your short list.

The Bottom Line

Pilot Decision Support Suite 6.0

The back-end and front-end tools in this online analytical processing suite provide the muscle needed to analyse very large multi-dimensional data sets. All of this power comes at a price that marks the suite as a higher-end solution for large IT sites.

Pros: Flexible data storage options; includes pre-built analysis library; allows customisation of existing applications; offers tools to create new analysis applications; supports ActiveX and geographic objects.

Cons: Lacks aids to simplify server-side setup.

Platforms: Server: Sun Solaris, HP-UX, AIX and other Unix flavours, Windows NT; Client: Windows 9x, Windows NT Workstation; Netscape and Microsoft browsers 3.0 and later.

Price: Available on request.

Pilot Software

Tel (02) 9975 2380

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