JOLAP sees ‘light at end of tunnel’
No, it's not a near-death experience
Members of the long-winded Java Community Process (JCP) Expert Group for the Java OLAP Interface (JOLAP) are nearing completion of a formal industry specification for the management and exchange of multidimensional data between OLAP database servers and applications.
This week the group has completed a 60-day public review of the proposed JOLAP API specification and, based on the feedback it has received, is now poised to release a proposed final draft, a reference implementation (i.e. proof of concept implementation) and a technology compatibility kit (a piece of licensable software that will be used to verify specification conformance). The group gave no explicit details of definite release date for a final specification; but expects completion early next year.
At a technical level, JOLAP aims to define a platform-independent standard API for querying and managing metadata in OLAP servers and databases within J2EE platform environments. The specification is tied closely to standards such as the Common Warehouse Metamodel (CWM) and Java Metadata Interface (JMI). Hyperion Solutions Corp, a Sunnyvale California-based analytic applications vendor, is spearheading the JCP Expert Group which also includes influential vendors such as IBM Corp and Oracle Corp (that have both heavily invested in Java and XML and are promoting application-server-centric architectures) as well as SAS Institute Inc, the world's largest privately-held software vendor. Other members include Unisys Corp, Sun Microsystems Inc, Databeacon Inc, Nokia and Adaptive Ltd.
JOLAP is the latest in a continuum of software interoperability standards initiatives in the industry. It is designed to be the OLAP counter-part of the highly popular JDBC (Java Database Connectivity) API, for data managed by relational databases. Launched in 2002, Hyperion has since worked hard to drum up widespread vendor support in the vendor community. In this respect, it has been successful, but a notable omission is Microsoft Corp, which has already garnered significant industry support in the BI world for its OLE DB for OLAP standard, which allows different vendors' BI clients to access the OLAP capabilities of Microsoft SQL Server database.
Interestingly, Hyperion has also worked closely with Microsoft over the past year to develop the XML for Analysis specification, which is based on OLE DB for OLAP and which competes head-on with JOLAP. The initiative has gained the strong backing of leading BI incumbents such as Business Objects SA, Brio Technology Inc, Cognos Inc, AlphaBlox Corp and Comshare Inc.
At first glance JOLAP sounds similar to XML for Analysis. However JOLAP's data and metadata management capabilities are not found in the XML API and, unlike XML for Analysis, JOLAP will provide a single data-manipulation and query language. Once the JOLAP specification is fully released the BI market may well find itself polarized as vendors place their stakes in either the Microsoft-based XML for Analysis or the Oracle-backed JOLAP camps. However it is likely that many will hedge their bets by supporting both. All eyes will therefore turn to the BI user community to determine which of the two proposed 'standards', in fact becomes a 'standard'.