The Old and New of Oracle Business Intelligence


In the world of Business Intelligence, the day has arrived. Oracle recently announced the release of Oracle Business Intelligence 11g, and the goods are now available. Steve Callan provides a history, tracing the software back to its origins, comparing the 10g with the 11g version.

In the world of Business Intelligence, the day has arrived. Oracle recently
announced the release of Oracle Business Intelligence 11g, and the goods (i.e.,
the software) are now available (as of Aug 14, 2010). You can be certain lots
of people are digging into the new features and improvements announced in this
release, so before getting into those details, let’s take a look at what the
existing state of affairs was, with respect to the 10g version.

First of all, a little history behind the origin of Oracle BI EE is in order.
The exact name of the product can be hard to pin down. You’ll see references to
OBIEE, Oracle BI EE, and OBIEE Plus. There was even something called OBIA back
in the day, but that is not where OBIEE came from. For the purposes of this
article, I’ll use OBIEE as the overall label or descriptor, and identify
specific components when needed. So, what is the difference between OBIEE and
OBIEE Plus? That’s where the history lesson helps.

In the mid to late 1990’s, the product originated as something called nQuire.
In 2002, what was then Siebel acquired nQuire and the product became more (and
widely) well known as Siebel Analytics. Siebel products were very much liked by
companies not using Oracle, not so much because they didn’t like Oracle, but
more along the lines of not really needing or wanting (and paying) for a
database system that expensive or capable. Keeping that in mind, you would be
correct in assuming that Analytics was pretty good at connecting with whatever
data source you cared to use.
In 2005 or so, Oracle acquired Siebel, which is a bit ironic given that the
Siebel product was started by an ex-Oracle employee by the name of – any
guesses? – Siebel. Analytics was branded as Oracle BI Suite, which came in two
editions: Standard and Enterprise. By and large, the only edition that matters
is Enterprise, and its prevalence contributed to "OBIEE" as opposed
to references of "OBISE" for those using OBIEE.

Release-wise, 10.1.3.4 of OBIEE has been the latest and greatest for a good
while. Related or embedded products such as Business Intelligence Publisher
also kept up with the release numbering, so BI Publisher, with its own history
within Oracle, has been fairly calm recently in terms of releases. That brings
us up to today with the release of 11g.
If you notice the URLs to access OBIEE and related products, you can see the
remnants of the original products. For OBIEE, a typical out of the box
installation results in…

http://< server_name >:9704/analytics

…and you can see how Analytics is to some degree still well and alive.
Another way you know that this product is not of Oracle origins is in how it
installs, as in, "What is this OUI thing you speak of, Earthman? We use
the much more efficient, reliable, and stable installer known as InstallShield."
Within the code base, all SQL queries are written with columns aliased using
"saw_x" (x being a number). In a way, all it looks like is that
Oracle found some places on the user interface to paste in "Oracle"
here and there and left the underlying functionality alone.

Going back to nQuire for a moment, one of the key files in OBIEE is a
configuration file, which points the application to the RPD repository file.
The name of the file is NQSConfig (with a file extension of "ini").
You can see how the "N Q" part fits in, and perhaps the "S"
was a bit of branding from Siebel.

Acquiring Siebel was a good business move on Oracle’s part, and not messing
with the underlying code was an even better move. As far as BI Publisher is
concerned, we know it originated from a reporting tool inside of E-Business
Suite, and its origin is still annotated on OTN web pages via a "formerly
known as XML Publisher" tag. The URL (after server:port) to access BI
Publisher still reflects its XML Publisher days and is xmlpserver. How does
port 9704 come into play, that is, of all the available ports to choose from,
why this one (or closely related numbers)? Nothing special about it as far as I
know. IANA currently shows 9701-9746 as being unassigned.

After installation is complete, the next major step in terms of configuration
is pointing Analytics, oops, OBIEE, to a data source. "TNS what? No, we
use ODBC." The setup step here is to add a System DSN using the Data
Sources (ODBC) setup process on Windows, which by the way, can use an Oracle
driver, but works just fine with Microsoft’s generic driver for Oracle. When
creating a new repository via the Administration tool, you have choices
including ODBC and Oracle Call Interface (OCI). Using ODBC, OBIEE can use
several different sources for data, including SQL Server. A table is a table is
a table, and the repository setup at the Physical layer (which is the first
layer, Business Model and Logical being second, and Presentation being third)
primarily consists of importing metadata about whatever schemas and tables you
want queries to be able to use down the road, once the repository is set to
"ready for use."

Before exploring details of 11g, here’s a little secret about using OBIEE; it’s
not that hard to use and it seems some people go out of their way to keep this
a secret. You hear "BI this" and "BI that," like BI overall
is some mysterious side venture of using data and you need to know a secret
handshake to get into the BI clubhouse. It’s not true at all, and if you have a
different perception, let me help disabuse you of that outlook. There are parts
of BI, which can be complex, no denying that, especially when you get into
OLAP-land, but with respect to the "BI" in OBIEE, it’s actually quite
easy to use. Once the repository is configured, actual use of the tool is
pretty straight forward.

If the OBIEE tool is of any interest to you, but you just didn’t know how you
would ever be able to figure it out, here’s the deal; be willing to spend about
three hours of your time to see for yourself how unmysterious some basic parts
of the tool are. This time doesn’t include what it takes to download and unzip
the software. Go through two Oracle By Example tutorials at OTN: installing
OBIEE on Windows (XP, Vista and 7 all work, with one little fix in the
setup.exe file to start the installer on Windows 7, about 40 minutes to install
and configure), and the Creating Reports and a Dashboard tutorial (about two
hours).

With respect to using OBIEE (someone else created the repository), the hardest
part is overcoming your lack of creative or artistic ability. If you are good
at making charts and graphs in Excel and understand that red and green don’t
mix so well in PowerPoint, you will be good at designing reports and dashboards
in OBIEE.

When it comes to creating a repository based on a dimensional model, well, this
part can be a bit challenging. You have to repeat the design steps within
OBIEE. For example, the relational design steps you did in "regular
Oracle" are repeated within the Physical Layer configuration process, and
that’s not so hard. Doing the dimensional modeling in the Business Layer,
especially if you’re creating levels, can be challenging.

Overall, install the old edition and check it out before jumping into the new
version. There may be lots of changes you can’t or won’t appreciate if you don’t
know what it was like in past.

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Steve Callan

Steve Callan
Steve Callan
Steve is an Oracle DBA (OCP 8i and 9i)/developer working in Denver. His Oracle experience also includes Forms and Reports, Oracle9iAS and Oracle9iDS.

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