The Old and New of Oracle Business Intelligence

Thursday Aug 26th 2010 by Steve Callan

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, and comparing 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 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, 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.

» See All Articles by Columnist Steve Callan

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