SQL Server Analysis Services, or SSAS, is a part of Microsoft BI. It’s included as a component of the SQL Server system. This is the OLAP and data mining portion of its solution. In recent years it has been updated.
Like many parts of SQL server, it was originally technology built at another company. Panorama Software was the original developer, and it was licensed to Microsoft in 1998. The release in 2000 was not a big update. It was really with the 2005 and 2008 series releases where much more functionality was added. In addition, much work was done to improve scalability.Since its included in the SQL stack functionality, its often a first step look for many companies into the BI world or to extend the database and datawarehousing to include OLAP abilities.
The product is somewhat unique in that it can manage all OLAP functionalities, either relational (ROLAP), multidimensional (MOLAP), or a hybrid (HOLAP). In many cases, its used to built MOLAP cubes that can be used by SQL Server Reporting services or other front ends, including Excel. However, other BI tools can use them as data sources, including Microstrategy and Cognos. Business Objects also offers support for MDX. The cubes are built in a technology called MDX, which is a far cry from standard SQL. Some basic SQL commands can be used, but by and by its MDX based. This can be a big shift for some organizations. Other similar technologies include Oracle’s Essbase and Cognos TM1 and PowerCube functionality.
In addition to the OLAP functionality, Microsoft has built in some additional data mining capabilities with SSAS. This uses DMX, a data mining modeling language.
It’s a popular choice for Microsoft SQL server shops and .net focused developers. Its being tightly integrated into its new Powerpivot and Excel 2010 packages.
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