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Hyperion Updates Its BI Stack

Company revamps Essbase OLAP server and updates Hyperion Performance Suite


By Stephen Swoyer

Yesterday, Hyperion Solutions Corp. unveiled a long-expected update to its business intelligence (BI) stack, delivering a revamped Essbase 7.0 OLAP server and an updated Hyperion Performance Suite 8.2.

The latter release marks the incorporation of a product—Performance Suite—that Hyperion acquired in July from the former Brio Software. Although only about seven months have passed since Hyperion announced its intention to acquire Brio, and in spite of the fact that Hyperion closed out its acquisition of the troubled reporting company less than four months ago, officials say the new Performance Suite 8.2 isn’t simply a repackaged version of a former Brio tool.

Rob Berry, director of product marketing for Hyperion, says his company had a long-standing partnership with Brio that allowed for some base-level integration between the two companies’ OLAP and reporting products. Nevertheless, Berry argues, Hyperion “upped the priority so that users could work seamlessly with Essbase and the Performance Suite” in the new versions. For example, he points out, Hyperion Intelligence and Hyperion SQR—components of the Performance Suite—can both access data from Essbase, and Hyperion has introduced dashboard support for the integrated products as well.

At the same time, Berry concedes that Hyperion still has some work to do. “To an end user, at this point, they don’t need to concern themselves with where the data’s coming from, so that’s the first step. Going forward, we intend to have better integration [between the two products] and improve the functionality, so that there’s more [users] can do.”

This is undoubtedly workable for existing users of Hyperion and the former Brio’s products, but an independent analyst and consultant who has used competitive offerings from Hyperion, Cognos Inc., and other vendors suggests that at the moment there may not be enough meaningful integration between Essbase and Performance Suite to entice new users into the fold. “That’s my sense, and when I talk with people who have used this, they’re telling me the same things,” she comments, stressing, however, that as Hyperion introduces more meaningful integration between the two products, this will almost certainly change.

What’s really of note in the new BI platform announcement, some analysts say, is the revamped Essbase 7.0, which—among other features—boasts UniCode support and integrated support for the XML for Analytics (XML/A) query language, which defines a single API for exchanging analytic data between OLAP clients and servers, on almost conceivable any platform and in any language (see http://www.dw-institute.com/research/display.asp?id=6828&t=y). Essbase also features new predictive analytics functionality, says Berry, that is designed to enhance its value as a solution for both business performance management (BPM) and regulatory compliance.

“This gives users the capabilities of taking historical information, for example, looking at rolling fourth quarter historical information, and building out a model for what future performance can be expected,” he says. “It’s got built-in triggers and alerts which help us deliver Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, so that executives can more closely monitor what’s going on with their business.”

Mike Schiff, a senior analyst with consultancy Current Analysis Inc., says that Essbase has always been Hyperion’s killer app, so to speak, but that for one reason or another, the company hasn’t effectively promoted it. With a new BI platform announcement in which Essbase shares top billing with Performance Suite, Hyperion has finally come to its senses, Schiff says. “They had this huge advantage when Oracle sort of went dark with Express”—Oracle de-emphasized its Express OLAP offering when it integrated OLAP support into the Oracle database—“and they didn’t really exploit it. At the very least, they’re telling the world that Essbase still exists, and the new capabilities that they’re delivering [with Essbase 7.0] prove that they’re committed to it.”

Hyperion’s BI platform update roughly coincides with the product roadmap that it outlined on a provisional basis in October. At the time, Hyperion officials announced plans to deliver a new version of Essbase in January, with an updated Performance Suite expected to follow shortly thereafter.

Berry says that his company also plans to deliver an updated version of the former Brio Metrics Builder product. “Hyperion Metrics Builder version 7.2 is shipping right now, but their number one priority for the coming term is to integrate with Essbase as well, so right now it just has its proprietary operational store,” he confirms.

One long-standing area of concern for Brio customers is that of pricing. Now that Hyperion has acquired Brio’s product stack and plans to integrate it with its own, would the former Brio products still be available separately? More to the point, would Hyperion still license them under the same terms?

At present, Berry says, “very little has changed” in terms of the pricing or availability of Brio products. “They had a good pricing model. Basically, it’s the same functionality. Nothing has changed,” he comments. “We likely will bring the pricing models together in the future, but we won’t recharge customers for the same functionality that they’ve already bought.”

Nevertheless, he adds, as Hyperion adds new features and capabilities to Performance Suite, Metrics Builder, and other Brio products, that could change. “Our goal is absolute customer satisfaction, but the exact pricing and what we’re going to do going forward, a lot of that will depend on what new functionality is added to the product.”

Users Enthusiastic

Adam Franz, an independent Brio user and consultant, says he likes what he sees from Hyperion. Franz believes that the incremental enhancements to Performance Suite—which some critics have said don’t do enough to improve integration between that product and Essbase—are a good thing. “Upgrading from 8.1 to 8.2 is more like installing an elaborate patch that comes with extra features and bug fixes. Personally I think it's a good thing that Hyperion is not blasting people with press and pressure to upgrade to v8.2,” he says. “I think they realize that there are a good amount of people out there still making the migration from 6.x to 8.x, and I think they realize it would be unwise and pointless to bombard these people with hype about v8.2.”

Franz says that many existing Brio shops are still running much older versions of the company’s products—such as versions 6.5 or earlier. “Personally I think that Hyperion's lack of pressure and hype over the new release is a sign that they truly have a good sense of how corporate IT departments function and make decisions, that they truly understand their customers,” he observes.

Among other examples, he cites Hyperion’s willingness to perform on-site demonstrations and the willingness of Hyperion representatives to field questions from Brio users as two very positive upsides of the acquisition. Another, he says, is that Hyperion has thus far refrained from pressuring existing Brio customers to adopt its solutions. “They have kept true to their word about not forcing or pressuring former Brio customers to purchase other Hyperion products,” he concludes. “Oftentimes in these types of situations, a company will take advantage of the new customer base to push or even force their own existing products on the additional customers, but Hyperion said that they would not do that and I have seen no sign that they have.”

Meanwhile, Steve Cavill, a Brio consultant from Australia, says that he’s concentrated largely on reselling the former company’s products. That’s not exactly out of choice, however, he adds. “To date I have been concentrating on the old Brio products as I have not seen any movement in integrating the two product lines, either from a technical perspective or from a implementation partners perspective. It's a bit frustrating, as I suspect there [are] good work opportunities out there with the Hyperion product set, but I have not yet seen how I can take advantage of that.”

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer based in Athens, Ga. You can contact Stephen via E-mail at swoyerse@percipient-analytics.com.