Microsoft has always succeeded in simplifying and streamlining complex technologies. Through the streamlining process, Microsoft has drawn technologies from market niches and thrust them into the mainstream. For example, Windows transformed personal computing technology from its early spreadsheet focus into widespread workplace and household applications. Similarly, Visual Basic (VB) brought Windows application development out of the techno-geek realm, making Windows a standard platform for business-application development.
SQL Server is part of this technology repackaging because of its data warehousing and decision-support technologies. Microsoft's inclusion of online analytical processing (OLAP) Services (formerly, Plato) in SQL Server 7.0 will transform OLAP and decision-support technology from specialized technology into a mainstream business solution.
Critics claim that by adding OLAP Services to SQL Server, Microsoft will squeeze smaller vendors from the market. However, I think Microsoft's inclusion of OLAP Services in SQL Server will be a windfall for many OLAP and decision-support vendors. SQL Server's entry into the OLAP market will expand the market and place a new level of importance on decision support.
In addition, the high buy-in point of data warehousing discourages potential customers, but SQL Server's OLAP Services will lower these initial startup costs. SQL Server will provide an entry into data warehousing and will show customers the value of this technology by placing the foundation for data warehousing in the customers' hands. Although SQL Server's OLAP Services provides the business mainstream this foundation and a back-end data repository, SQL Server doesn't include query, analysis, and decision support. This lack leaves these areas open for third-party solutions.
Several database administrators (DBAs) have told me that SQL Server 7.0 OLAP Services won't affect their companies' plans to implement data warehouses and data marts. However, a quick look at my 8GB hard disk is enough to convince me otherwise. When I first got the disk, I thought I would never use 8GB of data. But a few months later, the drive is almost full. Granted, a hard disk and a data warehouse aren't the same, but you always find a way to use available capacity.
The widespread adoption of OLAP, data warehousing, and decision-support applications won't happen overnight. The industry has much to learn about the value and implementation of this technology. SQL Server 7.0's OLAP Services helps you get started, but doesn't offer the background and expertise you need to build production OLAP implementations. Now is the time to start learning about data warehousing.