OLAP (online analytical processing) is computer processing that enables a user to easily and selectively extract and view data from different points of view. For example, a user can request that data be analyzed to display a spreadsheet showing all of a company's beach ball products sold in Florida in the month of July, compare revenue figures with those for the same products in September, and then see a comparison of other product sales in Florida in the same time period. To facilitate this kind of analysis, OLAP data is stored in a multidimensional database. Whereas a relational database can be thought of as two-dimensional, a multidimensional database considers each data attribute (such as product, geographic sales region, and time period) as a separate "dimension." OLAP software can locate the intersection of dimensions (all products sold in the Eastern region above a certain price during a certain time period) and display them. Attributes such as time periods can be broken down into subattributes.
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OLAP can be used for data mining or the discovery of previously undiscerned relationships between data items. An OLAP database does not need to be as large as a data warehouse, since not all transactional data is needed for trend analysis. Using Open Database Connectivity (ODBC), data can be imported from existing relational databases to create a multidimensional database for OLAP.
Two leading OLAP products are Hyperion Solution's Essbase and Oracle's Express Server. OLAP products are typically designed for multiple-user environments, with the cost of the software based on the number of users.