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.
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.