Is OLAP cubes dead?

In this article I would like to explore my view of the future of OLAP cubes.

Cubes are dead!

How many times haven’t I heard that in the last while? Everyone would like to declare the end of OLAP cubes, some for good reasons and others for reasons based mostly in lack of understanding about their purpose and benefit. Mostly people would like to be rid of them because data modelling, data warehousing and OLAP cubes are technologies that take a bit of time to get up to speed with and they would prefer to move beyond it without spending time on it.

The problem is they want to move to data mining and big data technologies without the base knowledge needed for basic business intelligence. Online analytical processing or OLAP cubes have been with us a long time. They started in the 70’s and then really took off in 1998 with the release of Microsoft Analysis Services.

From my perspective I’ll give a few reasons why I don’t think they are going anywhere soon:

  • Investment – All the current players are still investing heavily in the technologies.
  • Use – The use is still growing in comparison to overall IT spend.
  • Need – They are needed more and more as the retail sector is moving more and more too online.
  • IOT - The internet of things give us more and more data to analyse.

So while people would like to make more sense of their data I think there will be a need for them.

But that doesn’t mean that the purpose they currently fulfil couldn’t be done better by a new technology. Before the car the carriage reigned supreme. So it will be with OLAP cubes too.

So what could replace it? It could be any of a multitude of things. Cloud based data warehousing that is so fast the pre-processing is no longer required.

And even if there is a technology that is ready to replace OLAP cubes there will still be place for them for the next few years as the benefit from current investment is being returned.

Then most medium to large organization will only move slowly to the cloud. Some will never due to security concerns and for those that can’t, OLAP cubes will continue to be the standard tool for pre aggregating of their data according to their dimensions.

So is OLAP Cubes dead? The answer not yet and not for the near future.