Tag Archives: Offline OLAP

Microsoft BI: Creating Local OLAP Cubes using XMLA and ascmd.exe

Most people, when using OLAP cubes, are hitting the live version that is located on SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS). They hit it with Excel, or some other reporting tool, etc. I have blogged previously about offline cubes and how you could possibly use them.

Now, the blog I did before, I talked about creating them with Excel, and that works great for end users. But what about automating the process? What about filtering dimension members, or measure groups, etc?  Now that you can use the Panorama Gadget for Google Apps/iGoogle (http://google-pivot-tables.blogspot.com/2008/04/panorama-analytics-gadget-for-google.html) you can upload .cub files and do BI in the cloud, how cool is that!

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Well, one option is purchase CubeSlice – http://www.localcubetask.com/  and use that to create your .cub files. CubeSlice works great, and is a good option if you want something with a ton of options and ease of use.

You can also create .cub’s using CREATE GLOBAL CUBE syntax in MDX, and you can also use XMLA to create a .cub. Options galore! Chris Webb blogged a few years about about using XMLA to create .cub’s here – http://cwebbbi.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!7B84B0F2C239489A!877.entry  He was using the MDX Sample App (I believe that comes with SQL 2000?)

What I was looking for was an easy way to us GLOBAL CUBE or XMLA and automate it, CubeSlice is nice, but there has to be a way to replicate (at least in a basic way) what they are doing. Thinking about XMLA – as to me it seems more powerful, that was the route I chose. I didn’t want to install the MX Sample App from SQL2K, and what Chris Webb says in his blog, and other things I read, basically the problem with using XMLA to create you .cub in SQL Server Management Studio is that you can’t specify a connection string, you have to connect to an SSAS instance. Using the MDX Sample App, you can specify a local file, and then run the XMLA and it will create the .cub file. So I just need to replicate that. 

I have also blogged about using ascmd.exe here . ascmd comes with the SSAS Samples with SQL 2005 (usually located here: C:Program FilesMicrosoft SQL Server90SamplesAnalysis ServicesAdministratorascmd) . You just need to compile it and you can use it to execute XMLA. So I decided to try that. I created an XMLA file to create my cube, and then executed it with ascmd.exe

ascmd -S c:MyOfflineCube.cub -i c:MyOfflineCube.xmla

In seconds, you have an offline cube. Now, in your XMLA you can have filters, etc. You could create an XMLA file that has some kind of variable, and you could create a replace task to replace that with what you wanted filtered, think maybe based on location, or employee, etc, and then kick out personal cubes for users, etc.

One thing I didn’t really get into is how to get your XMLA script. You could figure it out for yourself, but I actually just used CubeSlice for this example. You can create an offline cube with CubeSlice and actually see the XMLA code and use that. Maybe creating the XMLA script manually/yourself would be good info for another blog post :)

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Using Offline OLAP to Develop Cube Reports Without SSAS

One feature of Excel 2007 that I think is really cool, and also a little hidden, is the “Offline OLAP” feature.

If you insert a pivot table connected to an OLAP cube into Excel 2007, and go to the PivotTable Options Ribbon Menu, You will see the “OLAP Tools” Button. Click on that and then “Offline OLAP”.

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Once you go through the Offline OLAP Wizard, it will create a .cub file for you. What this ends up being is a local disconnected “cube” you can analyze in Excel, if you are on the plane, or in some remote area with no internet connection.

Other uses for the offline .cub files that I have found is this. Let’s say you want developers to develop Web based reports using .NET, maybe using the Dundas OLAP Services controls. If you don’t want to have to load SSAS or set them up to connect to any server so they can just develop locally, the .cub file is the way to go. In their .NET code, they can just change the connection string to point to the local .cub file, and then later when you are ready to go live, you can just change the connection string to the live cube. That way, if you are developing the cube at the same time reports are being developed, you don’t have to worry about uptime, etc. Just send them an updated .cub file every once in a while.

I don’t know much about the details for upcoming releases, like Microsoft Project Gemini, but I have a feeling that it might feel a bit like this, using Offline OLAP, or local analysis.

On a final note, if you really want to get geeky, you can actually create the .cub files from .NET, but that is another blog post :)