As you can imagine, the amount of data contained in a modern business is
enormous. If the data were very small, you could simply use Microsoft Excel
and perform all of the ad-hoc analysis you need with a Pivot Table. However,
when the rows of data reach into the billions, Excel is not capable of handling
the analysis on its own. For these massive databases, a concept called OnLine
Analytical Process (OLAP) is required. Microsoft’s implementation of OLAP is
called SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), which I cover in detail in Chapter 8.
If you’ve used Excel Pivot Tables before, think of OLAP as essentially a massive
Pivot Table with hundreds of possible pivot points and billions of rows
of data. A Pivot Table allows you to re-order and sum your data based on different
criteria. For example, you may want to see your sales broken down by
region, product, and sales rep one minute and then quickly re-order the groupings
to include product category, state, and store.
In Excel 2010 there is a new featured called PowerPivot that brings OLAP to
your desktop. PowerPivot allows you to pull in millions of rows of data and
work with it just like you would a smaller set of data. After you get your Excel
sheet how you want it, you can upload it to a SharePoint 2010 site and share
it with the rest of your organization.
With PowerPivot you are building your own Cubes right on your desktop using
Excel. If you use PowerPivot, you can brag to your friends and family that you
are an OLAP developer. Just don’t tell them you are simply using Excel and
Microsoft did some magic under the covers.
When you need a predefined and structured Cube that is already built for
you, then you turn to your IT department.