First Major On-Premises Release since 2015
Essbase to the Cloud
In recent years, most of Oracle’s Essbase innovation has been directed at the Cloud product. Essbase Cloud was first released in March 2017 as part of Oracle Analytics Cloud (OAC), a Platform-as-a-Service (Paas) suite managed by Oracle. For many customers, “Essbase PaaS” has been a double-edged sword, offering ease of instantiation and administration at the expense of complete optimization and automation flexibility. Partly in response to these challenges Essbase Cloud in the 19c release became a standalone, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure-hosted, customer-managed offering. While significant new features continue to be delivered in the Cloud, on-premises Essbase customers who have not yet moved to Cloud last saw a significant update in January 2015, when Essbase 126.96.36.199 was released. On-premises customers have not had access to cloud-only features, such as:
- Workflow and approvals
- Highly efficient sandboxing for scenario modelling without data volume explosion
- Enhanced Hybrid mode, blending the instant aggregation and scalability of Aggregate Storage (ASO) with the rich calculation capabilities and language of Block Storage (BSO)
- A “full coverage” REST API capable of automating any Essbase maintenance/administration task
19c and 21c-only features include the following:
Cloud and On-Premises Reunited
This situation has changed with the release of downloadable installers for Essbase 21c (along with the Cloud option available via the Oracle Marketplace). Customers now have a choice: Run Essbase 21c on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI), install using the wizard available in Oracle Marketplace, or download and install Essbase 21c anywhere else - in an on-premises data center or on any other hosting / Cloud infrastructure provider. Customers who for any reason wish to remain on-premises, or prefer not to use OCI for Cloud hosting, are no longer “shut out”. There is now one clear “go forward” codeline for new features and support (indefinitely) for all customers - Essbase 21c.
What’s New in Essbase 21c?
Although the biggest news with 21c is the support for both on-premises and Cloud deployments, Oracle continues to deliver new functionality.
Improved User interface
Key enhancements have been made over the 19c user interface, not least to the outline editor which was an area of weakness.
One of the persistent challenges with Essbase systems has been the need for time-consuming load, restructure and aggregation activities when updating data, and the resultant downtime for users. This is especially painful when users expect multiple intra-day updates or when delivering global systems where no natural “overnight” window exists. The advent of Hybrid Mode reduces but does not eliminate this step. Qubix proven practice to address this problem is to use a “build cube” which can be processed while users continue to work in the “live cube” - only after the build cube is fully updated/restructured / aggregated can it be switched with the live cube. In Essbase 21c, Oracle has incorporated this methodology natively into the product via the “Shadow Cubes” feature, eliminating the need to build custom scripts/automation to achieve the same result.
“2nd Generation” Hybrid Mode
Hybrid Mode first came to Essbase in version 188.8.131.52.500 and is intended to provide the “best of both worlds” between Block Storage Option (BSO) and Aggregate Storage Option (ASO). It allows customers to build BSO cubes, with their full-feature calculation scripting and dynamic calculation language, but take advantage of ASO-like speed and dynamic aggregation. This can result in reduced or even zero aggregation time required to report the results of changes, which has huge potential with Planning-style applications or those trickle-fed many times a day.
However, the on-premises versions of Hybrid Mode suffered from limitations in function support. Many functions and the cross-dimensional operator (->) were not supported, which made using Hybrid difficult for many applications. In 19c these limitations have largely been lifted, which makes Hybrid of much more practical use. In 21c, dependency analysis has been improved to permit more efficient query processing in Hybrid mode, resulting in better performance and the potential to build larger applications.
Optimization Tools in Cube Designer
The Cube Designer extension to Smart View allows power users and developers to build and modify cubes using Excel and also enables offline development. In the most recent version, tools have been added to support the benchmarking and optimization of cubes, especially Hybrid ones. In practice, as Hybrid cubes get larger, it is sometimes necessary to find a balance between making hierarchies dynamic (for instant aggregation, shorter calculation times) and stored/precalculated (for faster query performance). The Baseline utility automatically runs cube build, load, calculation and query steps, then records key performance parameters.
In addition to the Baseline utility, new tools exist to help determine optimal dense/sparse configuration based on analysis of real data, help size the calculator cache, and also identify solve order issues that can impact query efficiency.
Infrastructure and Compatibility Updates
The previous version of the Cloud codeline (i.e. 19c) used Fusion Middleware 184.108.40.206, support for which ends at the end of 2021. 21c updates this to Fusion Middleware 220.127.116.11, eliminating a support problem. 21c on-premises currently runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux / Oracle Linux versions 7 and 8. It also adds support for SQL Server 2016 and Oracle 11, 12, 18 and 19 as repository databases (compared to SQL Server 2008 and Oracle 10, 11 and 12 for Essbase 18.104.22.168, and SQL Server 2016 and Oracle 11 and 12 for Essbase 11.2).
Migrating to Essbase 21c from On-Premises
Migrating applications from on-premises Essbase is supported via the 21c version Lifecycle Management (LCM). If using Shared Services security, this can also be migrated with LCM. If using the alternative Weblogic security mode, Oracle has documented a process of manually editing the LCM output of an on-premises security export. Essbase applications can also be migrated using the DBX Export utility that produces Excel spreadsheets in the “Cube Designer” format, then imported using the 21c user interface. However, this methodology does not move all artifacts.
Automation is naturally more complex if moving from on-premises to Cloud - operations such as file moves can be accomplished via the EssCLI - but with a new client version, MaxL continues to be supported. The REST API offers new automation possibilities but requires additional coding. Qubix Cloudbridge leverages the REST API to fully support Essbase 21c both on-premises and in the Cloud and provides integration and automation capabilities.
From Earlier Cloud Releases
From Oracle Analytics Cloud (OAC) and 19c Essbase, Oracle provide a migration utility to make the movement of security, applications and system-level artifacts straightforward. Alternatively, the Essbase Command Line Interface (EssCLI) can be used to export one application at a time, and the resultant exports imported using the EssCLI or via the user interface. Note that moving to 21c whether on-premises or in the Cloud is always a migration - there is no upgrade or “patch” path, even from the latest Cloud versions.
What About EPM Customers?
For customers licensed to use on-premises EPM tools that rely on Essbase (such as Planning) the situation is more complicated at present, as Essbase 21c is not certified for use as the engine under EPM. Oracle has released EPM 11.2 which will be supported until 2032 (premier support for 22.214.171.124 expiring in 2020); the version of Essbase bundled with EPM 11.2 is effectively 126.96.36.199 and so does not contain any of the Cloud or 21c enhancements. It is naturally possible to install Essbase 21c environments in addition to the older version needed for EPM. The licensing / architecture issues are complex and we recommend customers in this position get in touch with us to discuss their options and roadmap further.
With support for Essbase 188.8.131.52 ending and the version of Fusion Middleware under Essbase 19c exiting support at the same time, Essbase 21c has arrived not a moment too soon. For the first time since the release of Essbase Cloud in 2017, on-premises and Cloud customers all have access to the very latest features and the same interfaces and automation/integration tools. An in advances from 19c, enhanced, full-coverage Hybrid Mode and Shadow Cube functionality promise significant improvements in user experience by eliminating or reducing time-consuming calculation and update “windows”.
New customers or existing ones who want to get the maximum return on their software investment should contact Qubix to discuss the expanded potential of 21c, upgrade planning, pricing and receive unmatched expert implementation advice.