In computing, online analytical processing, or OLAP (play /ˈoʊlæp/), is an approach to swiftly answer multi-dimensional analytical(MDA) queries. OLAP is part of the broader category of business intelligence, which also encompasses relational reporting and data mining. Typical applications of OLAP include business reporting for sales, marketing, management reporting, business process management (BPM), budgeting and forecasting, financial reporting and similar areas, with new applications coming up, such as agriculture. The term OLAP was created as a slight modification of the traditional database term OLTP (Online Transaction Processing).
OLAP tools enable users to interactively analyze multidimensional data from multiple perspectives. OLAP consists of three basic analytical operations: consolidation, drill-down, and slicing and dicing. Consolidation involves the aggregation of data that can be accumulated and computed in one or more dimensions. For example, all sales offices are rolled up to the sales department or sales division to anticipate sales trends. In contrast, the drill-down is a technique that allows users to navigate through the details. For instance, users can access to the sales by individual products that make up a region’s sales. Slicing and dicing is a feature whereby users can take out (slicing) a specific set of data of the cube and view (dicing) the slices from different viewpoints.
Databases configured for OLAP use a multidimensional data model, allowing for complex analytical and ad-hoc queries with a rapid execution time. They borrow aspects of navigational databases, hierarchical databases and relational databases.
The core of any OLAP system is an OLAP cube (also called a ‘multidimensional cube’ or a hypercube). It consists of numeric facts called measures which are categorized by dimensions. The cube metadata is typically created from a star schema or snowflake schema of tables in a relational database. Measures are derived from the records in the fact table and dimensions are derived from the dimension tables.
Each measure can be thought of as having a set of labels, or meta-data associated with it. A dimension is what describes these labels; it provides information about the measure.
A simple example would be a cube that contains a store’s sales as a measure, and Date/Time as a dimension. Each Sale has a Date/Time label that describes more about that sale.
Any number of dimensions can be added to the structure such as Store, Cashier, or Customer by adding a foreign key column to the fact table. This allows an analyst to view the measures along any combination of the dimensions.