Data Warehousing: On-Line Transaction Processing (OLTP) versus Online Analytical Processing (OLAP)

What are some reasons why data warehouse projects are more likely to fail then traditional projects?

Reason 1: Designing a data warehouse -- the Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) variety -- is fundamentally different from an OLTP (On-Line Transaction Processing) structure. Specifically:

  • OLTP (On-Line Transaction Processing) is *customer-oriented* and uses for transaction/query processing; OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) is market oriented.

  • Looking at the schemas of OLTP (On-Line Transaction Processing) and OLAP (Online Analytical Processing), differences are immediately apparent: OLTP uses ER-based, application-oriented constructs; OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) uses star/snowflake, subject-oriented constructs.

  • OLTP (On-Line Transaction Processing) manages current data that is often to detailed for decision making; OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) uses historical data and allows for summarization and aggregation and stores/manages this data at various granular levels.

  • OLTP (On-Line Transaction Processing) access patterns are short, “atomic” transactions; OLAP are mostly read-only, some could be complex queries.

Traditional (relational) databases, aka OLTP systems, are designed to perform queries and perform transactions. In other words, they perform the everyday activities of an organization: purchasing, inventory, accounting, payroll, etc. Data warehouse systems (aka OLAPs) are used for data analysis and decision-making. They are used by ‘specialized’ users or ‘knowledge workers’ and the data they present is used mostly by upper management.

Here is a succinct list on how OLTP and OLAP differ:

Users and orientation:
OPTP: customer-oriented; used by clerks, DBA, IT pros
OLAP: market-oriented; used by knowledge workers, managers, analysts
But, of course, it takes IT pros and DBAs to *set up* data warehouses ;-)

Data content:
OLTP: manages current, highly-detailed data (not useful for decision making)
OLAP: manages large amounts of historical data; can summarize and aggregate; stores/manages info at various granular levels. Good for decision making

Database design:
OLTP: ER model, application-oriented database design
OLAP: star or snowflake model, subject-oriented database design

OLTP: current data within enterprise or dept – not historical data nor data in different organizations
OLAP: “spans multiple versions of a database schema” (based on evolution of an organization). May incorporate info from other organizations

Access Pattern:
OLTP: short, atomic transactions. Requires use of consistency controls” and “recovery mechanisms”
OLAP: most access is read-only; some complex queries

Reason 2: The data warehouse tool environment is several orders of magnitude more complex than the traditional tool environment. Not only are there many tools available but many categories of tools to select from. Specifically:

  • Due to the complexity and (especially) the wide variety of tool TYPES, the warehouse project manager needs to conduct a thorough analysis to select the right tools for the job. Some experts warn that choosing a front-end tool based on cost considerations only is the wrong approach. It is much better to spend (invest) in good tools to start with so that the data warehouse project (most likely, a very expensive endeavor) will not be compromised.

  • There are some important issues regarding ad hoc query tools and why they fail. Put simply, users cannot take the same approach as in OLTP (On-Line Transaction Processing) systems due to the complexity of OLAP (Online Analytical Processing). They must become familiar with Boolean logic and SQL/relational theory as well as schema design and iterative querying. They must also understand the tool itself; the repetitive, button-pushing practices of OLTP do not apply to warehouses.

Reason 3: The analysis process, including requirements analysis is fundamentally different from a traditional project.

This may be the most important (most common) reason that causes a data warehouse project to fail. Companies or project managers may get excited about the prospects of creating the data warehouse — jumping into the project without a careful requirements analysis. They should first ask themselves, “what are the USER requirements for the warehouse?” The analysis should also examine all user reports (such as legacy reports). Prompt users input is critical for these decisions.

More Data warehousing and data mining information:


Multiple Dimensional View of Database: ROLAP, MOLAP, HOLAP

Data Warehouse Project Warnings

Data Mining Primitives, Hierarchies, Architecture and Coupling

Data Preprocessing for Data Warehouses

Dimensions of data quality, tuples with missing values, data smoothing and data integration

Data Characterization, Discrimination, Association, Classification, Prediction, Clustering, and Evolution Analysis: Differences and Similarities

Data Warehouse Project vs Any Other Large Database Implementation

Data Mining and Data Warehousing in Biology, Medicine and Health Care

Other Information Technology pages:

Project Management Software

Project Management Training — FAQ part 1

FAQ part 4: Cost-Time Graph and Shortening Critical Path

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