Book Review: Developing Essbase Applications – Hybrid Techniques and Practices

I am very pleased to be able to review Developing Essbase Applications: Hybrid Techniques and Practices for you today. I can’t believe it has already been over three years since my review of the first Developing Essbase Applications book. As with before, this book is a collection of in-depth chapters on various subjects, written by some of the best and brightest out there in the Essbase community. The author list is pared down slightly from before and contains some new, but familiar names.

Again leading the cat herding editing efforts is the venerable Cameron Lackpour, along with John Booth, Tim German, William Hodges, Mike Nader, Martin Neuliep, and Glenn Schwartzberg. Those of you that frequent OTN, the Network54 Essbase Forum, or conferences such as Kscope will recognize these names quite easily. I am quite honored to consider these authors my friends and colleagues.

The DEA reader will be treated to several compelling chapters on incredibly contemporary Essbase topics, including the following:

  1. Exalytics
  2. Hybrid Essbase
  3. Young Person’s Guide to Essbase Cube Design
  4. Essbase Performance and Load Testing
  5. Utilizing SQL to Enhance Essbase
  6. Integrating OBIEE and Essbase
  7. Managing Spreadsheets with Dodeca
  8. Smart View

Essentially, the book takes a divide and conquer approach where each author tackles one or more of the chapters. Now, when it comes to programming books, of which I am a fairly avid reader, I am not a fan of the “cookbook” approach – wherein the book is a collection of disparate topics. In the programming book realm these books tend to read like a bunch of polished up blog posts. For this Essbase book, I think the approach works wonderfully. I have to say that none of the chapters feels like a glorified blog post. They are incredibly densely packed with useful information, and perhaps more usefully, they are packed with an incredible amount of insight and pointers that are derived from countless hours of efforts on the part of the respective authors.

I remember talking to Cameron when the first book came out and I told him that it was a good book, but I wasn’t sure that it was a great book (in retrospect I think I was being overly critical). And I remember that he told me that if you can learn just one or two things from the book, it’d be worth it. And that notion really resonated with me.

Along those lines, the chapters on Hybrid Essbase, Performance and Load Testing, and Smart View are worth the price of admission on their own. The other chapters are also quite compelling but your particular skill set will affect how much you get out of a chapter. For instance, I have done my fair share of SQL work, so I found Glenn’s chapter on Utilizing SQL to be an interesting treatise on Essbase and SQL but I didn’t happen to personally get a lot of it. That said, while I take familiarity with SQL for granted, I now know that SQL isn’t in every Essbase developer’s wheelhouse (but it should be!).

So, does this book pass the “did you learn one or two things from it?” test?


If you are at all serious about being an Essbase developer, I can easily and whole-heartedly recommend that you add this book to your collection. This is a no-brainer if you are a developer or a consultant. This is content from people at the top of their games that have put in countless hours to compile and write this content on incredibly useful topics. If you gain one insight on Exalytics, Hybrid Essbase, Smart View, OBIEE, SQL, cube design, performance testing, or learn something about the awesome Dodeca software, it will have been easily worth it.

If it were me, I might have spiced this book by adding in a Jason Jones chapter on ODI and Hyperion or some other interesting things, but I can’t fault them for that (next time, Lackpour, next time).

Nice job, guys. Now go buy this book.

The Essbase Book Review to End All Reviews: Developing Essbase Applications

I received my copy of Developing Essbase Applications – Advanced Techniques for Finance and IT Professionals some time ago and spent every spare minute I could find eagerly devouring the book. I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of the book to my doorstep, hoping and wanting it to be the Essbase book to end all Essbase books. While it has its flaws, it is a must-have for the dedicated Essbase practitioner’s bookshelf. As I always say in these reviews, there are precious few Essbase books out there, so anything that helps the cause is welcome as far as I am concerned.

Developing Essbase Applications sports an impressive and diverse array of contributors. Most of the names are easily recognizable to anyone that has taken a break from writing a calc script to seek out an Essbase blog article or Google for some help on the Essbase forums. Seriously, check out this who’s who list of Essbase folks that helped create this thing: Cameron Lackpour, Dave Anderson, Joe Aultman, John Booth, Gary Crisci, Natalie Delemar, Dave Farnsworth, Michael Nader, Dan Pressman, Robb Salzmann, Tim Tow, Jake Turrell, and Angela Wilcox.

While this is probably the greatest strength of the book, it also inevitably contributes to my complaints about the book, which is not so much that it is a book, but more, a collection of books. This divide and conquer approach is probably the only realistic way to get so many people together to create such a thing, and the necessity of doing so is perhaps a reflection of the increasing breadth and scope of the Essbase ecosystem itself.

So for those of you looking to start on page 1 and work your way front to back (as I am want to do with a good programming book), you can do that, but it’s not necessary since the chapters don’t really build on each other. They just really do feel like a dozen books bound together, each with their own table of contents and style. The voice of each chapter author really shines through. In this regard, the book can be thought of as more of a reference, and indeed, some chapters are so packed full of information that there’s no reasonable way to absorb it all in one reading.

That all being said, what about the actual content of the book? It’s impressive, if slightly disjointed. In order, the chapters cover the following: Essbase infrastructure, tackling bad data, Essbase Studio, BSO, converting BSO to ASO, MDX, ASO and performance, Essbase Java API, system automation with Groovy, Advanced Smart View, and how to successfully manage an Essbase system.

Some chapters are more useful than others, and some chapters are definitely “stronger” than others. I can easily see anyone reading the book and being asked to rank their chapters in order of preference or usefulness coming up with completely different rankings from anyone else.

The way in which chapters convey their information to the reader also varies significantly from chapter to chapter. There are various degrees of difficulty that the reader has to go through to extract the useful information from the chapters of the book. This thing is fill with gold and diamonds but its up to the reader, in no small part, to extract it, as it is rarely handed over on a silver platter.

For example, starting things off is John Booth’s chapter about Essbase infrastructure. Clearly, John is a very smart guy witha lot of experience, a recent Oracle ACE who graciously donates his time in the form of numerous forum posts and even creating Amazon EC2 images of Essbase servers. However, his chapter , but I found that his chapter  reads more like an animated brain dump of Essbase infrastructure. I imagine having a beer with John and saying “Tell me everything you know about infrastructure” and Chapter 1 is the result of that conversation. At the end of the day, I learned a lot, but as far as book form is concerned, would have appreciated more structure and progression to the manner in which the information was doled out.

Cameron picks things up in Chapter 2 which is ostensibly about slaying bad data in Essbase, a ubiquitous problem for any database administrator. While this is ostensibly the focus of the chapter, after a few pages, Cameron takes an immediate left turn into all things ODI and covers that. While also useful and insightful, as pedantic as it sounds, I found myself wishing the chapter had just been made to focus on ODI itself.

The “voice” in each chapter also varies, and in many instances while a chapter ostensibly wants to explain some concept to you, seems to talk as if you already know the concept. Going along again with my “you have to mine the information” analogy, I would say it’s also the responsibility of the reader to have been a somewhat astute observer of various acronyms and terms in the Essbase ecosystem even if they aren’t familiar with them beyond being able to simply unwind the acronym.

The book covers the Essbase Java API and brings in Mr. Essbase Java API himself, Tim Tow to help out. As an also experienced Essbase Java API guy myself, I certainly read this chapter very enthusiastically, and Tim does not disappoint. That being said, however, in my experience I haven’t found a lot of overlap between the Essbase administrator and Java programmers (much to my chagrin). So while I welcome the content, in some ways I question its usefulness to the average Essbase administrator. Of course, I could be mistaken and for the least part, exposing more people to the Java API in the hopes that they will pick it up and do something cool with it (as I have tried to do myself with various Essbase-related open source projects) is nevertheless extremely welcome.

The rest of the chapters round out topics from MDX to Groovy. Gary Crisci is the quintessential MDX practitioner, having presented on it and posted many an Essbase forum comment on it and does a nice job, as always, of conveying information on a topic that can be challenging. I have looked at Groovy in the past but haven’t made the jump just yet (too busy with Clojure and Go, I guess) but was found it to be an enjoyable read for what surely must be an uncommon, if esoteric, way to automate Essbase.

Lastly, on a purely aesthetic and non-functional note, I would like to say that I would have enjoyed more and better visuals in the book, in fact, the formatting of the book leaves something to be desired. For a tech book I would have loved to see something more modern than Times New Roman (for example, the formatting in O’Reilly and Apress books is second to none). Many of the tables and figures are laid out so as to be unhelpful and awkwardly cram information into a weird presentation, and a perennial pet peeve of mine is inconsistent framing, cropping, and styling of screenshots. Of course, this is all pretty predantic stuff and has more to do with my almost closet obsession with fonts and data visualization.

All that being said, all of the little things that I didn’t like about the book or thought could be better are  easily and handily overshadowed by all of the things that I did like about the book. This thing is jam-packed full of content and, perhaps more importantly, content that is based on the vast experience of some of the top Essbase people in the industry. These aren’t people pretending to know their stuff or trying to fool you, this is people at the top of their game in the top of their field that are sharing some top shelf knowledge with the rest of us. You just have to dig a little to get at it. At $69.99 list price on Amazon, this book is a little bit pricey for the average tech book. But you know what? Even if you only got one or two useful things out of it, it would absolutely be worth the price. This is an absolutely essential book for anyone that is serious about using Essbase and being a successful administrator or consultant. On a classic scale from one to five stars, I easily give this four stars.