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Microsoft plans data confab

The company hopes to expand the appeal of its own data warehousing framework with an update of its SQL Server database and OLAP Server.

Microsoft (MSFT) will host more than 200 software developers and technology users at its Redmond, Washington, headquarters next week to hammer out a way to share information stored in data warehouses through the company's data repository.

The company is extending its repository to work with data warehousing tools from other companies, including Platinum Technology, Sagent, and LogicWorks.

Microsoft's goal is to expand the appeal of its own data warehousing framework, centered on an update of its SQL Server database and on a new online analytical processing server (OLAP) called Microsoft OLAP Server, formerly code-named Plato. Both products are due to ship by year's end.

Next week's meeting will be the third held between Microsoft representatives and software developers. The company is expected to detail an expanded role for its development repository in its overall Microsoft Data Warehouse Framework, an architecture for building data warehouses. The framework includes the repository, SQL Server, OLAP Server, the OLE DB for OLAP API, and related tools.

According to Wayne Eckerson, an analyst with the Data Warehousing Institute, Microsoft is using its repository to solve thorny integration problems that have plagued data warehouse builders, and is doing so by positioning the repository as an integration point for data warehouse tools.

"Microsoft stepped into this vacuum, no one else has taken action really. They said we have this repository, let's make it work for data warehousing. So they have decided to extend to support data warehouse developers and anyone needing access to a common store of information objects and definitions," Eckerson said. "That's been the holy grail."

The benefit for Microsoft? The repository requires Microsoft's SQL Server database and uses Microsoft's COM (Component Object Model) API, so it's also a good way to sell database software and to hook users on Microsoft's development strategy.

By making its repository the common link between different vendors' data warehousing tools, Microsoft also wants to expand the appeal of OLAP Server, which lets users analyze data.

The server is expected to cause quite a stir among vendors of OLAP software, such as Oracle, Arbor Software, and Information Advantage, which now find the world's largest software company trudging through their backyards. "Anyone who provides a server-based OLAP tool will be threatened here," Eckerson said.

OLAP Server will also work with databases other than Microsoft's SQL Server, broadening its potential market.

Still undecided is how OLAP Server will be packaged. Analysts familiar with Microsoft's plans say the company has yet to make a decision about whether to bundle OLAP Server as a no-cost component of SQL Server 7.0.

But others say OLAP Server's commercial potential will be too great for Microsoft to give it away for free. "Plato will be pretty robust," said Eckerson. "It's not your typical database add-in that you'd bundle for free. It looks like competitive product."

The company's repository is currently shipping as part of Microsoft's Visual Studio development tool package and as a component of several third party tools. The design changes proposed at next week's meeting will be incorporated into the repository and will ship as part of SQL Server 7.0 and Visual Studio, Microsoft said.