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November 25, 2003

A Light Rant on MDX & MSAS

MSAS seems to have been designed with no applications in particular in mind. Rather as a platform to be all things to all people. A little bit of everything with an emphasis on ubiquity. I haven't had the opportunity to see it evolve, but I see what it has become and what it is.

The great difficulty in the OLAP wars is a dearth of developers. There are very few people who have learned and mastered it subtleties. What strikes me as particularly true is how mindful the Microsoft designers have been about this fact. They have designed a multidimensional query language with all the earmarks of being strictly utilitarian which is to say without the grace of having a clear purpose in mind. Therefore it is graceless and clunky. With enough force however, it appears that it can be made to do any number of things, and those things it cannot accomplish it leaves to the infinite scope of the Microsoft world.

So it is the visual basic or ASP or dot net or Transact SQL programmer who is most encouraged by this fact, not the current expert business intelligence professional. Thought we have struggled with the arcane languages and odd APIs our entire careers it is with some disdain that we approach the tortured syntax of MDX.

The learning curve of MDX is legendarily steep. Apparently it takes at least a year to master. This means that inevitably, one's first project is doomed to simplicity if not a worse fate. Even an old pro such as myself is daunted by MDX, mostly because it is overloaded.

In some ways it can be said that MDX is a developer's dream. It is not only a query language, but a procedural and control language. It can control with certain extensions, not only the content but the format of the content. It's probably larger than it needs to be and since it controls so much, the tools that employ it must.

The stalwarts at ProClarity have excelled at and mastered nothing so much as the parsing of this beastly tongue, and as such parsers struggle mightily with those of us who are sloppy with syntax. Their VP of R&D hosts a puzzle page. MDX simply invites verbose solutions to simply problems. It's codey. Therefore there is much to parse and much to learn with probably some pitfalls. Well see.

Ive got Spoffords book and am getting into these matters more closely. Lets see how right I am a year from today.

Posted by mbowen at November 25, 2003 08:16 PM

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You should read your neighbor up the road's take on the future of development at www.101-280.com

Posted by: Christopher at November 26, 2003 03:27 PM