#no …or, How Exactly Does Essbase Work? Part 0

If you were at OOW last week and saw the following tweet from me, you probably thought I was not a happy camper.  And you would be spot on correct.  But it also made me think that before I do my “How Exactly Does Essbase Work? Part II” I need to do a “How Exactly Does Essbase Work? Part 0”.  I like that there are some traditional Oracle people who want to learn more about the Hyperion/Enterprise Performance Management line of tools, how they are different from traditional sets and how they can be used in conjunction with the traditional Oracle toolset.  But let me give some background first…



(BTW – The name of this starts with #no as people joked with me after that tweet for using a hash tag for no.  But that was honestly the only word going through my mind at the time.  Thanks, Christian Berg!)

So the above was my actual tweet last week.  I was in a session listening to actual customers talk about their gains with Planning and Budgeting in the cloud (PBCS).  This is a relatively new offering by Oracle and one in which some consulting companies are struggling with how to position themselves in this new market.  Oracle moderated and presented 3 customers that talked about their improved processes.  The first lady was very accurate in her terminology and knew what she was talking about. I wanted to stand up and clap because I was truly excited for her and her understanding of the tool.  The next guy was…challenged (?).  His terminology was off and all over the place.  I tried to listen to his gains and not pay attention to the weaknesses in his understanding of the tools.  Then a question was asked: “Why did you choose Essbase over other tools since you were brand new to the Oracle EPM toolset?”

His response: “Because Essbase is the best relational database out there!”

My response:


I then looked to the Oracle rep for the polite correction…silence.  My next response?


Then I thought, “Okay.  This is a customer.  Oracle is being nice.”  Then his next slide came up where he was saying that Essbase and Hyperion were different tools.


Poor third lady.  I can’t even remember what she said because I was so disappointed with what I had just heard.  But then I thought that I could make this a learning opportunity – what is Hyperion/EPM and what are the basics?

  1. Hyperion and EPM (Enterprise Performance Management) are – for the most part – used interchangeably in the Oracle world.  Hyperion was the company name for the EPM tools when Oracle acquired them in 2007 (originally, it was called Micro Control, then Arbor Software, and finally Hyperion Software Corporation, but no need to go back to my elementary school days).  Oracle tried, unsuccessfully, to change the name of some of the products when they bought Hyperion, but Hyperion was always the company…which is why Oracle tried to drop the name.  Hyperion then became the umbrella name synonymous with EPM tools within the Oracle Corporation.Interesting Fact: When referring to the basic file path for the EPM system, true geeks still call it the “Arbor Path”, in homage to Arbor Software.
  2. The Hyperion umbrella encompasses the following (major) tools:
    1. Essbase – named so because it was one of the first tools (if not the first) that allowed end users to access the database via Lotus 1-2-3 and Excel.  It is an OLAP database rather than an OTAP database  as the data retrievals are optimized for human reporting rather than tranactional  reporting by the server.Contrary to old school DBA thinking, Essbase is named for Extended Spreadsheet Database not because the database is held in a spreadsheet, but rather because data is meant to be readily accessed via a spreadsheet for reporting.I feel I should also note here that although Essbase cubes are more often than not used for financial purposes, they are not financial databases inherently.  If you want to use the database for financial purposes, you have to tell it programmatically and via calculations to be financial.  You could also have it track flights in a given year, distance covered, airline status given the miles, delays, etc.

      Data is accessed via Excel, Hyperion Financial Reports (a tool used to create static and recurring reports based on Essbase (Planning or HFM) data in a standardized format utilizing email, automation, PDF formatting, etc)) or via Oracle Business Intelligence (think dashboards and stoplight reporting).

      Data is not stored in a traditional Oracle or SQL Server type database, and not remotely relational in nature.  Data is stored in type of data storage system called “B+ Trees”.  This is the Part II of the “How Exactly Does Essbase Work?” series as it is the most complicated.  …But I did feel I need to create a 0 version after last week at OOW.

      I never feel Essbase is given the credit it is due by technical folk because of the origin of the name “Essbase”.  I will state it again: Essbase is not a database held in a spreadsheet.  🙂

    2. Planning – a tool that sits atop an Essbase database but has an interface for business users to enter, calculate and modify data, mainly for planning and budgeting purposes.  The layer on top of Essbase allows for webforms to be accessed by the business user either via the web or downloaded to Excel for offline budgeting.  Special calculation scripts called “Business Rules” are created for Planning so that focused calculations and aggregations can be run based on the data updated on a given form.I feel Mark Rittman does a FANTASTIC job explaining exactly what Planning is, it’s uses and gives a demo on his site located here.  It is a few versions back, but the same logic applies.Under the Planning umbrella lie some special modules that contained canned outlines (database structures and guidelines), scripts and other necessary tools for performing specific types of budgeting.  Some of these modules include: Workforce Planning, CapEx Planning and Public Sector Planning.
    3. Financial Management (formerly Enterprise) – think traditional accounting consolidations.  This tool is a web-based consolidation engine that allows for consolidations across a company with flexibility given to entities, consolidation patterns and ICP/eliminations.  It is also meant to be used to reduce the traditional close process timeline for faster reporting and reaction to financial situations.HFM (as we call it in the biz) is geared towards being a platform that encourages worldwide IFRS adoption and allows for auditing.  Whereas Essbase is an OLAP database, HFM is a tool set atop a relational-type database but is laid out in such a way for ease of financial consolidations and reporting.
    4. Strategic Finance – this is a special module for finance people for the purpose of analyzing and planning strategically over the coming years.  Whereas Planning may be for the next 12 to 18 months, this tool is more for the 5 and 10 year range items.  The tool is also geared towards treasury planning at the corporate level.  You could think of these end users as the MBA types at a company,Often referred to as HSF.
    5. FDM (Financial Data Management) – a tool that allows for multiple source data integration with the other Hyperion applications.  One reason many companies will use this tool in conjunction with, say, HFM is because it allows for an audit trail and is flexible about the ways you can export data.  There are plugins for Essbase, HFM and other tools that allow for data standardization, even when source systems vary from, say, SAP, data warehouses or flat files.Custom scripting (formerly in Visual Basic and now Jython for FDMEE) is one of the key points for this tool – you can customize the data throughout various places in the data load process.  This tool should not be confused with a tool like Informatica as it is not an ETL tool.  It is intended for financial data and provides controls for such.
    6. Many other tools that are more niche

So from this basic layout of what the Hyperion/EPM tools are, you can see that Essbase is not a relational database and that Hyperion is not a different tool than Essbase.

Hopefully this was a good intro into the Hyperion suite of tools!


  1. Sarah,
    If I can offer a slight clarification. Essbase is now considered “Oracle Essbase” and in some cases I have seen Oracle Hyperion Essbase. It was renamed because Essbase serves more than the Hyperion product line like Fusion Applications and OBIEE and who knows what else behind the covers.
    In addition, I understand the customer differentiating between Essbase and “Hyperion” . In my experience, whatever the first product a company implements from the Hyperion suite of products gets labeled “Hyperion” and the others go by their name. When someone says they have Hyperion, I always ask what product are they talking about. They say You know Hyperion. Digging deeper they will get to Planning or (most often) HFM and in come cases Essbase. I am not sure how it started, but it seems to be common practice

  2. From Tim German via email…I learned something new!

    Check out Bob Earle’s post in this thread, and the document Cameron linked (an internal Arbor memo from 1992).


    Bob was one of the founders of Arbor (his is one of the names on the original Arbor patent). He claims that “extended” was discussed some time after the fact, but the name was originally intended simply to be a phonetic spelling of “S-Base” (for “Spreadsheet Database”). The “Extended” story has taken on a life of its own over the years.

    Thanks, Tim!

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