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19 January 2013

An awesome 40

Sadly, not my age

Oh if that were still true (funny how being 40 wasn’t particularly thrilling at the time) but alas and alack, it is not.  OTOH, 40mm can be awesome, when it is in the form of a Bofors.

Why ODTUG is awesome

What on earth does a WW II era anti-aircraft gun by way of Sweden and then Chrysler (just like Merlins were by way of Rolls-Royce and Packard) have to do with Essbase?  Well, as you can see in the snap below, I am manning a Bofors quad mount on the USS North Carolina during one of the two annual ODTUG board face-to-face meetings.  You may think I just splashed a Zero whist defending my ship given my facial expression.  But no, that is not a Victory Flag, but instead an inducement to come to Kscope13, and yes, you are just looking at a geek at play.  And fun is a vital component of ODTUG.  Don’t think so?  Then you haven’t been to a Kscope, because it is fun, and exhausting, and extremely educational.  What more could anyone want in a technical conference?


Is there any point to this?  Why yes there is.

I would love to tell you that ODTUG board meetings (we have monthly telephone calls, too, oh the joy) mostly consist of climbing into, around, and over products of the Washington Naval Treaty with an eye to fully engaging my inner history geek, but alas and alack yet again, my chance to man a crew-served weapon doesn’t actually crop up very often in the course of ODTUG activities.  Nope, instead we examine, discuss, debate, and decide:  how ODTUG is doing (we have to cover costs and yes there is a Treasurer’s Report every month), what ODTUG is doing (are we meeting the needs of our members), and where ODTUG is going (we have today covered, we think, but what about the future).  It is serious stuff and it is how the board serves you, the ODTUG member.  

You would, I think, be astonished at the amount of work (and oh the time) it takes to make Kscope and the SP conferences and the webinars and the website and all of the other initiatives ODTUG performs actually come off.  And that isn’t to slight our volunteers, who are legion (I have been waiting to use that phrase forever – it could only be improved by replacing “volunteers” with “minions” but we are not Super Villains but instead a wholly benign user group) and contribute materially to ODTUG’s success.

All of the above is my tortured way of saying that ODTUG and ODTUG Kscope13 are the outcome of a lot of blood, and sweat, and tears and yes, a bit of fun.  That’s why Kscopes are, in my not entirely unbiased opinion, the best conference anyone in the EPM world can attend.  There’s nothing to touch it.  

Be seeing you in New Orleans.

14 January 2013

The fastest way to export targeted data from BSO Essbase with NONEMPTYBLOCK

NB – The best way to experience this blog is with one of the following musical soundtracks open and playing in a loop on another tab or window.  Yes, Big Black’s RacerX gets the idea across just right.  And yes, it may be hard to believe for those of you who have met me that I was ever a fan of punk, but yup, that was my youthful musical rebellion.  For those of you who are not manly (womanly?  whatever) enough to take that can listen to the original Speed Racer theme as it ought to be heard.  All too much for you?  How about the version that most matches my current musical tastes?  Here’s a nice meld of a Quncy Jones bossa nova arrangement of “Desafinado” and of course the appropriate speed frame of mind.

Okay, with that bit of not-quite-totally irrelevant trivia out of the way, but with you most definitely in the mood for speed, speed, speed (and, if you are listening to Big Black, the desire to throw yourself into a mosh pit, yeah, this blog caters to all tastes) read on for some pretty darn exciting news about extracting data out of BSO Essbase.

The obligatory primer

When it comes to getting data out of BSO Essbase, there are a couple of ways to extract data.

Export it

From the days of long ago Esscmd’s EXPORT (believe it or not, I saw a new system last year that 100% relied on Esscmd.  Look, I thought it was a nice succinct language, but it is dead, dead, dead.  As you might imagine, the rest of the system was pants.), to MaxL’s export data command, to EAS’ export data functionality.  If you need to get ALL of the data out of the database for backup purposes, go crazy with parallel exports and have a good time.  And note, if you are working with a 92 .PAG file database as I am currently, that is NOT going to be a fast process.

Focused exports

But what happens when you need to only export a portion of a database?  The above approaches aren’t going to do the trick because they are all or nothing.  

Happily Essbase provides many ways to extract data:  report scripts, the DATAEXPORT calc script command, and, for those of us who use BSO on a regular basis, the slightly exotic looking MDX queries.  Let’s examine each in turn and yes, I have a (and I think once you see it you will agree this is sans hyperbole) technique whose performance will leave you absolutely gobsmacked – it did for me and I am not all that easily overawed.  

But just as with dinner, first the meat and veg, and then the oh-so-tasty dessert.  I am not doing this out of sheer bloody-mindedness but because I think you need to see all of the options.  And of course malva pudding tastes best after the Bobotie (mmmmm, South African food is lekker).  Enough of my culinary analogy – the other thing this review does is show how this new technique spanks every other approach.  It is a Most Awesome Hack.

Essbase report scripts

So what if we stepped back to year zero and tried this the old fashioned way with Essbase report scripts.  They have been around, literally, from the beginning of Essbase and are known to most.  

What does a report script look like that exports level zero Product and Postcode in the Forecast Scenario, Working Version, in Jan FY12 for the Account AT?  Oh, something like this:

We likely want to run this in batch (I dunno, do you like staring at a screen as you wait and wait for a process to finish?  Me neither.) via MaxL:
export database db.dbname using server report_file "Test1" to data_file "c:\\tempdir\\Test1.txt" ;

How long does it take?  1269.72 seconds for 21,788 records (one for the header).  The output looks like this (I could have suppressed the headers with the SUPHEADING keyword but chose not to):

BSO calc script DATAEXPORT

DATAEXPORT is the darling of many because it can be invoked within the context of a calc script and because it can produce nicely formatted (well, cleanly formatted) exports and even write to SQL.  

Which produces something like this (which does look a bit a ugly in WordPad):

Why oh why did I open it in WordPad?  Because DATAEXPORT only writes a Line Feed (LF) at the end of the record, not CRLF as Windows requires.  Poor old Notepad can’t handle that so you get this:

How long did all of that take?  Why a mere 1070.79 seconds for a 21,787 record export.  That’s just about 16% faster than a report script, so if speed is the purpose, then DATAEXPORT is the way to go.

So what about MDX?

Well, this wouldn’t be where I would normally turn for data extraction, mostly because MDX is so ASO-ish and I’m not writing formulas in an ASO Essbase database.  But in fact MDX has a query language with ROWs, COLUMNs, PAGEs, and as many AXISes as one can shake a stick at (actually the max is 64).  

I really got inspired to try out MDX as part of a Really Special Project (i.e., a project that I am doing for “fun” and getting $0/hour for and OMG the hours are killing me – I’d be a freaking millionaire if I were doing this for a client.  Write constructive suggestions to me care of this blog on how to conduct oneself professionally with an eye to not going broke.) and because of a recent thread on Network54.

Well, after an amazing amount of pain for really very little output (this is, sadly, my modus operandi when it comes to new-to-me technology) and boost from my buddy Dan Pressman, Mr. ASO and by extension sorta-Mr. MDX query, I came up with the following:

That’s the query with pretty colors.  To make this actually somewhat readable when it gets output, I stuck the query in the following MaxL script:
spool on to "c:\\tempdir\\MDX_Extract_Test.log" ;

login username password on servername ;

alter application ep clear logfile ;

/*    The below settings are right out of Developing Essbase Applications    */
alter session set dml_output alias off ;
alter session set dml_output numerical_display fixed_decimal ;
alter session set dml_output precision 15 ;
set column_width 80 ;
set timestamp on ;

SELECT
    {CrossJoin({[Period].[Jan]}, {[Account].[Allocation Target]})}
ON COLUMNS,
    NON EMPTY (CrossJoin([Product].Levels(0).Members, [Postcode].Levels(0).Members))
ON ROWS
FROM [EP].[ExalPlan]
WHERE ([Version].[Working], [Scenario].[Forecast], [Year].[FY12]) ;

I have to give a plug to Gary Crisci – the settings I use to turn off aliases, set decimals and precision, and the column stamp are all out of Gary’s MDX chapter in Developing Essbase Applications.  As you’ll see, formatting in MDX isn’t all that great – it all goes into MDX_Extract_Test.log along with a bunch of other stuff.  Ick, yuck, eeewwwww.

The good news is that Network54 thread I referenced above has some great suggestions for getting round all of this.  Read it through and you’ll get some ideas.

How long does all of this take?  Ah, that’s where this gets interesting -- 638.926 seconds.  Now that is interesting – almost twice as fast as report scripts and takes just 60% of the time of the DATAEXPORT calc script time.

So what do we have?

Three different ways to write out data, with an increasing performance profile:
  • Essbase report scripts
  • DATAEXPORT report script
  • MDX queries

Looking at MDX versus Essbase report scripts, I really have to say, at least in the database I am using and for the extract I am using, MDX is by far the fastest way to do this.  Awesome, right?  We have a winner.  Or do we?

Undocumented, unrecognized, and unreal

All those times, all of those techniques I wrote about above?  Yes, they’re all going to pull the same data, and yes, I have shown you a way that is twice as fast as the most common approach, at least for this database.  But you know what?  They stink.  I have, thanks to a number of people and, I might add, Oracle, a much better way to do this.  It’s so fast the first, oh, eight or nine times I ran it I thought for sure it was simply an error.  It is no error and it is freaking awesome.  

Did I figure this out myself?  Nope.

Btw, I must tell you that I did not figure this out on my own but was told of the command by my fellow ACE Director Tim Tow.  And he discovered it whilst working with Bryan Bain, one of the original AFSG (Arbor Field Services Group) Essbase consultants, when he was trying to extract the last ounce of performance out of Essbase for his flagship tool, Dodeca.  I should also mention that I tested this out as part of that Very Special Project on one of John Booth’s test servers. I am, as always, standing on the shoulders of giants.

For the love of Mike, what is it?

It is an undocumented MDX BSO-only keyword that is hinted at in this old Network54 thread (which I was part of but, no, I did not hide it from you till this time) and mentioned in the 11.2.2 Essbase readme.  Look for defect 13037253.  And you have seen it in Planning forms.  Planning?  Yes, Planning.  Have you figured it out yet?

It is:  NONEMPTYBLOCK

How does it work?

Just like this:

How long does it take?

The query (the same as the first MDX example save the keyword change) took 1.789 seconds with NONEMPTYBLOCK.  Really.  As I wrote, no, I didn’t believe it either.  Go on, try it yourself.

Are you laughing yet?  This didn’t make my day, or my week, or my month.  I think this is going to make me laugh all the way through 2013.  And considering I am stuck in an airport for hours and hours (thank you, US Airways, for eating all of my Sunday, again) after an ODTUG board meeting (the meeting was fun, the flying (or lack thereof) not so much), I’d say that is pretty strong medicine.

To put this into percent of time relative to an Essbase report script extracting the exact same data, this technique takes 0.14% as much time.  That’s right, not 14% but (I am going to say it out loud) zero-point-one-four percent.  In other words, it’s a freaking rocket.  And of course it’s Oracle that gave us this command and then mysteriously didn’t bother documenting it.  Why?  I have no idea.  It is still freaking neat.

Where does Planning fit in?

Have you ever edited a Planning (I am not going to bring up Planning just to snapshot this – trust me, it’s there and has been for a long time) form and ticked the box that tells Planning to suppress missing blocks?  Did you know that Planning builds its forms with MDX?  If not, you do now.  In any case, when you tick that box, you are using NONEMPTYBLOCK.  Remember, there is a slower (and documented) option to suppress missing in MDX – that is the NON EMPTY keyword I showed in the first MDX query example and that corresponds to Planning’s suppress missing form setting.

Does it always work like this?

With Essbase, the answer is easy:  no.  Or at least, test it, within the context of several constraints.

As I wrote above, this only makes sense within the context of BSO Essbase.  There are no blocks in ASO so this command doesn’t make sense and consequently doesn’t work (yes I tried it, no it doesn’t work).

This command also only makes sense if you are trying to extract lots of sparse at level zero of the database.  Per that Planning documentation link I gave you, if you do not have many missing blocks: “The Suppress missing blocks setting can degrade performance if few or no rows are suppressed.  Test forms before and after using this setting to determine whether performance is improved.”

And of course if you are not suppressing data then this command makes no sense at all.  Having said that, custom exports from Essbase almost always are at level zero and almost always suppress missing data, at least in my experience.  And if that is the case, NONEMPTYBLOCK is your BFF.  Btw, I would go with definition #3 on that link.  :)

Be seeing you and enjoy the hack.

09 January 2013

Get the FLASH about Kscope13

No, not that that superhero with Mercury’s wings on his ankles (Slight side note:  How was that supposed to make him run faster?  I mean, wings on his feet I understand, but those buggers were on his ankles.  Feet are attached to ankles and so the feet were fast too?  Why not attach the wings to his elbows?  They’re attached to his feet, kind of.  Ah, I would have made a lousy scholar of Classics.  One last question -- why is he wearing a hardhat?  None of this makes sense and yes, I am digressing in a most spectacular way.  Back to the task at hand).  And no, not a flashbang grenade (I read too many…odd websites).  And no, not a 32GB flash drive.  No, no, no to all of the above.

Nope, what I am talking about is a soon-to-expire, very-possibly-never-to-be-repeated-but-don’t-hold-me-or-ODTUG-to-it, Kscope13 offer that will get you a cool $150 off the Kscope13 registration cost.  Is there a catch?  But of course.  You must register before Friday, 11 January 2013, 12:30 pm EST to get this great deal.  And how do you do this?  With the code “FLASH”.  Yep, that’s the code and that’s the flash, and that’s all, folks.  

Be seeing you in New Orleans, 23 to 27 June 2013.