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Research Report
Modeling Multidimensional Databases
Rakesh Agrawal Ashish Gupta Sunita Sarawagi
IBM Almaden Research Center
650 Harry Road, San Jose, CA 95120
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IBM
Research Division
Yorktown Heights, New York
San Jose, California
Zurich, Switzerland
Modeling Multidimensional Databases
Rakesh Agrawal Ashish Gupta Sunita Sarawagiy
IBM Almaden Research Center
650 Harry Road, San Jose, CA 95120
ABSTRACT: Multidimensional databases have recently gained widespread acceptance in the
commercial world for supporting on-line analytical processing (OLAP) applications. We propose a
hypercube-based data model and a few algebraic operations that provide semantic foundation to
multidimensional databases and extend their current functionality. The distinguishing feature of
the proposed model is the symmetric treatment not only of all dimensions but also measures. The
model also is very exible in that it provides support for multiple hierarchies along each dimension
and support for adhoc aggregates. The proposed operators are composable, reorderable, and closed
in application. These operators are also minimal in the sense that none can be expressed in terms
of others nor can any one be dropped without sacricing functionality. They make possible the
declarative specication and optimization of multidimensional database queries that are currently
specied operationally. The operators have been designed to be translated to SQL and can be
implemented either on top of a relational database system or within a special purpose multidimensional database engine. In eect, they provide an algebraic application programming interface
(API) that allows the separation of the frontend from the backend. Finally, the proposed model
provides a framework in which to study multidimensional databases and opens several new research
problems.
Current Address: Oracle Corporation, Redwood City, California.
Current Address: University of California, Berkeley, California.
y
1. Introduction
Multidimensional database systems have gathered tremendous market momentum as the platform for building new decision-support applications. Codd coined the phrase On-Line Analytical
Processing (OLAP) in 1993 in [CCS93] to characterize the requirements for summarizing, consolidating, viewing, applying formulae to, and synthesizing data according to multiple dimensions.
OLAP software enables analysts, managers, and executives to gain insight into the performance
of an enterprise through fast access to a wide variety of views of data organized to reect the
multidimensional nature of the enterprise data [Col95]. It has been said that current relational
database systems have been designed and tuned for On-Line Transaction Processing applications
(OLTP) and are inadequate for OLAP applications [Cod93] [Fin95] [KS94] [Sta93]. In response,
several multidimensional database products have appeared on the market. Examples include Arbor Software's Essbase, Comshare's Commander, Dimensional Insight's CrossTarget, Holistic Systems' Holos, Information Advantage's Axsys, Kenan Technologies' Accummate ES, MicroStrategy's
DSS/Server, Oracle (IRI)'s Express, Pilot Software's LightShip Server, Planning Sciences' Gentium, Redbrick Systems' Redbrick Warehouse, Sniper's TM/1, and Stanford Technology Group's
MetaCube [Rad95].
The database research community, however, has so far not played a major role in this market
phenomenon. Gray et al. [GBLP95] recently proposed an extension to SQL with a Data Cube
operator that generalizes the groupby construct to support some of the multidimensional analysis.
Techniques for eciently computing the data cube operator have attracted considerable research
interest [HRU96] [JS96] [SR96] [SAG96]. The research in multidimensional indexing structures (see,
for example, [Gut94] for an overview) is relevant as well. Lastly, research in statistical databases
(see, for example, [Sho82] for an overview) also addressed some of the same concerns in the early
eighties.
This paper presents a framework for research in multidimensional databases. We rst review multidimensional database concepts and terminologies in vogue in current multidimensional
database products in Section 2. We also point out some of the deciencies in the current products.
We then propose in Section 3 a data model to provide semantic backing to the techniques used by
current multidimensional database products. The salient features of our model are:
Our data model is a hypercube with a set of basic operations designed to unify the divergent
styles in use today and to extend the current functionality.
The proposed model provides symmetric treatment to not only all dimensions but also to
measures. The model also is very exible in providing support for multiple hierarchies along
each dimension and support for adhoc aggregates.
Each of our operators are dened on the cube and produce as output a new cube. Thus the
operators are closed and can be freely reordered. This free composition allows a user to form
larger queries, thereby replacing the relatively inecient one-operation-at-a-time approach of
many existing products. The algebraic nature of the cube also provides an opportunity for
optimizing multidimensional queries.
The proposed operators are minimal. None can be expressed in terms of others nor can any
one be dropped without sacricing functionality.
Our modeling framework provides the logical separation of the frontend GUI used by a business analyst from the backend storage system used by the corporation. The operators thus
1
provide an algebraic application programming interface (API) that allows the interchange of
frontends and backends.
We discuss in Section 4 some of our design choices and show how the current popular multidimensional database operations can be expressed in terms of the proposed operators. These
operators have been designed to be translated into SQL, albeit with some minor extensions to
SQL. We give these translations in the Appendix. Thus, our data model can be implemented on
either a general-purpose relational system or a specialized engine. We conclude with a summary in
Section 5.
2. Current State of the Art
We begin with a brief overview of the current state of art in multidimensional databases. Readers
familiar with the OLAP literature and current products may skip this review.
Example 2.1. Consider a database that contains point of sale data about the sales price of
products, the date of sale, and the supplier who made the sale. The sales value is functionally
determined by the other three attributes. Intuitively, each of the other three attributes can \vary"
and accordingly determine the sales value. Figure 1 illustrates this \hypercube" view of the world.
Date
Sales
mar 4
15
feb 3
20
feb 2
jan 1
10
15
15
10
15
20
10
20
25
Product
s1
p1
s2
p2
p3
p4
s3
s4
Supplier
Figure 1: Example data cube
2
2.1. Terminology
Determining attributes like product, date, supplier are referred to as dimensions while the
determined attributes like sales are referred to as measures1. There is no formal way of deciding
which attributes should be made dimensions and which attributes should be made measures. It is
left as a database design decision.
Dimensions are called categorical attributes and measures are called numerical or summary attributes in the
statistical database literature [Sho82].
1
2
Dimensions usually have associated with them hierarchies that specify aggregation levels and
hence granularity of viewing data. Thus, day ! month ! quarter ! year is a hierarchy on
date that species various aggregation levels. Similarly, product name ! type ! category is a
hierarchy on the product dimension. For instance, \ivory" and \irish spring" both are of type
\soap." Furthermore, \soap" and \shampoo" both are in category \personal hygiene" products.
An analyst might want to see only a subset of the data and thus might view some attributes and
within each selected attribute might restrict the values of interest. In multidimensional database
parlance, the operations are called pivoting (rotate the cube to show a particular face) and slicingdicing (select some subset of the cube). The multidimensional view allows hierarchies associated
with each dimension also to be viewed in a logical manner. Aggregating the product dimension from
product name to product type is expressed as a roll-up operation in a multidimensional database.
The converse of roll-up is drill-down that displays detail information for each aggregated point.
Thus, drilling-down the product dimension from product category to product type gets the sales
for each product type corresponding to each product category. Further drill down will get sales for
individual products. Drill-down is essential because often users want to see only aggregated data
rst and selectively see more detailed data.
Example 2.2. We give below some queries to give a avor of multidimensional queries. These
queries use the database from Example 2.1 and other necessary hierarchies on product and time
dimensions.
Give the total sales for each product in each quarter of 1995. (Note that quarter is a function
of date).
For supplier \Ace" and for each product, give the fractional increase in the sales in January
1995 relative to the sales in January 1994.
For each product give its market share in its category today minus its market share in its
category in October 1994.
Select top 5 suppliers for each product category for last year, based on total sales.
For each product category, select total sales this month of the product that had highest sales
in that category last month.
Select suppliers that currently sell the highest selling product of last month.
Select suppliers for which the total sale of every product increased in each of last 5 years.
Select suppliers for which the total sale of every product category increased in each of last 5
years.
2
2.2. Implementation Architectures
There are two main approaches currently used to build multidimensional databases. One approach maintains the data as a k-dimensional cube based on a non-relational specialized storage
structure for storing k-dimensional data. The database designer species all the aggregations they
consider useful. While building the storage structure these aggregations associated with all possible
3
roll-ups are precomputed and stored. Thus, roll-ups and drill-downs are answered in interactive
time. Many products have adopted this approach { for instance, Arbor Essbase [Arb] and IRI
Express [IRI].
Another approach uses a relational backend wherein operations on the data cube are translated
to relational queries (posed in a possibly enhanced dialect of SQL). Indexes built on materialized
views are heavily used in such systems. This approach also manifests itself in many products { for
instance, Redbrick [Eri95] and Microstrategy [Mic].
2.3. Additional Desired Functionality
We believe that multidimensional database systems must provide the following additional functionality, which is either missing or poorly supported in current products:
Symmetric treatment not only of all dimensions but also of measures. That is,
selections and aggregations should be allowed on all dimensions and measures. For example,
consider a query that nds the total sales for each product for ranges of sales price like 0-999,
1000-9999 and so on. Here the sales price of a product, besides being treated as a measure, is
also the grouping attribute. Such queries that require categorizing on a \measure" are quite
frequent. Non-uniform treatment of dimensions and measures makes such queries very hard
in current products. Codd also emphasized the need for symmetric treatment of dimensions
and measures in his 12 rules of OLAP [CCS93].
Support for multiple hierarchies along each dimension. For instance, Example 2.1
illustrates the type-category hierarchy on products (of interest to a consumer analyst). An
alternative hierarchy is one based on which company manufactures the product and who owns
that company, namely, product ! manufacturer ! parent company (of interest to a stock
market analyst). Roll-ups/drill-downs can be on either of the hierarchies.
Support for computing ad-hoc aggregates. That is, aggregates other than those originally prespecied should be computable. For instance, for each product both the total sales
and the average sales are interesting numbers.
Support for a query model in place of one-operation-at-a-time computation model.
Currently, a user operates on a cube once and obtains the resulting cube. Then the user makes
the next operation. However, not all the intermediate cubes are of interest to the user. A set
of basic operators that have well dened semantics enable this computation to be replaced
by a query model. Thus, having tools to compose operators allows complex multidimensional
queries to be built and executed faster than having the user specify each step. This approach
is also more declarative and less operational.
2.4. Related Research Work
Data models developed in the context of temporal, spatial and statistical databases also incorporate dimensionality and hence have similarities with our work.
In temporal databases [TCG+93], rows and columns of a relational table are viewed as two
dimensions and \time" adds a third dimension forming what is called the \time cube". This cube
is dierent from a cube in our model where dimensions correspond to arbitrary attributes and all
dimensions are treated uniformly without attaching any xed connotation with any one of them.
4
The modeling eorts in spatial databases [Gut94] mostly concentrate on representing arbitrary
geometric objects (points, lines, polygons, regions etc.) in multidimensional space. By viewing
OLAP data as points in the multidimensional space of attributes, we could draw analogies between
the two models. But the operations central to spatial databases (\overlap", \containment", etc.) are
very dierent from the common OLAP operations that we are trying to capture (\roll-up", \drilldown", \joins" etc.). However, the multi-dimensional indexing structures developed for spatial
databases (see [Gut94]) are likely to gure prominently in developing ecient implementations of
OLAP databases.
Statistical databases also address some of the same concerns as OLAP databases. However,
models in the statistical database literature [Mic92] [CL94] have been primarily concerned with
extending existing data models (mostly relational) for representing summaries and supporting operations for statistical processing. In contrast, our objective has been to develop a model and a
basic set of operations that closely abstracts the analysts view of enterprise data. In statistical
databases, category (dimensions) and summaries (measures) are treated quite dierently, whereas
we have strived to treat dimensions and measures uniformly. However, OLAP databases will benet
from implementation techniques developed in statistical databases, particularly related to aggregation views (see [Sho82] [STL89]).
3. Data Model
We now outline our proposed multidimensional data model and operations that capture the
functionality currently provided by multidimensional database products and the additional desired
functionality listed above. Our design was driven by the following key considerations:
Treat dimensions and measures symmetrically.
Strive for exibility (multiple hierarchies, adhoc aggregates).
Keep the number of operators small.
Stay as close to relational algebra as possible. Make operators translatable to SQL.
In our logical model, data is organized in one or more hypercubes. A cube has the following
components:
k dimensions, and for each dimension a name Di, a domain domi from which values are taken.
Elements dened as a mapping E (C ) from dom1 : : : domk to either an n-tuple, 0, or 1.
Thus, E (C )(d1; : : :; dk ) refers to the element at \position" d1; : : :; dk of cube C. Note, the di s
refer to values not positions per se.
Part of the metadata is an n-tuple of names where each of the names describes one of the
members of a n-tuple element of the cube. Note, if the cube has no n-tuple elements, then
this description is an empty tuple.
The elements of a cube can be either 0, 1, or an n-tuple < X1; : : :; Xn >. If the element
corresponding to E (C )(d1; : : :; dk ) is 0 then that combination of dimension values does not exist
in the database. A 1 indicates the existence of that particular combination. Finally, an n-tuple
indicates that additional information is available for that combination of dimension values. If any
5
of the elements of a cube is a 1 then none of the elements can be a n-tuple and vice-versa. We
represent only those values along a dimension of a cube for which at least one of the elements of the
cube is not 0. If all the elements of a cube are 0 then the cube is empty. Additionally, if domain
domi of dimension Di has no values then too the cube is considered to be empty.
In our model, no distinction is made between measures and dimensions. Thus, in Example 2.1,
sales is just another dimension (unlike existing multidimensional database systems that will treat
sales as a \measure" or \element"). Note that this is a logical model and does not force any storage
mechanism. Thus, a cube in our data model may have more logical dimensions than the number
of dimensions used to physically store the cube in a multidimensional storage system.
3.1. Operators
We now discuss our multidimensional operators. We illustrate the operators using a 2-D
subset of the cube introduced in Example 2.1. We omit the supplier dimension and display in
Figure 2 only the product, date, and sales dimensions. Note, sales is not a measure but another
dimension, albeit only logical, in the model.
Date
mar 4
feb 3
feb 2
jan 1
25
20
15
p1
10
p2
p3
p4
Product
Sales
Figure 2: Logical cube wherein sales is a dimension (omitting the 1/0's)
To operate on the logical cube, the sales dimension may have to be folded into the cube such
that sales values seem determined by the product and date dimensions. We describe later how
this is achieved. For now, we will use the cube with sales values as the sole member of the elements
of the cube. Thus, the value < 15 > for \date = mar 4" and \product = p1" in Figure 3 indicates
that in the logical cube of Figure 2 the element corresponding to \date = mar 4", \product = p1",
and \sales = 15" is \1". We show the metadata description of the elements as an annotation in
the cube. Thus, < sales > in Figure 3 indicates that each element in the cube is a sales value.
Notation. We dene the operators using a cube C with k dimensions. We refer to the dimensions
as D1; : : :; Dk . We use Di to refer also to the domain of dimension Di if the context makes the
usage clear; otherwise we refer to the domain of dimension Di as domi (C ). We use lower case
letters like a; b; c to refer to constants.
Dimension values in our data model functionally determine elements of the cube. As a result of
an application of an operation, more than one element value may be mapped to the same element
(i.e. the same combination of values of dimension attributes) of the answer cube. These element
6
values are combined into one value to maintain functional dependency by specifying what we call
an element combining function, denoted as felem .
We also sometime merge values along a dimension. We call functions used for this purpose
dimension merging functions, denoted as fmerge .
Push. The push operation (see Figure 3) is used to convert dimensions into elements that can then
be manipulated using function felem . This operator is needed to allow dimensions and measures to
be treated uniformly.
Date
Date
mar 4
<10>
<15>
feb 3
<20> <15> <15>
feb 2
<10> <15>
jan 1
<10>
p1
p2
<Sales>
<20>
mar 4
feb 3
product
<Sales,Product>
<15,p1>
<15,p2>
<25>
p3
p4
jan 1
<15,p3>
<20,p1>
feb 2
<20>
<10,p3>
<20,p4>
<10,p2> <15,p3>
<20,p3>
<10,p1>
<25,p4>
Product
p1
p2
p3
p4
Product
Figure 3: The push operation on dimension product
Input: C , Di.
Output: C with each non-0 element extended by an additional member, the value of dimension
Di for that element. If an element is not a n-tuple but a \1", then it is converted to a 1-tuple
that contains the corresponding value of the dimension.
Mathematically: push(C; Di) = Cans .
E (Cans)(d1; : : :; dk ) = g < di > where g = E (C )(d1; : : :; dk). The operator is dened to
be 0 if g = 0, it is < di > if g = 1, and in all other cases it concatenates the two tuples.
Pull. This operation is the converse of the push operator. Pull creates a new dimension for a
specied member of each element. The operator is useful to convert an element into a dimension so
that the element can be used for merging or joining. This operator too is needed for the symmetric
treatment of dimensions and measures.
Input: C , new dimension name D, integer i.
Output: Cans with an additional dimension D that is obtained by pulling out the ith element
of each element of the matrix.
Constraint: all non-0 elements of C are n-tuples because each non-0 element need at least
one member to enable the creation of a new dimension.
7
Pull 1st member
of each element
as the new
dimension "Sales"
<10,d1>
<20,d3>
Sales
10
<10,d4>
<d3>
20
<d1>
<d4>
Product
p1
p2
p1
p3
p2
p3
Product
Figure 4: Pull rst member of each element as dimension sales
Mathematically: pull(C; D; i) = Cans , 1 i n.
D becomes the k + 1st dimension of the cube.
domk+1(Cans ) = feje is the ith member of some element E (C )(d1; : : :; dk )g.
E (Cans)(d1; : : :; dk ; ei ) = < e1 ; : : :; ei,1; ei+1; : : :; en > if E (C )(d1; : : :; dk ) = < e1 ; : : :; ei ; : : :; en >,
otherwise E (Cans )(d1; : : :; dk ; ei ) = 0. Note, if the resulting element has no members then it
is replaced by 1
Destroy Dimension. Often the dimensionality of a cube needs to be reduced. This operator
removes a dimension D that has in its domain a single value. The presence of a single value implies
that for the remaining k , 1 dimensions, there is a unique k , 1 dimensional cube. Thus, if dimension
D is eliminated then the resulting k , 1 dimensional space is occupied by this unique cube.
Input: C , dimension name Di .
Output: Cans with dimension Di absent.
Constraint: Di has only one value.
Mathematically: destroy(C; Di)
Cans has k , 1 dimensions.
A dimension that has multiple values cannot be directly destroyed because then elements would no
longer be functionally determined by dimension values. A multi-valued dimension is destroyed by
rst applying a merge operation (described later) and then applying the above operation.
Restriction. The restrict operator operates on a dimension of a cube and removes the cube
values of the dimension that do not satisfy a stated condition. Figure 5 illustrates an application of
restriction. Note that this operator realizes slicing/dicing of a cube in multidimensional database
terminology.
Input: Cube C and predicate P dened on Di.
Output: New cube Cans obtained by removing from C those values of dimension Di that do
not satisfy the predicate P . Note, P is evaluated on a set of values and not on just a single
value. Thus, P takes as input the entire domain Di and could output a set of values like the
\top 5 values". If no element of dimension Di satises P then Cans is an empty cube.
8
Date
Date
<Sales>
mar 4
<Sales>
<10>
<15>
mar 4
<15>
<10>
feb 3
<20>
<15>
prod in {p1,p3}
feb 3
<20>
feb 2
jan 1
<15>
<15>
<10>
<15>
<10>
p1
p2
<20>
feb 2
<20>
<25>
p3
p4
jan 1
Product
<15>
<10>
p1
<20>
p3 Product
Figure 5: The restriction operation
Mathematically: restrict(C; Di; P ) = Cans .
domj (Cans ) = domj (C ) if 1 j k & j 6= i else domj (Cans ) = P (domj (C )).
E (Cans)(d1; : : :; dk ) = E (C )(d1; : : :; dk).
Join. The join operation is used to relate information in two cubes. The result of joining a m-
dimensional cube C with an n-dimensional cube C 1 on k dimensions, called joining dimensions,
is cube Cans with m + n , k dimensions. Each joining dimension Di of C combines with exactly
one dimension Dxi of C 1; the corresponding result dimension will have values that are union of the
values on Di and Dxi . Transformations can optionally be applied to the values of dimensions Di
and Dxi before they are mapped to the result dimension. The elements of the resulting cube Cans
are obtained by combining via a function felem all elements of C and C 1 that get mapped to the
same element of Cans .
Figure 6 illustrates cube C joining with cube C 1 on dimension D1 (no transformation is used).
Dimension D1 of the resulting cube has only two values. The function felem divides the element
value from cube C by the element value from C 1; if either element is 0 then the resulting element is
also 0. Values of result dimension that have only 0 elements corresponding to them are eliminated
from Cans (like values 0 and 3 for dimension D1 ). This elimination is a consequence of representing
in the cube only those values along a dimension that have at least one non-0 element.
Input: C with dimensions D1 : : :Dm and C 1 with dimensions Dm,k : : :Dn. Without loss
of generality, dimensions Dm,k ; : : :; Dm are the join dimensions. 2k mapping functions,
fm,k ; : : :; fm dened over values of dimensions Dm,k ; : : :; Dm of C and fm0 ,k ; : : :; fm0 dened
over dimensions Dm,k ; : : :; Dm of C 1. Mapping fi applied to value v 2 domi(C ) produces
values for dimension Di in Cans . Similarly fi0 applied to v 0 2 domi(C 1) produces values for
dimension Di in Cans . Also needed is a function felem that combines sets of elements from C
and C 1 to output elements of Cans .
Output: Cans with n dimensions, D1 : : :Dn. Multiple elements in C and C 1 could get mapped
to the same element in Cans . All elements of C and C 1 that get mapped to the same point
in Cans are combined by function felem to produce the output element of Cans . If for some
9
C1
<3>
<2>
1
2
D2
4
D1
5
D2
d
c
b
a
map dimension
D 1 using the
identify mapping
<14>
<8>
<9>
c
<3>
b
<2>
<7>
<6>
<4>
<7>
d
<9>
<12>
C
<8>
felem divides
the element from
C by the element
from C1 if both
elements exist. Else
it returns 0
<6>
a
1
2
D1
D1
0
1
2
3
Figure 6: Joining two cubes
value v of dimension Di , the elements E (Cans )(x1; : : :; v; xi+1; : : :; xn ) is 0 for all values of
the other dimensions, then v is not included in dimension Di of Cans .
Mathematically: join(C; C 1; [fm,k ; : : :; fm; fm0 ,k ; : : :; fm0 ]; felem) = Cans .
domi(Cans ) = domi (C ) if 1 i m , k , 1.
domi(Cans ) = domi (C 1) if m i n.
domi(Cans ) = fda jda 2 fi (d); d 2 domi (C ) OR da 2 fi0 (d0); d0 2 domi (C 1)g:
E (Cans)(d1; : : :; dam,k ; : : :; dam; : : :; dn) = felem (ft1g; ft2g) such that
t1 = E (C )(d1; : : :; dm,k ; : : :; dm), t2 = E (C 1)(d0m,k ; : : :; d0m; dm+1; : : :; dn), and
dai 2 fi(di) OR dai 2 fi0(d0i) for m , k i m.
The join operator has two notable special cases: cartesian product and associate. In the case
of cartesian product, the two cubes have no common joining dimension.
Associate is especially useful in OLAP applications for computations like \express each month's
sale as a percentage of the quarterly sale." Associate is asymmetric and requires that each dimension
of C 1 be joined with some dimension of C . Figure 7 illustrates associating cube C 1 with C where
month dimension of C 1 and date dimension of C are joined by mapping them to the date dimension
of Cans . Similarly, category and product are joined by mapping them to product of Cans . For
dimension month, each month is mapped to all the dates in that month. For dimension category,
value cat1 is mapped to products p1 and p2, and cat2 is mapped to p3 and p4. For dimensions date
and product the identity mapping is used. Function felem divides the element value from cube C by
the element value from C 1; if either element is 0 then the resulting element is also 0. Note, value
mar4 is eliminated from Cans because all its corresponding elements are 0.
Merge. The merge operation is an aggregation operation. We illustrate it in Figure 8. The gure
shows how hierarchies in a multidimensional database are implemented using the merge operator.
10
Month
<Total Sales>
feb
<45>
<50>
jan
<10>
<45>
cat1
cat2
p1
C1
Date
feb 3
p3
p2
p4
map month to
each date in that
month
feb 2
map category to
each product in
that category
jan 1
Date
mar 4
feb 3
<Fraction
of total>
Category
<4/9>
<20>
<15>
<10>
f elem divides the element
<15>
from C by the element from
C1 if both exist. Else it
returns 0
<20>
<0.3>
<2/9>
<1>
p1
<15>
<1/3>
<0.3>
<4/9>
p2
<0.4>
p3
<5/9>
p4
Product
<Sales>
<10>
feb 2
jan 1
<10>
p1
p2
<15>
C
<20>
<25>
p3
p4
Product
Figure 7: Associating two cubes
Intuitively, a dimension merging function is used to map multiple product names into one or more
categories and another function is used to map individual dates into their corresponding month.
Thus, multiple elements on each dimension are merged to produce a dimension with a possibly
smaller domain. As a result of merging each dimension, multiple elements in the original cube get
mapped to the same element in the new cube. An element combining function is used to specify
how these multiple elements are aggregated into one. In the example in Figure 8, the aggregation
function felem is sum.
In general, the dimension merging function might be a one-to-many mapping that takes an
element in the lower level into multiple elements in the higher level of hierarchies. For instance,
a 1 ! n mapping can be used to merge a product belonging to n categories to handle multiple
hierarchies.
Input: C , function felem for merging elements and m (dimension, function) pairs. Without
loss of generality, assume that the m pairs are [D1; fmerge 1 ]; : : :; [Dm; fmerge m ]
Output: Cube Cans of same dimensionality as C . Dimension Di is merged as per function
fmerge i . An element corresponding to the merged elements is aggregated as per felem .
Mathematically: merge(C; f[D1; fmerge1]; : : :; [Dm; fmergem ]g; felem) =Cans .
domi(Cans ) = ffmerge i(e)je 2 domi (C )g if 1 i m, else domi(Cans ) = domi(C ).
11
Date
<Sales> f merge1:
mar 4
feb 3
<20> <15> <15>
feb 2
<10> <15>
jan 1
<10>
p1
{p1,p2} in cat1
{p3,p4} in cat2
<10>
<15>
p2
<20>
f merge2:
date by month
f elem : SUM
<20>
<25>
p3
p4
Product
Month
<Total Sales>
mar
<15>
<10>
feb
<45>
<50>
jan
<10>
<45>
cat1
cat2
Category
Figure 8: Merging dimensions date and product using felem = sum
E (Cans)(d1; : : :; dk ) = felem (ftjt = E (C )(d01; : : :; d0k ) where fmerge i(d0i) = di if 1 i m else
d0i = dig).
A special case of the merge operator is when all the merging functions are identity. In this case,
the merge operator can be used to apply a function felem to each element of a cube.
Remark. The merge operator is strictly not part of our basic set of operators. It can be expressed
as a special case of the self-join of a cube using fmerge transformation functions on dimensions being
merged and identity transformation functions for other dimensions. We chose to separately dene
merge because it is a unary operator unlike the binary join and also for performance reasons.
4. Discussion
The reader may have noticed similarities in the operators proposed and relational algebra
[Cod70]. It is by design. One of our goals was to explore how much of the functionality of
current multidimensional products can be abstracted in terms of relational algebra. By developing
operators that can be translated into SQL (see Appendix), our hope was to create a fast path for
providing OLAP capability on top of relational database systems. We must hasten to add that we
are not arguing against specialized OLAP engines|we believe the design and prototyping of such
engines is a fruitful research direction. We are also not suggesting that simply translating these
operators into SQL would be sucient for providing OLAP capabilities in relational database systems. However, it does point to directions in which optimization techniques and storage structures
in relational database systems need to evolve.
The goal of treating dimensions and measures symmetrically had a permeating inuence in
our design. It is a functionality either not present or poorly supported in current multidimensional
database products. Its absence causes expensive schema redesign when an unanticipated need arises
for aggregation along an attribute that was initially thought to be a measure. In hindsight, the
push and pull operations may appear trivial. However, their introduction was the key that made
the symmetric treatment of dimensions and measures possible.
The reader may argue with the way we have chosen to incorporate order-based information
12
into our algebra. We rely on functions for this purpose, which implies that the system may not be
able to use this information in optimizing queries. We debated about allowing a native order to
be specied with each dimension and providing ordering operators. We decided against it because
of the large number of such operators and because the semantics gets quite complex when there
are multiple hierarchies along a dimension. In a practical implementation of our model, it will be
worthwhile to allow a default order to be specied with each dimension and make system aware of
some built-in ordering functions such as \rst n". The same holds for providing the knowledge of
some built-in aggregate functions.
The reader may also notice the absence of direct analogs of relational projection, union, intersection, and dierence. These operations can be expressed in terms of our proposed operators as
follows:
Projection. The projection of a cube is computed by merging each dimension not included in the
projection and then destroying the dimension. A felem function specifying how multiple elements
are combined is needed as part of the specication of the projection.
Union. Two cubes are union-compatible if (i) they have the same number of dimensions; and (ii)
for each dimension Di in C , dimension Di in C 1 is of the same domain type. Union is computed
by joining the two cubes using the identity transformation functions for each dimension of each
cube and by choosing a function felem that produces a non-empty element for element e in Cans
whenever an element from either of the two cubes is mapped into e. Dimension Di in the resulting
cube has as its values the union of the values in domi (C ) and in domi (C 1).
Intersect. The intersection of two union-compatible cubes is computed by joining the cubes
through the identity mapping that eectively retains only those dimension values that are present
in both cubes. Thus, function felem makes non-0 an element for point p in Cans only if elements
from both cubes are mapped into p.
Dierence. The dierence of two union-compatible cubes C 1 and C 2 is expressed as an inter-
section of C 1 and C 2 followed by a union of the result with C 1. The felem function for combining
two elements for the intersection steps discards the value of the element for C 1 and retains C 2's
element. The felem function for combining two elements for the union step saves the value of C 1's
element if the two elements are dierent and makes the result 0 if they are identical2 .
4.1. Expressive Power
It is easy to see that our algebra is at least as powerful as relational algebra [Cod70]. A precise circumscription of the expressive power of the proposed data model is an open problem. A
related interesting open question pertains to dening a formal notion of completeness for multidimensional database queries and evaluating how complete our algebra is with respect to that metric.
Formalisms developed in the context of relational databases, for example, in [AU79] [CH82] may
provide starting point for pursuing this direction.
2
This implementation corresponds to the following semantics for C 1 , C 2: E (Cans )(d1 ; : : : ; dk ) equals 0 if
( 2)(d1 ; : : : ; dk ) = E (C 1)(d1 ; : : : ; dk ); it is E (C 1)(d1 ; : : : ; dk ) otherwise. Another alternative semantics could be
that E (Cans )(d1 ; : : : ; dk ) equals 0 if E (C 2)(d1 ; : : : ; dk ) 6= 0, and E (C 1)(d1 ; : : : ; dk ) otherwise. This semantics can be
implemented by a small change in the felem function used in the union step.
E C
13
We take an empirical approach and discuss below how the current high-level multidimensional
operations can be built using our proposed operators.
Roll-up. Roll-up is a merge operation that needs one dimension merging function and one element
combining function. If a hierarchy is specied on a dimension then the dimension merging function is
dened implicitly by the hierarchy. The elements corresponding to merged values on the dimension
are combined using the user-specied element combining function like SUM.
Drill-down. This operator is actually a binary operation even though most current multidimen-
sional database products make it seem like a unary operation. Consider computing the sum X of
10 values. Drill-down from X to the underlying 10 values is possible in innite ways. Thus, the
underlying 10 values have to be known. That is, the aggregate cube has to be joined (actually
associated) with the cube that has detailed information. Continuing with our analogy, to drill
down from X to its constituents the database has to keep track of how X was obtained and then
associate X with these values. Thus, if users merge cubes along stored paths and there are unique
path down the merging tree, then drill down is uniquely specied. By storing hierarchy information
and by restricting single element merging functions to be used along each hierarchy, drill-down can
be provided as a high-level operation on top of associate.
Star Join. In a star join [Eri95], a large detail \mother" table M is joined with several small
\daughter" tables that describe join keys in the mother table. A star join denormalizes the mother
table by joining it with its daughter tables after applying selection conditions to their descriptive
attributes. We describe how our operators capture a star join when M has one daughter table F1
that describes the join key eld D of M . Table F1 can be viewed as a one-dimensional cube, C1
with the join key eld D as the dimension and all the description elds pulled in as elements. A
restriction on a description attribute A of table F1 corresponds to a function application to the
elements of C1 . Restrictions on the join key attribute translate to restrictions on dimension D of
C1 . The join between M and F1 is achieved by associating the mother cube with the daughter cube
on the key dimension D using the identity mapping function. The description of each key value is
pulled in from the daughter cube into the mother cube via the felem function.
Expressing a dimension as a function of other dimensions. This functionality is basic in
spread sheets. We can create a new dimension D expressed as a function, f of another dimension D0
by rst pushing D0 into the cube elements, then modifying the cube elements by applying function
f and nally pulling out the corresponding member of the cube element as a new dimension D.
4.2. Example queries
This section illustrates how to express some of the queries of Example 2.2 using our operators.
Assume we have a cube C with dimensions product, month, supplier and element sales.
For supplier \Ace" and for each product, give the fractional increase in the sales in January
1995 relative to the sales in January 1994.
Restrict supplier to \Ace" and dates to \January 1994 or January 1995". Merge date
dimension using an felem that combines sales as (B , A)=A where A is the sale in Jan 1994
and B is the sale in Jan 1995.
14
For each product give its market share in its category this month minus its market share in
its category in October 1994.
Restrict date to \October 1994 or current month". Merge supplier to a single point using
sum of sales as the felem function to get C 1. Merge product dimension to category using sum
as the felem function to get in C 2 the total sale for the two months of interest. Associate
C 1 and C 2, mapping a category in C 2 to each of its products in C 1. The identity mapping
is used for the Month dimension. Function felem divides the element from C 1 by the element
from C 2 to get the market share. For the resulting cube, Merge dimension month to a single
point using a felem function (A , B ) where A is the market share for \this" month and B is
the market share in October 1994.
For each product category, select total sales this month of the product that had highest sales
in that category last month.
Restrict dimension month to \last" month. Merge supplier to a single point using sum of
sales as the felem function. Push product dimension resulting in 2-tuple elements with <Sale
and product>. Merge product to category using felem function that retains an element
if it has the \maximum" sales. Pull product into the category dimension (over-riding the
category dimension, this can be easily done using our basic operators). Let the resulting cube
be C 1. This cube has the highest sales value for each element for \last" month. Restrict C
on dimension date to \this" month, Merge supplier to a single point using sum of sales as
the felem function and associate it with C 1 on the product dimension using felem function
that only outputs the element of C when it is the same as the corresponding elements from
C 1 (otherwise returns 0).
Select suppliers for which the total sale of every product increased in each of last 5 years.
Restrict to months of last 6 years. Merge month to year. Merge years to a single point
using a felem function that maps the six sales values to \1" if sales values are increasing,
\0" otherwise. Merge product to a point where felem function is \1" if and only if all its
arguments are \1".
5. Conclusions and Future Work
This paper introduced a data model and a set of algebraic operations that unify and extend the
functionality provided by current multidimensional database products. As illustrated in Section 4.1
the proposed operators can be composed to build OLAP operators like roll-up, drill-down, starjoin and many others. In addition, the model provides symmetric treatment to dimensions and
measures. The model also provides support for multiple hierarchies along each dimension and
support for adhoc aggregates. Absence of these features in current products results in expensive
schema redesign when an unanticipated need arises for a new aggregation or aggregation along an
attribute that was initially thought to be a measure.
The proposed operators have several desirable properties. They have well-dened semantics.
They are minimal in the sense that none can be expressed in terms of others nor can any one
be dropped without sacricing functionality. Every operator is dened on cubes and produces as
output a cube. That is, the operators are closed and can be freely composed and reordered. This
allows the inecient one-operation-at-a-time approach currently in vogue to be replaced by a query
model and makes multidimensional queries amenable to optimization.
15
The proposed operators enable the logical separation of the frontend user interface from the
backend that stores and executes queries. They thus provide an algebraic API that allows the
interchange of frontends and backends. The operators are designed to be translated into SQL.
Thus, they can be implemented on either a relational system or a specialized engine.
For future, on the modeling side, work is needed to incorporate duplicates and NULL values
in our model. We believe that the duplicates can be handled by treating elements of the cube as
pairs consisting of an arity and a tuple of values. The arity gives the number of occurrences of
the corresponding combination of dimensional values. NULLs can be represented by allowing for a
NULL value for each dimension. Details of these extensions and other possible alternatives require
further investigation.
On the implementation side, there are interesting research problems for implementing our model
on top of a relational system as well as within a specialized engine. Although each of the proposed
operators can be translated into a SQL query, simply executing this translated SQL on a relational
engine is likely to be quite inecient (see the translation of the join operation in Appendix). Corresponding to a multidimensional query composed of several of these operators, we will get a sequence
of SQL queries that oers opportunity for multi-query optimization. It needs to be investigated
whether the known techniques (e.g. [SG90]) will suce or do we need to develop new techniques.
Similarly, there is opportunity for research in storage and access structures and materialized views.
We believe that multidimensional databases oer interesting technical challenges and at the same
time have large commercial importance.
Acknowledgments. We wish to thank Mike Carey, Piyush Goel, Bala Iyer, and Eugene Shekita
for stimulating discussions and probing questions.
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18
A. Translation to SQL
We describe in this appendix3 how to translate the proposed operators to corresponding SQL
queries, if the cube is represented as a table R. Note, a k-dimensional logical cube C that has
1/0 as its elements can be represented as a table that has k attributes and has (d1; : : :; dk ) as a
tuple if E (C )(d1; : : :; dk ) = 1. If the elements of a cube are n-tuples, then the relation has n extra
attributes; with one attribute for each member of the element. Information about which attribute
in R corresponds to a member of an element in cube C is kept as meta-data.
To enable this translation, we need to extend SQL to allow functions in the groupby clause
and user-dened aggregate functions that could return sets in the select clause. The details of the
proposed extensions are given in Section A.2. It is also shown there how functions in the groupby
clause can be emulated, albeit ineciently, in SQL with user-dened functions (e.g. DB2/CS
[Cha96]).
A.1. Translations
Push. Causes another attribute to be added to the relation. The new attribute is a copy of some
other attribute in the original relation.
Pull. The element-member attribute that is pulled into a dimension, namely the ith member, is
renamed to be a dimension name. Note, this operation is an update to the meta-data associated
with the relation.
Destroy Dimension. If dimension Di is destroyed, then the corresponding relational operation
involves removing the attribute in R corresponding to dimension Di. This operation does not
introduce any duplicates in R because Di is restricted to have only one value.
Restriction. First consider the translation of an ecient special case of the restriction operator.
If predicate P is evaluable on individual values of dimension Di, for instance X > 20, then restriction
translates to a simple select clause on relation R. Namely:
select from R where P (Di).
In the more general case, P is evaluated on the set of values of dimension Di . SQL does not support
such queries. Thus, we need to extend SQL to allow user-dened aggregate functions in the select
clause where the function may return a set of values. Thus, the following query returns all the
values of dimension Di that satisfy predicate P :
select from R where Di in (select P (Di) from R ) .
Function P is an aggregate function like \max", \top-5". The function P is applied to the set of
values for dimension Di and the satisfying values are picked. Note, we abuse notation and use the
term P to refer to a predicate and also to an aggregate function.
The paper is self-contained without this Appendix. Should space become a constraint, the conference version of
the paper will not include the Appendix, but will refer to an IBM Research Report.
3
19
Join. Intuitively cube join is dened as a combination of relational join and groupby. First we
dene two views that capture each cube after applying the mappings to the relevant dimentions.
Dene view Vr as
select D1; : : :; Dm,k,1; f1(Dm,k ); : : :; fm(Dm); A1; : : :; Ar
from R .
Dene view Vs as
select f10 (Dm,k ); : : :; fk0 (Dm); Dm+1; : : :; Dn; B1; : : :; Bp
from S .
In both the above views the fi and fi0 are mappings and the result of the select is a cross
product of all the values for every attribute. Also, the attributes of view Vr are named the same
as the attributes of R, namely D1; : : :; Dm; A1; : : :; Ak . Similarly the attributes of Vs are named
Dm,k ; : : :; Dn; B1; : : :; Bp.
We then do the following relational join:
select R:D1; : : :; R:Dm; S:Dm+1; : : :S:Dn; felem(R:A1; : : :; R:Ar; S:B1; : : :; S:Bp)
from Vr R, Vs S
where (R:Dm,k = S:Dm,k
...
R:Dm = S:Dm)
groupby R:D1; : : :; R:Dm; S:Dm+1; : : :S:Dn .
The above result does not include the tuples of Vr that do not match with any tuple of Vs and
vice-versa. To include those values we rst take a dierence of the two views (Vr , Vs ) based on
the join attributes Dm,k : : :Dm ; call this dierence Ur . We now union the result of the above
relational join with the following to get those tuples of Vr that do not match with any tuple of Vs :
select R:D1; : : :; R:Dm; S:Dm+1; : : :S:Dn; felem(R:A1; : : :; R:Ar; NULL; : : :; NULL)
from Ur R, Vs S
groupby R:D1; : : :; R:Dm; S:Dm+1; : : :S:Dn .
Similarly, we union the above result include tuples of Vs not matching any tuple of Vr . Finally, we
select only those tuples from the result where the function felem is not zero.
Merge. To translate merge into SQL, we need to extend SQL to include user-dened aggregate
functions (e.g. [Mon94]). The translation process also needs to know the arity of the output of
function felem so that the correct number of attributes can be created in the resulting tuple. This
information is needed to correctly store the output of a merge operation even if the underlying
store is multidimensional. Thus, the form of the output of felem is required as a part of the the
function's specication. Merge is translated as follows (assuming felem outputs a p-tuple):
select fmerge 1(D1); : : :; fmerge m(Dm); Dm+1; : : :; Dk ; felem(A1; : : :; An)
from R
where felem (A1; : : :; An) =6 NULL
groupby fmerge 1(D1); : : :; fmergem(Dm).
20
where attributes A1 ; : : :; An comprise the element of the cube. To conform to SQL we can
rewrite the select clause to be of the form B1 as rst element of(felem (A1 ; : : :; An)), B2 as second element of(felem (A1; : : :; An )), etc., whereby attributes B1 ; B2 ; : : : are the new members of the
elements.
A.2. Proposed Extensions to SQL
We propose an extension to the groupby construct of SQL to allow translation of the proposed
multidimensional operators to SQL. Currently grouping in relational systems is restricted to be
attribute based. That is, groups are formed on the basis of the values of a (set of) attribute and
then an aggregate is computed using the tuples in each group.
Example A.1. Consider a database with the following tables:
sales(S; P; A; D)
region(S; R)
category(P; C )
supplier S supplied product P on date D for amount A.
supplier S is in region R.
product P is in product category C .
Consider a query that computes for each product the total sales in each region. This query is
expressed as:
select R; sum(A) from sales; region where sales:S = region:S groupby region:R.
However, note that the relation region represents a function that maps each supplier name to a
unique region. We propose the following more intuitive rewrite of the above query:
select region(S ); sum(A) from sales groupby region(S ).
where region is a function that maps each supplier name to the corresponding region. Strictly
speaking, there is no reason why region needs to be a function. It could well map the same
supplier to multiple regions (thereby no longer being a function but a 1-n mapping). We abuse the
term function to actually refer to a mapping.
Consider another query that is not easily expressible in SQL. The query computes for each
product the total sales in each quarter. This query can be represented in extended SQL as:
select quarter(D); sum(A) from sales groupby quarter(D).
where function quarter maps each date into one of four quarters. There is no straightforward way
of relationally expressing the above query.
2
The above query represents a \roll-up" of the supplier attribute (or dimension) to the region
attribute (or dimension). Gray et al. [GBLP95] also propose introducing functions in the groupby
clause for implementing the \data-cube" operator. We think it appropriate to go even one step
further and allow a 1-n mapping in the groupby clause because then the relational model can
incorporate the equivalent of multiple levels of hierarchies. We refer to 1-n mappings as multivalued functions. The use of multi-valued functions is illustrated below:
Example A.2.
For the schema of Example A.1, consider another query that computes the
running average of the sales made by each supplier for a particular year. In the extended notation
using user dened functions, we can easily write this query as follows:
21
select S; f (D); avg(A) from sales groupby f (D).
Function (mapping) f (D) maps each date into one or more groups as required by the running
average intervals. For instance, if the running average was over 3 months, taken every month, then
every month's sales gures would be mapped into three groups. Note, the query cannot currently
be computed using SQL.
2
The main point being made in the above examples is that grouping needs to be based on
multi-valued functions of attributes and not just on single (or more) attributes.
Semantics. Unlike conventional grouping, a groupby clause now can increase the size of a relation
if the function is a 1 ! n mapping and not a 1 ! 1 function. The following example illustrates the
kind of grouping that could arise:
Example A.3. Consider a relation R dened on three attributes A; B; C . Let mapping f be
dened on A, and mapping g be dened on B . Let us see the groups to which tuple t(a; b; c) might
contribute if the query of interest is:
select sum(C ) from R groupby f (A); g(B).
Let f (a) = f1; 2g and g (b) = f; g. Then tuple t contributes to the groups f(1; ); (1; ); (2; ); (2; )g.
For each of these groups, c contributes to the sum.
2
Thus, the semantics are that a tuple t contributes to as many groups as the number of elements
in the cross product of the result of applying the grouping functions to the attributes of t. Thus,
even for multi-valued functions the semantics are well dened. In general, the groupby clause may
use user-dened functions that may be multi-valued and that may be dened over an arbitrary
number of attributes.
Function based grouping can be incorporated easily in hash based implementations of grouping.
Expressing the SQL Extensions in Current Systems. Some of the above suggested extensions of SQL can be simulated in current systems in somewhat round-about ways. We illustrate
this for DB2/CS that allows user-dened functions in the select clause [Cha96].
Example A.4. Consider the query:
select S; f (D); avg(A) from sales groupby f (D).
We can replace the function f (D) in the groupby clause by an occurrence of f (D) in the select
clause (of a dierent but equivalent) query as follows:
dene view mapping as select distinct D; f (D) from sales.
The above view contains the mapping from D to f (D). This view can be joined with relation sales
to obtain the original query as follows:
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select S; FD; avg(A) from sales; mapping(D; FD) where supp:D = mapping:D groupby FD.
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The basic idea is that the function computation can be captured as a table via a separate select
query. The resulting table can be joined with the original query to generate the necessary grouping
attribute.
The above method of implementing functions in the grouping clause is not attractive because
it introduces an extra join and also is not intuitive. Also, the workaround does not allow us to
emulate mappings (multi-valued \functions") in the grouping clause or aggregate functions in the
select clause.
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