What Is Online Analytical Processing (OLAP)?

Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) is a tool that enables users to analyze different dimensions of multidimensional data. For organizations that deal with large amounts of data, understanding OLAP can be the key to unlocking actionable business insights.

What is OLAP?

Online Analytical Processing is a category of software technology that allows users to analyze information from multiple database systems at the same time. It is a term that describes a technology that uses a multidimensional approach to database queries and analysis. OLAP tools are designed to speed up the retrieval of data.

Types of OLAP

  • ROLAP (Relational OLAP)

This type of OLAP directly interfaces with relational databases. Its strength lies in its ability to handle large amounts of data and its powerful computational functionality.

  • MOLAP (Multidimensional OLAP)

This type of OLAP is designed for fast data retrieval and is optimal for slicing and dicing operations. It requires more storage space than other types of OLAP.

  • HOLAP (Hybrid OLAP)

As the name suggests, HOLAP combines the functionalities of ROLAP and MOLAP. It allows for detailed analysis of data while maintaining a fast processing speed.

How does OLAP work?

Online Analytical Processing works by organizing data into a multidimensional cube. This cube allows for complex analytical and ad-hoc queries with a rapid execution time. The cube structures data by grouping information that naturally fits together into a set of hierarchies, thus enabling faster computations.

OLAP operations

  • Pivot: This operation rotates the data in order to provide a different perspective on it.
  • Dice: This operation cuts out a smaller chunk from the cube to focus on specific data points.
  • Drill Down: This operation allows users to view detailed data related to a specific element.
  • Slice: This operation cuts out a portion of the cube to focus on a single dimension.
  • Roll Up: This operation is essentially the reverse of drill down as it moves from detail to summary.

Why is OLAP important?

The importance of Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) emerges from its instrumental role in facilitating complex data analysis. Through the provision of a platform that enables swift execution of ad-hoc queries, the extraction of valuable insights becomes feasible. 

Furthermore, by storing aggregated, historical data in multi-dimensional database schemas, rapid data retrieval is facilitated. Consequently, the ability to make informed decisions based on comprehensive data analysis is enhanced significantly as well.


While OLAP is geared towards the analysis of data, Online Transaction Processing, or OLTP, focuses on the daily transactions of businesses. OLTP systems are optimized for operational tasks, whereas OLAP systems are designed for analysis and decision-making.

Closing thoughts

OLAP is an essential tool in the world of business intelligence, offering a powerful platform for data analysis and decision-making. Its ability to handle complex queries swiftly and efficiently makes it a valuable asset in any data-driven organization. By understanding and leveraging the capabilities of OLAP, businesses can gain valuable insights and drive successful strategies.

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