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Sunday
May302010

Many-to-Many Dimensions, How Scalable?

In 2005, SSAS introduced the concept of many-to-many relationships between dimensions, an outstanding development that (in theory) partially overcomes the rigidity of strict star/snowflake schemas. But with this feature came all sorts of warnings from Microsoft and from practitioners about scalability. For instance, from a 2007 whitepaper:

This capability frequently comes with a substantial cost in query performance due to the runtime join required by Analysis Services to resolve many-to-many queries

A couple of years ago, we built a fairly complex cube with about 20 measure groups. There was an isolated situation where a many-to-many relationship would save an obscene amount of ETL. So we tried it, it worked, and we hesitantly put it into production.

Thus began the slide down the slippery slope. Because then, each time we were faced with similar design decisions, the client chose the many-to-many option, despite the admonitions from Microsoft, because after all it worked the first time. And now the cube has so many-to-many relationships defined that it's mind-boggling. And yet it continues to perform adequately.

While the cube is structurally complex, the data volumes are relatively small. The largest dimension (which plays prominently in the many-to-manys) has a million members, and there are about 40 million fact rows in total.

Now, I'm eager to discover how far this can be pushed. I'll report my findings here periodically.

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