OLTP vs. OLAP: A Comprehensive Comparison

Introduction

OLTP and OLAP are online processing systems that help turn data into information. OLTP deals with data transactions, while OLAP deals with data analytics. Although there are differences, the main idea is to use the two processes to form a stable data warehouse architecture.

This article explains the main differences between OLTP and OLAP systems and how to utilize the two when processing data.

OLTP vs. OLAP

OLTP vs. OLAP: Definitions

The first step in comprehending the main difference between the OLTP and OLAP systems is to know how to define each. The definitions help describe the main features of each processing system as well.

OLTP (Online Transaction Processing)

OLTP is short for Online Transaction Processing. The system provides data to a dedicated storage server directly from the source. The main characteristics of OLTP are:

  • Frequent query processing. Inserting, updating, and deleting data are everyday tasks in an OLTP database.
  • Fast transactions. The system constantly deals with short and frequent transactions to stay updated with the most current information.
  • Data integrity. In case of any failures, rollback segments are crucial to keeping data integrity as well as consistency. The stability of information flow is possible due to database normalization up to at least the third normal form (3NF).

Overall, the OLTP system design provides immediate response to simple business processes and user requests through a relational database.

OLAP (Online Analytical Processing)

OLAP is short for Online Analytical Processing. The method takes data collected by an OLTP system and prepares it for analytical purposes. The main characteristics of an OLAP system are:

  • Smaller query volume. Selecting multidimensional data is a common task in an OLAP database.
  • Complex transactions. The system handles historical data and tackles analytical tasks in large volumes. The emphasis is on executing complex queries quickly for decision-making processes.
  • Query speed. Database denormalization techniques help improve the query speed with OLAP databases. Although information retrieval is fast, data inconsistencies are present.

The OLAP system provides quick responses to complex and multidimensional workloads typically needed in a data warehouse.

OLTP vs. OLAP: Comparison

OLTP and OLAP are different in terms of functionality. The OLAP database systems became more popular with the rise of big data and analytics. The two systems work best when connected through the ETL (extract, transform, load) layer.

OLTP, ETL and OLAP layers

Note: Spark streaming is an excellent example of a utilized ETL layer. For a practical example of data ingestion, check out our Spark streaming guide for beginners.

The table below outlines the main differences between the two processing techniques:

OLTPOLAP
Stands forOnline Transactional ProcessingOnline Analytical Processing
FunctionalityModifies and writes data oftenQueries data, rarely writes
Main FeatureLow latencyHigh throughput
QueriesINSERT, UPDATE, DELETESELECT
Query ComplexitySimple and standardizedComplex and specialized
NormalizationNormalizedUnnormalized or denormalized
Database ArchitectureTraditionalData warehouse
DesignIndustry orientedSubject oriented
IntegrityFrequently modified and maintainedNot often changed or maintained
Data RedundancyLowHigh
AvailabilityHigh availabilityLow availability
Storage SizeSmall if data is archivedLarge database servers
Number of UsersThousandsHundreds
ProductivityShort term and daily goalsLong term goals
Performance metricTransaction throughputQuery throughput
Response timeMillisecondsSeconds to minutes
Used forBasic business tasks in high volumesPlanning, analytical tasks, decision making
Used byClerks, administrators, and data critical sectorsData scientists, marketing, and decision-making sectors
AudienceMarket-oriented informationCustomer-oriented information

OLTP Use Cases

OLTP systems are in nearly every consumer-facing system. Some of the everyday use cases for transactional processing are:

  • ATM and Online Banking. Daily financial withdrawals and payments represent simple everyday transactions supported by OLTP systems.
  • Payment Processing. Both online and in-store payments are transactional processes, whether it is a debit or credit card.
  • Online Booking. Any reservation, ticketing, and booking system require OLTP methods and specifications.
  • Recordkeeping. Whether the records are medical, educational, inventory control, or a customer service ticketing system, record keeping is a process that needs fast-paced management.

OLAP Use Cases

An OLAP system is found in every branch of business that benefits from data analysis. Frequently, analytical processing finds use in:

  • Trend Analysis. OLAP systems assist in decision-making with statistical analysis of trends in many sectors, from healthcare to retail.
  • Customer Behavior. Different dimensions of customer information, such as geographic or demographic data, helps determine customer behavior for ecommerce industries.
  • Agriculture. A recent and most exciting application is in the agriculture sector. Massive amounts of information processed with edge computing help generate reports for rural businesses.

Advantages and Disadvantages of OLTP

OLTP is system-oriented towards a high number of simple transactions with immediate responses. The transactional data processing technique has certain benefits and drawbacks.

Advantages

Some advantages of using OLTP are:

  • Concurrency. A high volume of transactions from numerous users requires a high level of concurrency.
  • Atomicity. Either a whole transaction occurs, or nothing happens. The system is immune to partial updates and information loss.
  • Speed. All the occurring transactions are simple. Constant updates require sub-second response times.

Disadvantages

The disadvantages of OLTP include:

  • Downtime. Any downtime causes a bottleneck in the high volume of requests. The systems must use high availability solutions.
  • Security. When dealing with any data regarding people, safety is of the utmost priority. OLTP requires high levels of security, which is hard to manage with the massive number of transactions.
  • Request volume. The sheer number of requests is overwhelming. The amount of raw data requires a team of data experts to find actionable information.

Advantages and Disadvantages of OLAP

OLAP focuses on data discovery processes and multidimensionality. The analytical approach to database analysis comes with advantages as well as disadvantages.

Advantages

The overall advantages to using an OLAP system are:

  • Comprehensive. Complex queries on multidimensional data provide a broad overview of information from various databases.
  • Decision-making support. With the help of star and snowflake schemas, the OLAP system provides the flexibility needed for decision support systems.  
  • Flat learning curve. The end-users of OLAP-based systems need little to no technical training.

Disadvantages

Some of the weaknesses in OLAP systems are:

  • Data redundancy. High levels of data redundancy are present due to denormalization.
  • Storage scalability. The system requires a scalable storage solution as the information system grows.
  • Computation capabilities. Because non-technical professionals use OLAP systems, the computation resources lack power. Often, third-party software and tools are needed to perform complex computations.

Conclusion

The OLTP and OLAP processing systems both deal with information in their domain. While OLTP is helpful for business processes, OLAP comes in handy when analyzing trends and critical information for the growth of a business.

Next, check out our article on cloud databases to see which modern solution works best for your database system.

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Milica Dancuk
Milica Dancuk is an aspiring technical writer at phoenixNAP and a data nerd. Her background in Electrical Engineering and Computing and her teaching experience give her a unique set of skills - being able to easily explain complex technical concepts through her content.
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