With SAP’s recent announcement about SAP Business Suite on HANA, and particularly the advent of SAP HANA Analytics Foundation for the Business Suite there’s again some talk about the future of Business Warehouse (BW). We had the same question a few years back when HANA was first being introduced as a standalone system: will this make BW obsolete? The answer back then was ‘No’ and that’s still the case now.
What is the SAP HANA Analytics Foundation and how will it affect BW’s position?
In summary, the SAP HANA Analytics Foundation provides views (called VDMs, Virtual Data Models) of the data in the Business Suite database (HANA). These views can then be consumed for analytical consumption (in a HTML5 ‘View Browser’ or BusinessObjects reporting tools for example) via SAP HANA Calculation Views. The overreaching objective is to address the business need of real-time operational reporting. In many ways the Analytics Foundation is an evolution of the existing ERP RDS reporting solutions, which again were never intended to replace BW but to solve and enable different business requirements.
In the initial release the HANA Analytics Foundation views will be available for ERP (Financials and Logistics), CRM (Sales & Marketing), SCM and GRC. This is subject to change from SAP.
SAP’s rationale of the development and release of the HANA Analytics Foundation (currently in ramp up at time of writing) is that it will deliver the follow advantages:
- Open access based on standard protocols (SQL, MDX, OData).
- Intuitive access via the VDMs for business users, which will hide the complexity of the underlying database structure.
- Fast query access, with SAP HANA being the underlying database.
- Real-time, no need to wait for aggregation or batch jobs to load a data warehouse. Any operational business question can be answered on the spot.
Another objective of the Analytics Foundation is that it’s not a replacement for a data warehouse solution, i.e. SAP BW. With the Analytics Foundation you will be able to efficiently build operational reporting on Business Suite data but there are business scenarios that will still require, and always will require, a data warehouse solution in the form of BW.
With a focus on operational reporting in Business Suite via the Analytics Foundation, this responsibility will be taken away from BW, which is a positive step. BW can focus solely on being the system for strategic decision making, using consolidated, merged and historic data sets from multiple sources. Business Suite on HANA will never store vast historic data that will never ever be required for processing anymore (10 years+) despite the fact that HANA will compress its storage. It will still be inefficient database practice to storage vast historic data in Business Suite, along with the fact that the operational detail of 10 years+ data is far too granular. BW will be the best place to storage the historic data for compliance and data lifecycle management whilst continuing to make it available for trend and timeline reporting.
It’s unlikely that BW will ever be real-time, despite the technologies and functionality that have allowed BW to leverage real-time possibilities (Direct Access, RDA, Hybrid-Providers), as real-time is simply not a defining characteristic of a data warehouse. Data Warehouses are defined by the data consolidating, merging and historic storage characteristics mentioned earlier along with strong ETL functionality to centrally apply complex and ‘report’ specific lookups, calculations and data manipulations.
BW will continue to provide persistent storage of aggregated data, which is absolutely necessary for lightweight and responsive data calls/retrieval, particularly as we are seeing an ever increasing consumption of information analysis via mobile devices.
BW still has some very rich and powerful features that Business Suite doesn’t:
- Rich and high cover of pre-delivered Business Content that can be referenced, changed or copied to your own requirements across all components in the analytics object hierarchy (from Extractors right through to Reports)
- Data Consolidation – BW can easily consolidate and merge various datasets to allow for one version of the corporate truth and deliver it in a flexible manner. BW allows data harmonisation from multiple systems. The HANA Analytics foundation will only apply to each Business Suite system so organisations with a large number of Business Suite systems should continue to use BW as a central, single point of access for key business reports.
- Planning – although the long term view a few years back was that BW-IP was dead (to be replaced by SAP BusinessObjects BPC) this certainly hasn’t been the case and BW-IP still plays a very important part in BW’s offering with its robust, scalable and flexible planning capabilities at no extra hardware and licensing cost. The other point here is that BPC runs on BW too.
- Security – authorisation models have (and quite rightly so) always been different between ERP and BI systems. BW security ensures intelligence can be delivered and isn’t hampered in a Business Intelligence system, whilst in no way compromising operational security in the ERP system.
- BW has strong and flexible ETL capabilities, made stronger by its integration with DataServices meaning that data can be extracted, translated, cleansed, secured, calculated and enhanced from any source with relative ease. The delivered SAP Extractors have also been the best way to get data out of complex SAP transactional system tables.
BW is still a strategic application in SAP’s toolset with it being upgraded to 7.3 and the ability to use HANA as its database. In version 7.3 there were significant new features to enrich BW’s offering (for the business and IT) including the ability for users to merge local data with warehouse data via BW Workspaces and the consumption of HANA models through Composite Providers). SAP has continued to invest in BW’s future, and will continue to do so. Importantly, the views from the HANA Analytics Foundation can also be consumed in BW, again meaning BW can continue to be the enterprise data warehouse. BW DataSources can also be created on Analytics Foundation views too.
BW is also part of SAP’s ‘Real Time’ business platform, with it running on HANA and using Sybase IQ as a Near Line Storage (NLS) solution to store old/cold data outside of HANA. This will allow for maximum efficiency of in-memory usage in the HANA database whilst still allowing cold data to be accessed by queries, but storing it in a compressed and optimal form in Sybase IQ.
Below is a summary table of benefits between the SAP HANA Analytics Foundation and BW:
It’s clear that BW is not being replaced by the SAP HANA Analytics Foundation but rather that the Analytics Foundation can complement BW and help BW focus on being a strategic decision making system. The systems will offer organisations a a comprehensive reporting platform to enable the requirement of real time information as well as a strategic business decision making and planning tool.
Customers can reuse analytic content across both systems knowing that their investments in existing content are protected. Customers can implement a mix of systems, choosing and leveraging the required strengths and benefits of each. Of course, the implementation decision of SAP HANA Analytics Foundations, alongside an existing or new BW system, can and must be made on a scenario by scenario basis.
For more information on SAP HANA, BW on HANA, Business Suite on HANA, SAP HANA Analytics Foundation please get in contact. We can advise you on what technologies are the best fit for information management within your organisation and an also help you implement and enable the technologies within the IT and business landscape.