SAP BW/4HANA – revolution or evolution?

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What is SAP BW/4HANA and how did SAP BW/4HANA come to be?

It began in 2010, when SAP introduced the first version of the SAP HANA platform. It was a technology that was developed based on SAP’s acquisition of Sybase IQ. From 2012 – we started to see information about SAP BW powered by HANA – involving BW 7.3/7.4 versions, then later, 7.5. At the time, most customers were still working with SAP BW on a DB2 or Oracle database. When large amounts of data were involved, there would often be problems in the performance (loading and reporting) area – reports in these cases were often slow and didn’t load according to the expected time. Even with a very good BW housekeeping approach, customers with big data often faced speed issues with their SAP BW solution.

As a next big step, we had the announcement about S/4HANA as a successor of the SAP ECC system. In the middle of 2015, we heard initial information about BW/4HANA as the next generation of Data Warehouse platform from the SAP portfolio. After this year’s SAPPHIRE conference in Orlando we heard about C/4HANA (SAP Customer Experience). What is common for these SAP “/4” solutions? All of them must be fully optimized for SAP HANA purposes and their “heart” is the SAP HANA platform. SAP BW/4HANA intends to provide real-time insight on data, across a diverse IT landscape to allow a single harmonized view on the data.

 The evolution of SAP BW/4HANA – Source: SAP SE

Simplification in the development area – ready for Agile?

In almost all SAP material about BW/4HANA we find information that BW development will be simplified and sped up because of decreasing the BW object numbers from 10 to 4:

Reduced BW object numbers in SAP BW/4HANA – Source: SAP SE

Is this really true? Partially, yes – we can agree with Virtualization part, where we have now 2 objects: Composite Provider and Open ODS View. Both of them are fully covered existing functionalities from “old school” BW objects like Multi Provider or Info Set. Additionally, these new BW/4HANA objects now provide some new features – i.e. merged join and union in one object, and virtual assignment of Info Object in the Composite Provider fields structure. Thanks to Eclipse technology the development of both objects are very easy and much faster than before, so BW Developers can speed up their development work, with shorter implementation delivery time.

What about objects in the Persistency area? Here the key player is an object called Advanced DataStore, the successor of the old InfoCube, classic DataStore, Hybrid Provider and PSA Table. From the transportation object point of view, it is true that we have only one physical object. But from BW topics, we have several possible options, to decide how our Advanced DSO will work – this is handled by a setting called “model template” definition.

Model template

If we only analyze EDW Architecture, we can clearly notice that the specific Advanced DSO can be set up in 5 different ways. For fans of the old school, we still have Standard DSO, Write-optimized DSO and InfoCube to select as a model template. I personally find it hard to agree with SAP about objects simplification – the numbers should be 10 to 4 (+5). However, I must admit that the development time of Advanced DSO objects are extremely decreased compared with old objects (InfoCube of Standard DSO). Moreover, at any time we have the possibility to change the model template for the specific Advanced DSO, even with loaded data. Both aspects are a huge benefit of using SAP BW/4HANA as Data Warehouse solution.

How can we integrate data in a simple and fast way?

One of the main data warehouse functionalities is the process of collecting data from different sources. Below we can see an overview of the improvements and approaches we have in BW/4HANA:

Improvements and approaches in BW/4HANA. Source: SAP SE

* There’s a good approach from SAP by grouping and simplifying some of the data sources from classic SAP BW technology – as a result we get only 4 types.
* All necessary solutions treated as Big Data on BW/4HANA can be established via the SAP VORA product.
* If you want to use S/4HANA as a source system, you can use ODP (Operational Data Provisioning) on the top of CDS (Core Data Services) View (good programming will be needed for this though)
* If those 4 Data Sources are not enough, developers still have the possibility to use HANA SDI for transferring data.

SAP BW/4HANA allows you to analyze data from multiple SAP and non-SAP sources (for example: Hadoop for Big Data, real-time data and data from sensors/IoT). It also supports real-time replication (where SLT – SAP LT Replication Server is one of the solutions) and direct access to external data sources. This product also provides the possibility of using a ‘Field-based modelling’ approach, as opposed to traditional ‘Info Object modelling’ (old school BW), and supports external access to structured data, as well as unstructured data (for example: text data from Twitter/Facebook for analyzing text patterns ). SAP deserves huge credit for the advancements in this area.

Mixed Scenarios – BW and Native HANA

When a BW Developer activates new BW objects in BW/4HANA, the specific HANA Calculation View is automatically generated in the background. This neat feature allows you to set up multiple scenarios for modelling your data models, due to the ability to use your BW objects in the HANA Native Modeling approach. For SQL fans you can now work more easily with SAP BW technology directly, rather than having to do so via Oracle, DB2 or Netezza databases.

What is even more interesting from an end-user perspective, is that HANA Calculation Views can be easily consumed by any SAP Business Objects BI front end tools (Analysis for Office, SAP Lumira or Web Intelligence) or used for further predictive analysis scenarios. If your company also has another non-SAP Data Warehouse – each HANA Calculation View can be consumed as an extracted object via ETL
– i.e. IBM Informatica or SAP Data Services.

Performance and Developer Impact

It’s hard to disagree with SAP about BW4/HANA performance results because they are honestly very good. SAP BW/4HANA is built on top of SAP HANA, supporting high-performance capabilities and well-optimized features. From an end-user perspective it means that data loads and queries execute faster, meaning that daily reporting actions and weekly/monthly dashboard solutions run well, with low risk.

SAP BW on any database Vs SAP BW/4HANA. Source: SAP SE

BW Developers will notice that some of the areas (OLAP, Data Management, Planning) have been pushed down to the SAP HANA level, which provides much better performance for final solutions. From Modeling development perspectives a BW Developer working on SAP BW/4HANA must be well skilled in Eclipse UI, with both scenarios: BW-MT (BW Modeling Tools) component integrated in SAP HANA Studio or separate Eclipse installation. In BW/4HANA it’s necessary to stop/limit working with the RSA1 transaction and even the whole SAP GUI environment.

There are definite benefits, but something is still missing …

The benefits of SAP BW/4HANA are summarized below:
• SAP BW/4HANA Platform can be deployed On-Premise, Hybrid or in the Cloud (i.e. AWS) – big advantages from TCO point of view;
• SAP and non-SAP data sources can be consumed without any previous limitations or license impact;
• Open Hub license is included in the BW/4HANA license cost, so data can be easily extracted for further ETL purposes;
• Preparation of mockups and proofs of concept for various BI scenarios becomes a much easier task and is faster to implement – a big step for Agile Development;
• Business asks for changes -> IT Department can deliver them much faster;
• A lot of simplifications -> lower TCO;
• The right solution for continuous business demands of predictive analysis, self-service reporting, high-performance solutions and confirmed agility of other BI capabilities;
• SAP BW/4HANA is fully ready as an EDW (Enterprise Data Warehouse) solution to cover different scenarios: Big Data, IoT and Operational Reporting – all in one place.

If you are using classical SAP BW and intend to use BW/4HANA for Planning Purposes, please be informed that is now only possible using SAP BPC 11.0 (non BCS or BI-IP solutions).  If you are moving to a cloud solution, the planning & consolidation scenarios can be handled in the SAP Analytics Cloud product.

If your business partner is still using tools from the old BEX portfolio – the next line may surprise you:

Bye, bye BEx portfolio – welcome BW Query, SAP Business Objects, SAP Analytics Cloud (or non-SAP BI tools – Qlik, Tableau, Power BI etc.)

BEx portfolio replaced in BW4HANA. Source: SAP SE

If your company is more oriented towards Cloud solutions, you can take a strategic decision to build all BI Capabilities (reporting, planning and dashboarding etc.) in the SAP Analytics Cloud.

To sum up …

SAP BW/4HANA brings fundamental changes in architecture (better LSA++ approach), modelling tools (Eclipse technology) and also provides a good opportunity to move into the newest end-user interfaces for your Business Warehouse: such as SAP Business Objects tools like Analysis for Office, SAP Lumira, Web Intelligence and SAP Analytics Cloud. SAP has put a lot of effort into combining SAP HANA and SAP BW areas into one product, and today SAP BW/4HANA is the technology recommended by SAP for an EDW (Enterprise Data Warehouse) platform.

SAP BW/4HANA is not just a new version of SAP BW. SAP BW/4HANA is only available on the SAP HANA platform, and is not part of SAP NetWeaver—it has been completely rewritten and optimized for SAP HANA according to all best practices from the classic SAP BW solution. Some of the previous features or BI scenarios have been drastically cut off/replaced, so there certainly marks of a revolution. The direction from SAP is clear, demonstrated by their plans to end NetWeaver maintenance.

There are different paths for starting your journey with BW/4HANA. If you want to build a BW solution from scratch, a Greenfield SAP BW/4HANA implementation offers a nice clean-cut opportunity, but to do it well, it will take great consideration, knowledge and experience. In the case where you plan to migrate from your classical SAP BW solution (BW on/not on SAP HANA), you need to take into account the complexities of a “conversion project”, understanding and reviewing the different migrations paths possible. In either case, you will require highly-skilled experts, with previous experience on SAP BW/4HANA projects – Eursap has a strong network of SAP BW/4HANA experts, and is ready to help with your SAP BW/4HANA resource needs.

Author: Przemyslaw Miga – SAP BW/BI/HANA Consultant

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