Recapping and recapitulating SAP TechEd Bangalore
I had intended to write a “last blog post” about TechEd Bangalore 2011, and then Matthias Steiner wrote the dinosaur killer / kiss of death blog post about TechEd Madrid 2011. When folks like Mark Yolton say things like “if you only read one blog post about TechEd”, I felt like I wanted to crawl into my sleeping bag and take a long nap. But I’m not writing to try to “top” Matthias, or impress others (much), I’m writing for myself. When I spoke to Jon Reed about this a few weeks ago, his advice was say what you feel.
At the end of this post are links to my previous blogs, both on SCN, and on my personal space outside SCN. They’re arranged in chronological order, so if you missed part of my getting ready, taking the trip, and enjoying myself, have a read. I took plenty of videos and photos, and I think there are one or two still in the camera bag waiting for the light of day.
I wrote a lot about the preparation for this trip. It would be my first visit to India, my first time in Asia, my fourth continent (after North America, Europe and Australia). Part of the reason for being so diligent about the planning was to document it for myself, like having a shopping list when going to the store. Keeping it online meant it was there later when I wanted to view it, and it was “crowd sourced” so anyone could look at it and say, “you don’t need that”, or “you forgot that.” I didn’t get as much of that as I had hoped, but I did receive many suggestions on where to visit, but more important, I received contact information from SCN friends I wanted to meet.
I carried a lot of gear and clothing for the trip; it didn’t seem too bad when I left home but the inevitable collecting bulged my main pack and my day pack seriously. I wasn’t expecting gifts from my tour guides, so what would I do with another tote bag? It was too nice to throw away, but too large to stuff easily in a corner of my bag. I should have brought fewer clothes, as I not only ended up with 2 more SAP Mentor shirts, I came away with 2 kurtas and a set of pajama pants (that I am still trying to figure out).
As for technical gear, I probably used all of the cameras, chargers, cables and dongles I brought, though I continue to wish for device convergence so I only need one phone/camera, not three or four. I’ve written about the iPad in the other posts, so I won’t cover that again, but will just say it was handy to have at times. Not imperative, just nice. Taking a screen shot of the walk from the hotel to the convention center seemed like a good idea, saving paper, but on the ground it was of little value.
As I tend to overthink some situations, there were fear factors about this trip. Of course, going to a doctor several times for immunizations didn’t help. Would I get sick or injured? How would I get help? I worried more than I should have about diseases, and thought less about distances and logistics. I got away with that because of awesome SCN friends like Abesh and Dipankar and their families, and Kumud Singh, and Marilyn Pratt, and others. In hindsight, I could have pushed myself to go to more places, and maybe spent more time where I did go, but for a first timer it worked out most excellently. No regrets (except losing a headphone somewhere along the way).
Abesh asked me would I go again? The answer is, of course. I was not sure beforehand if India would be a nice place to visit, once, but I had such a great time I would return when the budget allows. Maybe SAP will pay for part of my trip next time? The other question is would I recommend others to visit, specifically for SAP TechEd (for vacation, absolutely!)? My answer is a qualified yes. Not everyone can endure, or enjoy, flying long distance, and the fare is not cheap compared to closer locales, though neither is it horribly expensive. I fly coach (always), and if you can sit in a plane for 8 to 12 hours, you can do this. The hotel was a bargain, as was food, and transportation is only expensive in time, not money. The content is slimmer than one might get in the U.S., and there may be speakers who are more difficult to understand that you might like. You would need to be okay in a crowd, love Indian food, and oh yeah, learn more Hindi than I did!
My first full day post (see below) covered the events in some depth (as they say, I hit the ground running), so I don’t need to fill in too much I might have left out. Having gathered my badge the day before, or so I thought, I did not see the queue for registration until later, so I’m not sure if the number of attendees was an even match for the number of staff, or if there were snags in the process. I’ve commented on the labor intensity of processes I observed, and will come back to that subject presently.
My HANA hands-on session was a qualified success. From a technical standpoint, everything worked; there was simply inadequate time for proper learning. Perhaps next year, SAP will pre-record the speaking portion, so we can watch it on the plane, train, or auto rickshaw getting to the event, and we can dive straight into the keystrokes and mouse clicks. What I wrote that day about HANA is still my impression – it will take experts to make the thing fly. There is no way around the complexity of this technology. I think I saw a tweet to that effect the other day from the UKI users group keynote.
Though I did not finish the hands-on exercises, I did walk out with the exercises and solutions on paper copies. The theory is that one reads those on the flight home, walks in the office, and then proceeds to implement all the latest technology. The reality is those instruction sheaves pile up or are tossed at the first opportunity. I will peruse them occasionally. Here’s what I have gleaned from the “Building Simple Data Models with SAP HANA” notes:
The notes say “Start ‘SAP HANA Studio’ from the Windows desktop”, implying that the client to build the models is a compiled and distributed executable. Is it based on Eclipse? I’m sure a hard core developer so I have no idea (look here for Eclipse, Windows, Linux: HANA Upgrade from SPS02 Rev.17 to SPS03 – Which Method?). I guess there’s a configuration database somewhere, ways to check in changes, transport them between systems or sites, back them out, etc., etc.
This is not a web browser based app, not the Business Client, not the SAP GUI. It’s “Yet Another Control Panel”. Your Windows administrators, database team, and Basis team should presumably all be involved in designing and building out the infrastructure for this backend. I’m sure SAP will say it’s light-weight, no big deal, but what happens when a developer runs amok, destroying the careful architecture built by others? It wouldn’t have to be deliberate, it could be sheer ignorance.
As mentioned in my original post, we managed to work on some of the data model steps, becoming familiar with the new lingo, and the tool box controls and settings. Of course, just knowing that doesn’t make me a data architect, any more than reading the manual for my car teaches me how to drive responsibly.
Later in the guide are steps for “Security settings” – we did not get to this in class. It’s good to introduce this as soon as possible, so developers don’t overlook it. I’m curious how classic ABAP developers would treat the new permissions, whether the classes and objects in existence for years can be correlated with these tools. I would not be surprised if they don’t communicate at all. Next version?
What repository does the security information reside in? LDAP? The guide I have talks about granting SQL privileges to a user, implying it’s at the database level. How do these permissions get applied to groups of users? How are they audited? How are users mapped to business process or roles?
The notes proceed to Analytic Privileges, which seem to be above the database layer, focused on an application. They are part of the data catalog, so again, how are these transported or managed remotely?
Lastly there is an Optional exercise – we definitely did not reach this. It’s called “Reporting Exercise: SAP BusinessObjects Analysis for Office”. I assume this wide-band approach is to capture anyone who uses any data management tool in the HANA net. It talks about having “ODBC connections to HANA database” and the hair stands up on the back of my neck visualizing veterans building Microsoft Access panels in front of this architecture and, well, my vision starts getting cloudy.
Example: “Use B.O.A. for MS Excel to navigate this view.” Excel may never die.
Somnath and I talked about doing a HANA podcast, as we went to different sessions, yet came up with similar impressions. I’ll try to think of a catchy title…
Keeping to the SCNotties theme, I shot a number of 30 second video interviews while on the show floor, around the SCN booth and elsewhere. Thanks to those willing to be brave and speak their minds. Not too many folks shied away, so I have good footage. I would have had more had I not gone to so many lecture and hands-on sessions. Stay tuned for more updates on the 2012 SCNotties adventures.
Someone asked in reply to my onsite post why I did not talk about Demo Jam, and the truth was I was uploading files and writing the blog while that happened. I was in the room, so I heard most of the noise and saw the flashes of light, but I cannot honestly say what was demonstrated or whether the “best” team won. Personally, I think it is a curious contest with random winners, but then, they probably think the same thing about the SCNotties!
I wrote about session SCI 101, with the broken demo. The speaker was showing system configuration but the network dropped out, so she offered to show people later. I thought that was very kind. Even though I wanted to see it while back in the office, with a vast time zone difference, Vani agreed to a “command performance”.
I arranged for ASUG colleagues to also view the demo, and considering the network distances and slight language differences, it was a valuable insight into this SAP system configuration tool. I was able to get it downloaded, unpacked and it started up on my system without a problem. Once I have permission to connect to one of our internal systems, I’ll share more of that experience.
I did not describe session SCI 202 “live hacking” with anywhere near the detail it deserved, in my post that day. Here was a session with an unusual title, and a description promising a daring live demo, almost like a circus poster saying “death defying acts!” I was not disappointed in the material, nor the presenter (Selvaraj K). Everyone should know about security holes, particularly if you’ve been hit by a virus or have had to deal with patch after patch, not just from the desktop operating systems, but other areas as well.
The session introduced the topic with reference material, literature that’s been out there, and covered other conferences where security topics are covered (white hat/black hat), which impressed me, as I hadn’t heard about SAP being part of these. The loopholes and attack vectors seem to be better known than expected, and the best defense is to understand the enemy, be vigilant, and stay on top of the news.
The demonstration was well done, with good showmanship, clear explanations, and a finale that showed a system being penetrated by the “bad guy”.
The down side for me is that when I googled one of the phrases from my original post, taken from the context of the presentation and tweeted while I was in the session room, I found my entire blog reproduced on a pirate site. So the “Bad Guys” really are out there, and we need to keep using the right tools to keep them at bay.ALM200
ALM200 and ALM201 are in the application lifecycle management track; I’m primarily interested in the infrastructure side of the house, but if there is content about code management, performance tuning, etc. then I’m also listening. Other than the changes to the configuration repository in Solution Manager, I didn’t get a lot out of these sessions. The LMDB may be the next generation of basics for solution management, bit I didn’t come away with a warm and fuzzy feeling that this will be easy to implement, convert to, nor maintain in a coherent approach. I know this subject isn’t easy, but I just keep wishing for a tool that works like Visio, taking drawings that I put on a whiteboard, and automatically converts them to the logical pieces needed to maintain licenses, system interfaces, and any other kitchen sink needed for enterprise management. Instead, we’ll be doing like was seen on a whiteboard in the session room, with this over here, and that over there.
The CD202 session covered HTML 5. I liked the historic coverage of HTML and browser development, which I suppose I knew about but probably hadn’t thought about from the software developers angle. With multiple applications in an enterprise, it can be a challenge to find the least common denominator where everything critical will work for everyone, and when new browsers and features come out, how to plan for that rollout is not trivial.
HTML5, from what I heard, is still in its infancy in the SAP landscape, with some products being pushed along that path, but not all. As hinted in the earlier post, they could not talk about what is being planned. Hopefully the SAP Mentors will get a sneak preview in an upcoming webcast??!
The guys at the coffee station were my friends, by day two, when I brought over my Sierra cup and asked for a refill, no paper please. The heart design was unforgettable. And once they knew who I was, I got prompt service and lots of smiles. I think it made both of our days.
SCNotties. I think I will talk about that later.
I covered the Solution Manager 7.1 hands-on session adequately in my original post, I think, so there’s not much to add here. Knowing what is coming is important, not to be able to implement it right away, but also to know what not to do with the current systems. If a feature or capability is going away in the next version, abandoning maintenance of it sooner rather than later could save energy.
Wrapping the show
Now for some good, bad, and ugly about the venue, location, etc. Understanding that I speak (or write) from a perspective of having attended SAP events in the US for nearly 15 years, including picking sessions, being a speaker, facilitating sessions, and training my eventual successors for these roles, I can see areas of difference and possible improvement.
The facilities were adequate for the crowd size, though there were times when I could not easily get from one place to the other. The fact that classes were held in tents was a surprise, and the combination of air handling and background noise was distracting sometimes. Of course, even larger more permanent sites sometimes have marginal air conditioning, or cross talk from nearby sessions, or other shortcomings, so I can’t say the Bangalore site didn’t hold up.
Moving people around seemed an issue to me. I think there could have been clearer signs in some places, especially with all the tent hallways seeming identical, and no windows to catch sight of landmarks. Getting in and out of the building, and to sort-of restricted areas turned out not to be a problem for me. I must look like I’m from Germany or something, as I was rarely challenged by security, other than the usual “you must wear your badge” request I don’t pay much attention to.
The signs saying “Correct Coupons” and “Other Coupons” confused me for some time. I think they were talking about “have preregistered for the hands-on sessions” and “have not preregistered”, but I just stood in line with other people and got to the 2 sessions I had reserved. With tight scheduling, the class start was delayed, eating into learning time, unfortunately.
As I observed in many places in India, a large population seems to result in highly labor intensive business processes, whether to keep more people employed, or because of resistance to change. That sounds funny, in a way, in the context of fairly revolutionary business process automation, and in the heart of the call center and off-shoring boom of the past decades. It’s as if some parts of the business are allowed to innovate and improve, while others are required to stay stagnant.
I don’t have enough data nor experience to suggest solutions to manual processes such as writing names in ledger books, or hand punching admittance tickets. If there is an understanding about the benefits of scanners and wireless, those improvements will occur. The fact that the conference center wireless network was slow at times seems to happen everywhere I go, and I’ve seen plenty of messages about that from others. I work around that by having offline storage (funny how cloud becomes less important in a high tech software conference) and planning uploads for early or late in the day.
A couple people asked me, when I said I was going to India, was I going to find myself, or words to that effect. Was I going on a spiritual retreat? I had no plans to find myself; I’m not lost. And with a travel agent arranged itinerary, the chances of being in a place of solitude and simplicity were guaranteed to be difficult.
I won’t dwell on my personal experiences on this professional site; links are below to more details. If you want to know more, comment on them or send me questions via the usual channels.
Chronological Links to my India trip blogs (personal and SCN)
(SCN in BOLD)