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SAP’s Database & Technology Portfolio – Next Steps?

A key thing that stood out for me was a recent tweet by friend and fellow Mentor Clint Vosloo – ‘There is so much opportunity for SAP in the EDW [Enterprise Data Warehouse] space right now’ – and I couldn’t have agreed more.  This statement was meant for non-SAP ERP customers, not for classic SAP ERP customers.  I want to drill into this statement and why I agree with this blog post.

On the recent DSLayer podcast with John Appleby, Ethan Jewett and Steve Lucas, Steve talked a bit about the traditional gap between SAP BI (Business Warehouse / BW) people and BusinessObjects (BOBJ) people.  For a lot of BOBJ people, the universe is the universe – this has sometimes meant that some BOBJ people don’t understand the true value of BW.

Universe developers can build a semantic layer on any datasource, and don’t really care if it is an EDW, a data mart, a 3NF Inmon DW or a transactional OLTP system.  And this is definitely true, and one of the pieces of magic in the BOBJ platform.  Being able to hide the complexity of an OLTP system and still expose a business-focussed layer that is easy to use is a powerful tool, no wonder it is called the universe.

However, my background is not only BOBJ, but also building data warehouses using the Data Services platform, modelling my own Kimball star schemas, designing the ETL and once that is done, building the BI platform.  This experience has given me visibility of how BOBJ is made doubly powerful when combined with a solid EDW and ETL platform.  Thus, my interest in how SAP will shape their recent acquisitions and newly released technology – as combined, there is a huge potential to deliver massive business value.

One of the concerns from my perspective that has added fuel to the debate about BW, HANA and BOBJ is the duplication of functionality across different technologies in the SAP portfolio. So what technology pieces currently are available from SAP?  Let’s break it down by functionality (and please excuse me if this isn’t 100% correct or exhaustive – as you can see from my background, parts of my understanding are high-level only):

Functionality ‘Classic’ SAP BusinessObjects Sybase ‘New’ SAP
Modelling SAP BW PowerDesigner HANA
Data Integration / ETL SAP BW Data Services Replication Server
Semantic Layer SAP BW Universe HANA
Data Governance SAP BW Information Steward
Database Engine Sybase IQ & Sybase ASE HANA
ERP Standard Content SAP BW Rapid Marts RDS
BI & Reporting SAP BW (Bex) BusinessObjects
Planning BPC (BW backend)
Predictive Analytics Predictive Analysis Sybase IQ HANA (R)

That is a lot of duplicate functionality, in my humble opinion.  You can also see why there is such a huge gulf between BW and BOBJ people.  BW and BOBJ, prior to the BOBJ acquisition, did pretty much the exact same thing.  There might be technical differences (physical cube vs virtual cube ala universe), and quite significant additional capability from Netweaver BW as a platform, like planning capability, but all in all a lot of the same capability is duplicated.  No wonder there is so much discussion and interest from both communities!

So why I do agree with Clint that there is so much opportunity in the non-ERP EDW space?  I look at the above table and see huge opportunities, opportunities for customers to leverage best-of-breed technology in ETL, BI, data governance, modelling and database engines (both IQ and HANA).  My work sees me working with a lot of greenfield customers, or customers who have existing business systems but very limited BI or DW capability.  For these customers, I see big opportunities, being able to leverage not only BOBJ and Data Services, but now having access to database technology like HANA or IQ.

By combining PowerDesigner, Data Services, Sybase IQ, BOBJ, Information Steward and Predictive Analytics, that is a very powerful EDW platform.  Throw in HANA for specific in-memory and/or realtime requirements (supplemented with Replication Server), and the value is even higher.  And all without touching SAP BW if a customer decides not to.

Switching track to SAP BW now, I completely agree with many of the sentiments already posted online – if customers have BW already, HANA provides a fantastic performance boost – there is no reason why BW customers shouldn’t move to HANA.  Significant investments exist in the BW platform, and by leveraging HANA and BOBJ, these customers have a great platform going forward.

But when it comes to non-ERP data, I’m not yet sold that BW is the EDW platform you should use.  I’ve heard comments that it shouldn’t be the chosen EDW platform if you don’t run SAP ERP, that it is difficult to get non-ERP data in, and to combine ERP and non-ERP data.  I can’t comment on that part, but what I can do is express the ease of use that I have experienced by using Data Services, Rapid Marts (if SAP ERP is part of the picture), and a standard Kimball process.  Sure there are always challenges in any EDW project, but with an agile methodology I personally have experienced great results.

Still, there are also huge opportunities to improve the SAP BW platform by integrating the new tech that has been acquired and/or released.  Replace the ETL engine with Data Services.  Make it easier to load in non-SAP data, or enable more agility in mash-ups.

What’s the point of all my ramblings above?  There are big opportunities for SAP.  They have purchased some great tech, and HANA is super-exciting.  But I would love to see SAP take all of this great tech and build something that is worth more than all the current non-integrated parts.  What would this look like?  I don’t know, and smarter minds than mine should decide.

And what about all this BW vs BOBJ?  I believe there are several things to keep in mind.  One, there are benefits and drawbacks to both platforms, and I definitely don’t intend for this post to favour the BOBJ side.  I’m super-envious of how good hierarchies are handled in BW, of multi-currency conversions, of the BPC capability – and there is much more.  I want that functionality for my customers, ERP and non-ERP alike.

And likewise, I believe there are several things that the non-BW technology does really well.  I’ve heard comments from BW developers that they wish they could use Data Services to load ERP data into BW, because of how powerful it is (and yes this is technically possible nowadays – but how many customers are doing it?).  Likewise Sybase IQ is such a high-performant database engine, and does meet many requirements that HANA does not.  Such as big BIG *BIG* data  – like a one petabyte data warehouse!

Secondly, by keeping two separate EDW solutions (by which I mean 1-BW, and 2-most everything else), we are seeing  very different workflow develop in the BOBJ platforms.  If you use BW, use Analysis Office, Analysis Web, BICS connector for all your reporting tools, but some functions are not supported – try getting flattened hierarchial data in Webi than mashing it with non-BW data.

If you don’t use BW and instead use a universe, hey guess what sorry, you can’t use the Analysis tools, and hierarchy functionality works completely differently.  This creates confusion in the developer community, as is evidenced by the huge amount of BW-BOBJ integration questions raised during every BOBJ webcast and presentation.  If the gap isn’t pulled together, I worry that it will only reinforce the gap between BW and BOBJ people, and lead to bigger problems long-term.

What I want to draw attention to by this post, is that I’m anxious to see SAP create something truly amazing, to take their great investments and exciting new tech and provide a clear and visible roadmap that uses all these discrete pieces.  Some ideas of what this could look like have been floating in my head, and please contribute some more:

  • A next-generation semantic layer which pulls together the best functionality from BW, the universe and PowerDesigner.  This could allow both logical and physical modelling, true hierarchy creation that is virtual only, and which also allows business data to be captured and stored adhoc (instead of using Excel for all those pesky lookups that aren’t stored anywhere else)
  • HANA and IQ for near-line storage, but automated and easily maintainable – advances have already been made in this direction by the capabilities now built into Data Services 4.1, allowing many source tables to be replicated with minimal direction
  • Standard content ‘standardised’, available out of SAP, available in the universe, available in ETL, available in HANA – whichever way you want to consume

Lastly, please don’t think that I don’t appreciate how monumental a task this is for SAP.  A common theme is ‘innovation without disruption’.  That is a big ask of any software vendor, and for SAP in the Database & Technology space, there is a lot of discrete technology and many platforms.  But from my perspective, there is fantastic opportunities by integrating and taking this technology to the next level. There are also so many smart people in our community – if anyone can do it, SAP can. I for one look forward to what happens next.

PS – I really hope this post doesn’t offend anyone, and I’d love to have some great discussion about where I am wrong – just be nice 🙂

[Update 1 – added RDS to ERP Standard Content in table]

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      Author's profile photo Ingo Hilgefort
      Ingo Hilgefort

      Hello Josh,

      let me add a couple of items and perhaps clarify some of them as well:

      • In the beginning you talk about the fact that some people are using the Universe to combine data from a DWH and a OLTP environment and that for them it doesn't necessary matter where the data is being stored.

      >> That is possible today with SAP BW as a datawarehouse and ERP as an OLTP environment as well. The Universe layer can be used on top of SAP BW and on top of SAP ERP and on all the non-SAP source, and on SAP HANA and we do allow customers to create Multi-Source Universes to combine those sources.

      • In the table you then compare technologies from different areas of a complete EDWH, like the ETL layer , for customers with SAP BW, customers without SAP BW, and customers using Sybase or HANA. Perhaps some minor corrections on that table:
        • On the modelling part, for a customer using SAP BW with HANA as RDBMS, the modelling is still done in SAP BW (not in HANA)
        • Data Services can be used in all scenarios. In your table you seem to indicate the Data Services can not be used for BW, Sybase, or HANA - but clearly it can be used in those scenarios.
        • A Universe can be used in all of the scenarios as well. In the case of SAP BW or HANA we offer our customers the choice to use the Universe or connect directly to the data source.
        • Information Steward can also be used with sources like SAP BW, Sybase or HANA .
        • Database Engine : In the case of SAP BW clearly you can use HANA as the database engine and even for a "BusinessObjects" customer in your table, the engine could be HANA.
        • On the ERP Standard Content you are listing the Rapid Marts as one option, but you are not talking about the Rapid Deployment Solutions that are available for ERP customers based on SAP HANA.
        • On the reporting side you seem to indicate that there is no reporting solution for Sybase or HANA, but that is the SAP BusinessObjects BI solution.
        • On the planning front you are listing BPC for BW but I don't see BPC for the BusinessObjects part, whereas we do offer BPC also on a Microsoft backend. In addiiton there is BW integrated planning for the BW customers.

      The above items should already show that the technology acquired from SAP BusinessObjects has been integrated with all the different environments and can be leveraged for a Sybase customers, for a BW customer, for a ERP customer with or without BW, for a HANA customer, and for a non-SAP applications based customers.

      You then mentioned that there are several functions not available when it comes to SAP BusinessObjects BI on top of SAP BW and you referring to the idea of flattening a hierarchy and combine it with non-SAP data.

      First - flattening a hierarchy - is something most customers do not want because that would mean you lose the hierarchical concept, which is why we added true hierarchies already to all our BI clients.

      We also allow you to use - for example - the merge dimension capabilties with Web Intelligence to combine it with other datasources.

      And correct a hierarchy in the Universe is something different than a hierarchy in BW - but you already have the option today to re-use your hierarchies from BW using the direct connectivity.

      You are referencing four different customer types here:

      • Customer using SAP BW with SAP ERP
      • Customer with non-SAP applications
      • Customer with Sybase
      • Customer using SAP HANA with / without ERP / BW

      Take a look at the blog from Steve where he outlined very nicely the reasons for going to HANA or SAP BW:

      These are very different type of customers and very different ways of handling the data: datamart vs DWH, relational vs analytical / OLAP, ...

      The advantage is that as a customer you do have the choices and that you - as an example - can decide to use the Universe or not to use the Universe.

      why should we force all out customers to do the same ?

      just some comments on your blog here.



      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks for your reply Ingo.

      I'm sorry if I was unclear about the table, it was really to highlight the origin of the technology, not so much 'use cases' - ie Data Services was a BusinessObjects product, Sybase IQ was a Sybase product, not that DS can't be used in all use cases.

      What I'm trying to get across with this post is that even though some integration has been done between all these technologies, there exists duplication of functionality which is causing confusion in the customer base - but there is also a lot of opportunity in this as well.

      I think it's great that customers have choice, but at the moment the choices are too many and too disparate, and there isn't enough clarity both within SAP and outside which use cases suit which solution.

      There are a lot of benefits to an integrated approach, when you compare other BI solutions in the market some of them have a fully-integrated approach to modelling, ETL, database engine, semantic layer and reporting.  SAP now have technology in all these areas (for most all of them, more than one technology), that I believe are functionally more rich than any of competitors, but they aren't integrated and do incur confusion.

      Hope that clears it up, keen to hear your thoughts on this.

      Kind regards,


      Author's profile photo Ingo Hilgefort
      Ingo Hilgefort

      Hi Josh,

      not 100% clear what you are looking for here because you already have integrated solutions. Lets take a customer that has for example SAP ERP without any data-warehouse solution but thinking about it as example 1:

      - Now on the ETL part the customer could use Data Services or SLT, depending if the customer is also having other non-SAP source then Data Services could be more compelling or not. Data Service allows the customer to move the data from ERP into BW, HANA, Sybase, or other relational database. SLT becomes an interesting option in case the customer is more interested in the real time / triggered aspects, which is also where Sybase Repl. Server can be an option. These options not necessary competing with each other, but instead have specific focus.

      - On the data mart / data-warehouse layer the customer has multiple options with Pros and Cons here as well. The customer could create simply Rapid Marts using a relational database and perhaps that is also what his budget allows and perhaps it is where his team feels most comfortable. There is also the option of SAP BW, which brings in the value of the BusinessContent and then there is HANA with RDS solutions and pre-built content, and there is the option to create a DWH with Sybase IQ.

      In the given example - a ERP customer - clearly BW, HANA with RDS, Data Marts, have the added value of the pre-defined Business Content which helps customers to save time on the data-modeling part.

      - On the reporting layer in this given example the customer can use the semantic layer with BI on top

      - in addition the customer can use elements like Data Quality, and Information Steward and those are fully integrated with the different layers.

      Do customers want choices and need choices ? Yes

      Are there different choices available ? Yes

      But I have to disagree here with a statement that there are too many choices and that the choices are too disparate and that SAP is not clear about the pros and cons about them. For example there have been several webinars on BW, HANA, Sybase IQ as possible solutions.


      Ingo Hilgefort

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi Joshua,

      i thought i didn't have to do this, but it is still safer to type in your notepad than in the comment box.

      in any event, my overall impression is that SAP hasn't fully embraced the acquired BI products despite the marketing surrounding how well it executed the acquisiton. i can sense it in this blog and in the comments made on the delayered website. there is some kind of wall surrounding ECC which is hard to penetrate by the BO community, mostly reflected in the duplication of tools on offer. it may be part of the market segmentation with Europe being a dominant install base historically for ECC OLTP. BW is not the only 'reporting' tool offered by ECC as there are OLAP pivot reports within it that predate the BW as standalone instance/client and they are still supported and upgraded each time the rest of ECC undergoes a facelift. there are also many customers quite happy with lower versions like 4.5 or 4.0 or with many a function never turned on for this or some other reason (it didn't meat the business requirements or the budgets were ran blood dry).

      the underlying question is how much of software written from ground up can be really 'integrated' with each every function having its bridge to another installation? just look how difficult it is for Oracle to fuse and they have much longer history of amalgamation. many within SAP will disagree with this, but i think there's still a long way to go to achieve seamlessness if ever. companies buy other companies for many reasons, but the predominant one is to enhance their growth and get better control over their accounts.

      my 2 cents.


      Author's profile photo Jon Reed
      Jon Reed

      Josh this was a very good blog post and sorry to be so late to the comment party.

      The DS Layered podcast was great but in some ways only scratched the surface of a key issue: should non-SAP companies care about BW and should SAP be approaching these customers with a BW type solution integrating the tools you described above?

      My sense right now is that HANA is really the focal point for SAP in this technology area, meaning HANA is what is being pushed and developed most aggressively for SAP and non-SAP customers alike. I believe that HANA will in turn "pull" other SAP BI tools in line behind it, and who knows, perhaps a data warehouse will be offered in conjunction with HANA, including real time and near-time storage. I don't get the sense from SAP that the focus will shift from HANA to agnostic data warehouse solutions and I'm not convinced BW as it stands is ideal for non-SAP customers so I expect this convo of yours to go on for a while. 🙂

      Ingo raised some good points in terms of the efforts SAP is making to integrate this take and communicate the plans. However webinars are just the beginning of such a communications plan. I have yet to see a published BW vs HANA vs IQ roadmap in public yet for example, unless I missed something. I know SAP is close on the HANA and IQ future roadmap plans so maybe it is out there or will be soon.

      "This creates confusion in the developer community, as is evidenced by the huge amount of BW-BOBJ integration questions raised during every BOBJ webcast and presentation." Agreed. There is still a great deal of customer confusion on these topics, and it's everyone's goal I think to reduce that confusion.

      The only thing I took issue with in your entire post was the chart. I think the origins of the tools are less important than how they are integrated and presented. I'm not concerned about overlap in tool origins and original tool purposes. However, overlap on go-forward solutions is a concern and that's where I'd like to see a visualization. Sometimes such overlap is intentional and needed but like you I'd want to see a push towards integrated solutions when possible.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Ingo, Greg and Jon for your comments.

      Greg - great comments and a good perspective which I hadn't thought about, legacy SAP customers who run older versions.  You are right that integration of all these different technologies would be quite difficult.  For the legacy customers you have dealt with, have they also had an EDW-style business intelligence layer, which sat across SAP and other source systems?

      Jon - thanks, also some great feedback.  With HANA being the focal point, perhaps this is what has caused the 'BW vs HANA' question which has also been circulating?

      I definitely agree the integration for BW and BusinessObjects specifically has come a long way from what it was, but fundamentally they are completely separate architectures and from my experience, customers want more integration, a more seamless approach.  I would love to see the BW vs HANA vs IQ roadmap, hopefully you are right and it will be released soon.

      Thanks also for your feedback about the table, and perhaps whilst the origins are now less important, what you can also see from the table is separate architectures.  What this means to customers is that if you pick up multiple technologies from the DB&T portfolio, you are going to need very different skillsets internally, from your SIs and other partners.  Many partners are finding that a BW person doesn't take easily to BusinessObjects, and vice versa.  Multiple that out with the Sybase architectures and now HANA with a different architecture as well, and it makes for an intimidating set of skills if as an individual (or a partner, or a customer) you want to become fluent with the DB&T portfolio.

      Ingo - also thank you for your reply.  It is an interesting discussion as I agree that customers do want choices.  However, whether the choices are too varied and whether there is not enough detail on pros and cons of each is up for discussion.

      My personal opinion is that when compared to a platform such as IBM Cognos, which has a focus on very deep integration among every particular component, that customers do want this and this can be used in competition against the SAP BI portfolio. Conversely, Cognos and InfoSphere (BI vs EIM) are completely separate and also not very well integrated, and this also causes issues amongst IBM customers.

      As Jon pointed out in his comment, and which I echo, is that whilst roadmaps are available for each technology respectively, there is still a lack of roadmap for the overall DB&T portfolio - and perhaps this is the key point of this discussion - with a clearer roadmap, everyone can get on board and work towards it.  Whilst the roadmap is unclear, the questions about which is better where and which way customers should go will always exist.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member


      thank you for responding to my comment.

      it may seem that the original ECC platform is all legacy, but i like to think of it as a platform that has made SAP very successful in the first place, creating ERP market out of "nothing". in fact, there are still companies that are in the middle of rollouts that have started 10 years ago. granted, many programs look a bit dated, but there are new "layers" added to them every day, turning the stodgy into shiny in many unexpected places.i guess we can call it innovation without disruption.

      with regards to your BI question, two of my last three accounts have used BW, but not exclusively but rather along Oracle. the world does seem more diverse on the BI (reporting) front. if you look hard enough, however, you will find BI-like features within the traditional RDBS.