Justin Molenaur, HANA Distinguished Engineer and Tinkerer
HANA Distinguished Engineers are coming like HANA Revisions this week – thick and fast! With Revision 72 of SAP HANA, released yesterday, we get two awesome things. First, we get a production-ready revision of SPS07 of HANA – Revision 71 had some restrictions. And second, we get a newly minuted HANA Distinguished Engineer, Justin Molenaur.
Justin is an indie consultant working in the Healthcare industry. He has great content here on SCN – check out this piece for exampe: Using loops within stored procedures for ETL processes within HANA. Please give him a warm welcome!
Tell us a little around your background in the industry
I have been working with SAP Analytics products for the past 10 years across a number of roles and customers. I started off with a large consulting firm focusing on reporting and BW solutions. There I had the opportunity to work on one of the first BO/Crystal/SAP Portal integrations running on top of a BW source. This gave me a flavor for what it’s like to work on new product implementations and gave me my first “let’s figure this out” experience that I carry with me today.
From there I spent some time in a few industry SAP roles, again getting the chance work on some new and exciting components. For the past 5 years I have been working as an independent consultant assisting organizations with SAP Analytics implementations that span a number of different products including BW, BO, ERP, SCM and Retail.
One of the more exciting roles I had recently was with a retailer who was implementing a solution for RMA (Retail Method of Accounting). This was a brand new BW based solution for recalculating inventory and costs specific to retail accounting rules. I had the chance to work as a conduit between SAP Development and a fantastic project team in helping to refine the product from both a technical and functional perspective. We were successful in taking the first ever implementation of this product live albeit taking quite a few bruises along the way.
How did you get into the SAP HANA space? How did you transition from ERP to BW to HANA?
My interest in SAP HANA started around revision 35 or so, when I began reading as much about the product as I could possibly get my hands on. This seemed to be a great opportunity to blend some of my traditional SAP BI skills with more flexible core database technology. My involvement in helping a client evaluate a BW on HANA migration also quickly got me more into the weeds on the various use cases, limitations and strengths of the platform.
It also helps that I am very passionate about understanding the various components in any work I take on. I just can’t casually graze over some of these topics – I need to fully understand them. With some diligence I passed SAP HANA certification in the fall of 2012, and then started my first HANA project in May of 2013. So my conceptual learning and hands-on AWS experience translated very quickly to some real solution delivery.
What advice would you give to people looking to transition from classic SAP to HANA?
Three key things to get you up and moving:
Read, read and read some more, then ask questions and read it again. I would say the most important thing (with any discipline for that matter) is that you need to have a natural curiosity and some ability to put together disparate information sources to reach a conclusion. This is a fast moving and new product, so information is always changing.
Get an SAP HANA instance stood up immediately. Nothing can substitute for real hands on experience. How can you tell if something works as you imagine it will unless you build it yourself and test it out? Amazon and Cloudshare both offer great options to make this happen in a cost effective manner.
Get involved. SCN is a fantastic community to read what others are doing and at the same time provide you direct access to those same people to answer your questions or point you in the right direction. I was a big fan of SCN a number of years ago but only recently started becoming involved again because I see a lot of great energy and enthusiasm around SAP HANA. There are some people who I just met in the last 6 months who I now find myself helping solve issues and also bouncing questions off of on a weekly basis.
Can you tell us a little about the projects you are working on right now?
Right now I am in a consulting role with a large Healthcare client on a combination of an ECC sidecar and CO-PA accelerator. We are using SLT and some external sources (via DataStage) to serve up analytics through BO 4.1 SP2. This is sitting on a 1 TB single node HP appliance and currently on revision 69.01 with ambitions to get to SP07 as soon as there is a feasible option (Hopefully rev 72).
The project sponsors are very excited about getting data in real time and getting it fast. In some cases HANA performs up to 1000x faster than the legacy platform (Teradata), even on more granular data. The customer is running the legacy data warehouse in parallel to HANA and some days the batch window loads aren’t even finishing by the end of the business day, while HANA has had real time data all along.
The core work so far has been around getting a solid data foundation in place for a few functional areas. Now the focus starts to move on flushing out more of the reporting and analytics components. Finance users love Analysis for Office, and most casual users are thrilled with the speed and ease of use that Explorer offers. We are just starting to get into SAP Design Studio and some of the SAP Mobile deployment options, so more to come on that exciting part of the project.
Additionally, I am starting to see some pointed requests come in from a number of other customers looking for various types of validation, performance analysis or general troubleshooting questions that can be solved remotely. Always glad to assist where I can.
Tell us about one of your HANA war wounds!
I’ll do better – I’ll provide three that I believe are likely to be common on HANA projects.
Manage expectations and stay aligned with sponsors. With all the hype around HANA and how it can “solve all your problems”, it’s hard to go from the sales pitch straight to implementation details with the customer. After all, at the core it’s really is just a database that is a part of the overall solution. You still need fundamentally sound project methodology, good alignment with sponsors and the skill sets to make it work.
Bad modeling choices can ruin your day. On this particular project, we had an analytic model that met all the business needs in the testing environment, and were ready to start the dog and pony show with our sponsors in production. When the first person started querying the model in production, we noticed that the HANA CPU was peaking to 100% and this was with only ONE user. Over the course of a few days of analysis and open SAP messages, we found that the cause was a row level date function being invoked in an attribute view over 600 million record dataset, which is a bad idea. Build time into your project plan to prototype different ways of achieving the same functionality, and then test it using real data volumes. Some of the time, what seems to be an obvious path is not the most optimal.
Data and IT Governance. Even though HANA is a silver bullet (per point 1 above), you still need some type of governance around both data and IT processes. “What? I just spent all this money on the software and hardware and it can’t govern itself?!” There are some BI shops where user created content or sloppy standards can lead to spaghetti like solutions. In HANA, since the mentality is that “it’s just a view, not a new table” can propagate that type of behavior. Get something in place early to try to proactively manage your environment. A competent data architect should be able to help here, even if they have no experience in SAP HANA directly.
What do you see in the future of HANA?
More implementations that are non-SAP centric. I see SAP HANA as a way for SAP to get into customers that traditionally are not SAP shops since they can use HANA only for key parts of their processes. The speed at which HANA operates is astounding, and the option to have it in the cloud can make it more cost effective too.
Becoming the obvious platform choice for the data warehouse in SAP centric shops. You have multiple SAP source systems? No problem, SLT is a fantastic way to cut out hundreds of hours of ETL development. I am really, really impressed on how easy it is to get table data replicated with this tool. After hearing requirements from clients, and then being asked how long it will take to build, they are sometimes shocked since they are used to hearing duration in terms of weeks or months, not days. I attribute a lot of that to the ease of data acquisition.
Starting to overlap BW quite a bit. Even as a BW consultant now working in native HANA, I am starting to see how you could get by without a BW in your SAP landscape. It’s an interesting position to be in.
If there was one change you could make to HANA, what would it be?
The variation between the repository concept vs. modeler perspective is hard to follow for many coming from a non-IDE background. As I understand it, SAP is moving away from the modeler perspective and this will become more mainstream.
More stability, I have seen some very quirky behaviors in the DB using SQL that should be well supported. Additionally, HANA Studio can have its moments. I am hoping that SP07 helps pushes more stability into the picture for both.
Make the migration process a little cleaner. Migration at delivery unit level (package level) at times is far too large. Since system transport systems like CTS+ operate only at delivery unit level, it makes customers want to go the route of manual file import/export to send only what truly needs to move.
Make the change impact/dependency functions operate a little better. I have observed that downstream objects like Calculation views and Stored Procedures tend to go inactive with any changes to upstream objects such as Analytic Views. This makes migration a much more tedious exercise since now the checklist for re-activation becomes longer every time.
Have you heard anything else interesting around HANA lately?
One thing that really struck me was during a local ASUG meeting. There was an SAP Solution engineer (can’t remember the name), who had some 20+ years of experience with SAP. When asked on how SAP HANA can fit into an organization or what the value proposition is, he defined three different layers of adoption or HANA maturity.
1) It allows you to do something faster
2) It allows you to do something better
3) It allows you to do something you have never been able to do before
Although this is very simple, it makes a whole lot of sense to me.
Most customers are all in the first phase, where everything is really focused on acceleration and making reports run faster. Since there is so much backlog demand for “fast data” or “fast processing”, this tends to be the focal point. After you get that pain relieved, you can really start to look ahead at the second two, which will be a very interesting place to watch solutions develop.
Tell us a bit about Justin outside of HANA and work
Outside of work I enjoy spending time with my family; my lovely wife Molly, 3-year-old daughter Penny and almost 2-month-old son Miles. It’s interesting how quickly you forget how time consuming newborns can be until you have another one!
Other than family, I enjoy cycling (mountain and road), home improvement, traveling, live music (when I can get out!), power tools and just being outdoors. I am a natural “tinkerer” who enjoys learning and creating new things.