Jun 15 2011

SAPPHIRE 2011 Wednesday Keynote – HANA, HANA, and More HANA

Categories: 2011 Annual Conference / SAPPHIRE, HANA Dave Rathbun @ 12:14 pm

Author Note: I realize that SAPPHIRE is old news by now, but I felt this post still had enough to offer that I would finish and publish it.

As a technical guy myself, I tend to prefer the SAP Business Objects conference or SAP TechEd over SAPPHIRE, mostly because I find more technical content at those events. However, the Wednesday keynote address from Vishal Sikka and Hasso Plattner of SAP certainly gave me plenty to chew on from a technical perspective.

Vishal Sikka

Vishal kicked off the keynote talking about HANA, and continued that theme throughout his entire (long!) presentation. In a prior post about the conference I answered the question, “what is HANA, exactly?” very simply: HANA is a database. It can be presented in a number of different ways, but ultimately that’s the function that HANA provides. I don’t install HANA to provide new functionality. In order to do anything with it, I need what I have started calling “HANA Plus One” instead. The “plus one” can be Web Intelligence, Xcelsius, or any other query tool. It can also be application code. HANA is an accelerator or an enabler. With HANA I can do the same things I did before but much faster. Or quite possibly I can now do something I wasn’t able to do before because the process took too long. (True story: A very long time ago I was asked to optimize a daily report that was taking 20+ hours to run. By the time the report was finished it was too late. With a few report tweaks and one additional database index I got the report down to 20 seconds.) Continue reading “SAPPHIRE 2011 Wednesday Keynote – HANA, HANA, and More HANA”

May 23 2011

2011 Annual Conference / SAPPHIRE Wrap Up

Categories: 2011 Annual Conference / SAPPHIRE Dave Rathbun @ 9:05 am

I have some other posts in “draft mode” but decided to publish an overall summary of what I got out of the conference last week. First, there wasn’t a lot of “push” specifically around the BusinessObjects suite. The 4.0 release is now expected to be out of ramp up and generally available by the end of June, but that was a date tossed around during informal discussions. There was no formal announcement.

The big themes of the conference this year seemed to be HANA (their in-memory database engine), mobility (not specifically BI mobility, but mobile apps built on top of the Sybase Unwired API), and to a lesser extend cloud hosted systems. SAP announced HANA in the Cloud, which is not really new but an upgrade of the current BI On Demand web site. SAP also pointed out that they had a major “dot release” in nearly every product this year, with BI 4.0, EIM 10.0, and a number of other major new releases becoming available.


One of the important issues that everybody seemed to want to gloss over but I think is critical to understand the proper placement for this product is that HANA is simply a database. It’s not a BI or reporting solution by itself. You still need something to put the data into HANA, and something to get the data out. All it does is do those processes extremely fast. They showed HANA (in experimental form) running on a Mac Mini, running on a hefty blade server, and then on a 1,000 CPU system running from their data center. This was done to show the scalability of the product.

As everyone starts to look more closely with HANA I think it’s important for folks to understand that HANA isn’t a BI solution. It’s an accelerator or an enabler but it doesn’t do anything by itself. We would still need something to sit on top, be it Web Intelligence, Explorer, or any of the other BI tools. I asked if – since HANA was really “just a database” – folks could plan to use Cognos or MicroStrategy against it. I did not get a direct answer. :) What I did get was a comment that HANA can be accessed via MDX or SQL, which to me would say that any tool could utilize the acceleration that HANA provides. I don’t know that SAP will spend a lot of effort to make sure other BI tools will work well against the platform, but I can’t initially see any reason why they would not work.

It seems fairly clear to me that as a longer-term vision, SAP would like to run their entire ERP on top of HANA, with Sybase ASE or IQ as fallback alternatives for smaller implementations. The spent the entire 2.5 hour keynote on Wednesday talking about HANA. They included several customer testimonials, and then Hasso Plattner took the stage to talk more about the new database.


I didn’t see much that was specific to BI mobility at the conference this year. Of course they were showing Web Intelligence running as a native application on the iPad, which I had already seen at the BI 4 launch event in New York a few months ago. Most of the mobility talk at the conference this year was instead focused on mobile applications built on the Sybase Unwired platform.

One of the sound bites from a keynote talked about how HANA can enable true embedded BI into a mobile application. I’m not sure if they hit every buzzword in that phrase, but if not it was close. :) The concept is simple. Instead of thinking of BI as a reporting system, let’s go back and revisit the idea of embedding BI into an actual application. That way a sales rep can close a deal from the same screens used to evaluate a customer. The rep doesn’t have to switch back and forth between an application and a series of reports because they’re all available in one place. An interesting vision, and one that SAP would like to say is only possible with a HANA back-end because you can delivery everything to a mobile device in an accelerated fashion.

There was some discussion about having “write back” capabilities in some future versions of the BI tools. That was all off-line and not in any way committed to by SAP. I believe Cognos has at least a limited write back capability today.

Information Steward

One of the new features of the EIM (Enterprise Information Management, which includes Data Services formerly known as Data Integrator) is a product called Information Steward. This product is used to address concerns about data quality, as it allows an end business user to log in to a system and look at the data anomalies.


Event Insight

One of the new features of EIM that I find interesting but I’m not sure how or where we would use it is Event Insight. This product is designed to monitor a data flow and trigger actions based on events. As a very simple example, if tied in to a point of sale system, it might notify an inventory manager if there is a run on certain products across a regional area. Maybe a local sports team just made the finals, and folks are going out to buy jerseys. If the company can react quickly enough, they can increase stock for this time-sensitive item and capitalize on extra sales.


At the BI 4 launch event, CNR (Canada National Railroad) talked about using this product to manage fuel costs and make train routing more efficient.

May 18 2011

No Release Date for BI 4.0

Categories: 2011 Annual Conference / SAPPHIRE Dave Rathbun @ 7:26 am

So far at the conference there has not been any official announcement as to when BI 4.0 will be formally released, at least not that I have heard. I would have expected them to make a big deal out of it if they were releasing it so I don’t think I’ve missed anything.

May 17 2011

Future BI Directions? Or Just Reviving The Past?

Categories: 2011 Annual Conference / SAPPHIRE Dave Rathbun @ 9:57 am

Yesterday I attended an influence council meeting on the semantic layer. The audience was somewhat sparse for something I consider to be relatively important. Derek kicked off the meeting with an introduction of what the influence council was about, and then Pierpaolo took over and drove through various demonstrations and talked about the future of the semantic layer. I gave them a whole laundry list of improvements to make to prompts. ;)

After that I had some small meetings with various SAP representatives and other bloggers. One of the interesting remarks that came out of one of those meetings was that SAP had completely missed the mark on Android support. Of course everyone knows about the iPhone and iPad; they’re everywhere here. The Blackberry Playbook is also very visible. Both devices were used in the keynote this morning (blog post to follow on that shortly). But the comment that was made yesterday was interesting. It seems that more and more companies are having to deal with employees that want to use only one device. They don’t want a company mobile and a personal mobile, and companies are happy to subsidize a personal mobile for corporate use as they don’t have to track assets and manage upgrades and everything else that goes along with procuring hardware. By most accounts, Android phones now make up a third or more of the mobile operating environment. That means that yes, Android is making inroads into the corporate market. It’s all being driven by corporate acceptance (and support) of personal devices.

And that means yes, SAP has Android on the horizon. I’m attending a private briefing on mobile later today and will share what I am allowed to share.

Another interesting discussion I was able to participate in was related to how to address offline mode for mobile devices. How can I leverage my iPad on an airplane, for example? Can I download a Web Intelligence report and drill down through the local cube? How much data can I cache? One of the interesting distinctions made was that authored content (meaning IT or departmental generated canned reports) are good candidates for offline consumption, but self-service (ad hoc) content should really be limited to online only. I am not sure I agree with that, so I am going to think about it some more. I think that Web Intelligence (which looks absolutely awesome on the iPad, by the way) bridges the gap between authored (published) and self-service information, and that makes the answer to this question a bit muddy in my mind.

Finally, another future (or perhaps now) big thing is the concept of operational or embedded BI. In a very simplistic world, we have operational systems (perhaps mobile) and we have reporting systems. The fact is we don’t live in a simplistic world. We can’t afford to. That means with near real-time instant responses possible with in-memory cloud systems serving our mobile devices (there, did I hit enough buzz-words for one post?) we can merge and embed our BI right into our operational systems. This isn’t a new concept, it’s just being packaged under a new heading I guess. There was a discussion about having “write back” capabilities in our BI systems. It’s not like we don’t have it today (well, Web Intelligence doesn’t have it… yet) it’s just out there under a different name.

Embedded BI would be very interesting, but as I said it’s not a new concept. It’s just being revived under a new name. The Ability to enable BI content inside applications whether custom or not would open some interesting doors. Take the glamor of BI and put on your steel toed boots. Let’s get to work.

May 16 2011

e = mc(imc)2

Categories: 2011 Annual Conference / SAPPHIRE Dave Rathbun @ 10:56 am

The opening portion of the keynote was a dramatic (perhaps overly dramatic?) introduction by Gabriel Byrne of Usual Suspects fame (among others). His talk was interesting but what I liked the best was his update on Einstein’s famous formula. It looked like this:

e = mc(imc)2

In this formula, “m” stands for mobile, “c” stands for cloud, and “imc” is short for in memory computing. The concept is simple. By leveraging the power of in memory analytics, we can set up information resources in the cloud that are consumed by mobile devices. The three technologies individually are strong, but together they become greater than the sum of the parts. One of the primary restrictions about mobile devices is their relative lack of computing power. (Later in the keynote one panel member observed that today’s smartphones do, however, have more computing power than the systems NASA used in the 60’s to land man on the moon. Can you imagine piloting your lunar lander with your iPhone? Wonder if AT&T has cell coverage on the moon…) Because of the lack of computing power, mobile devices are mostly consumption portals rather than calculation engines. That’s where in memory comes into play. By pushing the analytics back onto the server and hosting them in memory, a mobile device doesn’t have to be brawny, it just needs enough brains to connect and render.

Putting the systems into the cloud just ads ubiquity to the system. It’s no longer behind a corporate firewall, it’s available to anyone in your enterprise, no matter where they are. It’s a compelling vision.

The keynote was followed by a discussion panel which was both entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. It was more about where we will all be in 30 years than the more immediate concerns of in memory computing. :) I will post more on the panel discussion later today. If you can, try seeing if the session was recorded and can be played back online. It’s worth watching.

May 16 2011

Annual Conference / SAPPHIRE 2011 – The Arrival

Categories: 2011 Annual Conference / SAPPHIRE Dave Rathbun @ 7:53 am

The conference is starting out well. My flight was uneventful, although I had forgotten the average age for passengers on flights to Orlando is substantially lower than other flights. I wonder why that is? :) I managed to connect with a couple of friends and have some fun a Universal Studios. But that was yesterday, and this morning I am sitting in the general session getting ready to take in the keynote. I’m always intrigued by how many folks sitting around me seem to be so focused on “live blogging” or tweeting that they miss out on some of the keynote. Some folks seem to be so busy writing about what was talked about a few minutes ago that they miss what’s going on right now.

I hope to be doing my own version of “semi-delayed blogging” throughout the day today. I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot about the fruits of the Sybase acquisition this year, as mobility seems to be one of the hot topics. I’ll share the main points of the keynote shortly.

After it’s over. ;)