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SAP BW – Why Semantic Intelligence Matters: A Q&A with Lothar Henkes of SAP

Originally published September 5, 2014

This BeyeNETWORK article features Ron Powell’s interview with Lothar Henkes, vice president of product management for BW for SAP. Lothar and Ron talk about enhancements to SAP Business Warehouse, its use with HANA, and why semantic intelligence matters.
Lothar, what are the major benefits for customers using SAP BW on HANA?

Lothar Henkes: By putting BW on HANA, we were able to address certain requirements from customers that we were never able to address before when BW was running on a relational database. We could push data intended functions down to HANA where BW was still in the role of orchestrating all of these processes. For example, we could push down the whole activation of calculating of the deltas in the stored objects and by this received 10 to 15 times faster data loads in BW. This is an extremely important aspect for our customers as they see constantly growing data and, at the same time, the load window in order to get in the data is getting tighter and tighter.

We were also able to push down planning capabilities – OLAP capabilities. Moreover, by this, we could actually achieve 10 to 100 times faster query run times in comparison to a relational database or 10 to 15 times faster planning functionalities. And all of this, and it’s very important, goes along with simplification in BW because we were able to cut off the data layers in BW and by this the whole BW became much leaner. For example, there is no longer a need to have BW accelerator indexes, no longer the need to have aggregates, no longer the need to have InfoCubes because in many scenarios even the InfoCube as a pure aggregation layer basically disappeared. So it’s not only the performance, it is also an extreme simplification between BW on top of HANA.

If you look at it from a speed perspective, you’re talking about 100 times faster for some queries.  That is really getting it closer to real time.

Lothar Henkes: Absolutely. If we are not able to deliver the end user with queries on time, they will find their own intuitive ways to do this, which of course we want to avoid.

You’ve recently launched SAP BW 7.4 on SAP HANA. Could you provide an overview of the features and benefits that customers are receiving from it?

Lothar Henkes: What I just talked about was, in general, that we put BW on top of HANA and it was more related also to the 7.3 release. Of course, this is all true for 7.4 as well, but in 7.4 we basically continue on what we had started already with BW on HANA. And the main features that I’m going to talk about now are again only possibly via the combination of BW and HANA. We were able to bring BW also in the role to serve as the logical enterprise data warehouse with virtualization capabilities, which I’m going to talk about a little later on in more detail. A very significant topic of BW 7.4 on HANA was the whole aspect of simplification. In this context, for example, we have delivered new Eclipse-based modeling tools in BW, and so no matter whether the end user does modeling in BW, or he does the modeling in HANA directly, or he does modeling in other tools, he will always have the same kind of intuitive modeling environment, which makes it easier for the end user to do all the modeling and, by this again, save time.

Another aspect of simplification goes along with the new Composite provider, and the role of this new Composite provider is really to consolidate the number of info providers that we do have today so that at the end the goal is that we have just one Composite provider. This, of course, means simplification but it also means much faster implementation because we just have one info provider. It brings more flexibility. We are very flexible with defining join and union conditions. This new flexibility can provide additional insights. And from a performance point of view – also very important – the execution of the joins and of the unions that come along with the Composite provider this again is pushed down to HANA.

Another important aspect basically with 7.4 is it also provides a tight integration between an enterprise data warehouse approach that wants to leverage pure SQL methods together with an approach like BW as an integrated enterprise data warehouse application. This is something that we are often asked by customers to provide, and with 7.4 we can do this. In this context, I just want to mention the possibility that out of BW for each info provider, be it a data store object or the new Composite provider, we can generate the according HANA views and then on these HANA views, you can use any SQL tool on top of this and you are completely flexible with these SQL statements that you would like to run on top of this. This is really a requirement that we have been asked for a lot by customers in the past.

We have continued the story of further performance improvements. In this context, it’s important to understand that we have now transformations processed during the data load. These transformations in 7.3 on HANA were still executing in the application server. We have pushed that down to HANA as well and get an additional factor of speed for the data loads. But as mentioned before, the whole orchestration of the transformations, the additions of the transformations, all of this is still done in BW. To HANA we push it down for the execution.

And the same is true for our planning functionalities. Here we provide the next level of performance by pushing down further planning capabilities like the user exits for planning functions for data slices and also for characteristic relations.

From a high-level point of view, these are the new major capabilities that we are providing.

Lothar, a big question for our audience is how do I handle external data within BW to maintain semantic intelligence?

Lothar Henkes: We have made major enhancements in BW. The HANA Smart Data Access lets you leverage in BW and then the modeling of open ODS views. Via HANA Smart Data Access, you can basically connect to Teradata, to Hadoop, to Oracle, to IBM, to Microsoft, to HANA itself or to Sybase. This is done via the according ODBC drivers that HANA is connecting. This means we can from BW have a virtualized access to these databases. Then in BW, we model the semantics of the underlying database very easily and also very fast via the open ODS view. The open ODS view is a requirement that has been raised from customers a lot in the past. They want to be able to easily include into BW external data structures. They want to be able to model the entire semantics of this without creating info objects, which is what they had to do in the past. This is exactly what we do with this open ODS. We establish the connection via HANA Smart Data Access. Then you put the open ODS view on top of this, which represents the middle structure of the underlying tables and directly links the semantics of the database views and then you can immediately put a query on top of this. It has the whole integration with the authorization concept, can establish links to already existing objects, which is also very important. What I am talking about is a virtualized access to the external data based on the semantics of the external data that is modeled in the open ODS view. And if you decide to switch from a virtualized access to a persistency mode, you can very easily do it without doing any changes in the query. Now why would you change to a persistent mode? You’d do that, for example, if you would like to add additional transformations or if you would like to do additional quality stats. It might also be possible that you want to switch from a virtualized access to the persistency access without changing any semantics – something that a lot of customers have tested and worked with already. And the feedback, for example, from one of these customers was that based on this new approach to model the semantics in BW, they saved more than 50% of the modeling time that they used to have before, which is a major step for customers.

Fantastic: Lothar, what comes next?

Lothar Henkes: What we are delivering next is further support for HANA extended tables for petabyte-scale storage. What I mentioned before – the Eclipse-based design tools – is also something that we’re going to enhance. We’re also going to deliver an Eclipse-based query designer. At the end of 2014 we will further enhance the open ODS view and come with new, advanced data store checks that will further help to reduce layers in BW. And, of course, we’ll provide the further enablement of cloud solutions as we also see more customers who want to have this as a deployment option.

Cloud is really important.

Lothar Henkes: Oh yes, it’s becoming more important for our customers. Beyond 2014, we are also working on topics to basically leverage HANA’s information management capabilities. For BW, we will support additional big data scenarios. We will extend the mobile enablement things that we have started already in 7.4, and this is also something that we are going to extend in the future.

Thank you, Lothar, for answering the question of why semantic intelligence is so important, especially for customers using SAP BW 7.4.

  • Ron PowellRon Powell
    Ron is an independent analyst, consultant and editorial expert with extensive knowledge and experience in business intelligence, big data, analytics and data warehousing. Currently president of Powell Interactive Media, which specializes in consulting and podcast services, he is also Executive Producer of The World Transformed Fast Forward series. In 2004, Ron founded the BeyeNETWORK, which was acquired by Tech Target in 2010.  Prior to the founding of the BeyeNETWORK, Ron was cofounder, publisher and editorial director of DM Review (now Information Management). He maintains an expert channel and blog on the BeyeNETWORK and may be contacted by email at rpowell@powellinteractivemedia.com. 

    More articles and Ron's blog can be found in his BeyeNETWORK expert channel.

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