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mySAP Career Interview Classics

Starting in 2000, Jon created the online content for mySAPcareers.com. This was a time of great transition in the SAP market - the beginnings of the applications that are now called the SAP Business Suite, the emergence of the EAI market that is now heading in the web services/eSOA direction.

For mySAPcareers.com, Jon conducted a series of in-depth, landmark interviews with senior-level consultants across the SAP product line. Now, on JonERP.com, we're pleased to present the best of this content, which is available only on JonERP.com. Jon will be adding updated introductions to all the articles in this section to frame them further in today's market. Enjoy!
Jon Reed Interviews Naeem Hashmi, NetWeaver BI Expert Print E-mail
Article Index
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Reed: SAP seems to be increasing the amount of InfoCubes with pre-defined business content with each release. From our understanding, there were around fifteen InfoCubes in version 1.2, and there were 45-50 in version 2.0. Most of the standard InfoCubes dealt with data in the cores SAP modules of FI, HR, and SD. Do you know if SAP is planning on adding more InfoCubes in more areas for 3.0?

Hashmi: I am sure SAP will add more business content in BW 3.0. It is an ongoing process. The exact details of new business content in BW 3.0 (InfoCubes, ODS or Documents) is still being worked out. Today, several ASUG teams are engaged in defining and prioritizing what should be included in BW 3.0. Later on, the SAP BW Product management team will make an official list of content scheduled for BW 3.0A.

Reed: You mentioned one major functionality addition coming in 3.0 - integration with Microsoft Analysis Services. Are there any other innovations in 3.0 you're anticipating?

Hashmi: There are several major areas of improvement: one is data warehouse management - there will be XML integration, so that if a customer needs access to internal BW data, there is an XML-enabled solution. Another major feature is that in release 3.0, you can extract data from BW for archiving. Or if you want, you can also move R/3 archived data back into BW for reporting. There will also be enhanced data monitoring capabilities for troubleshooting and the avoidance of duplicate data. You will also be able to monitor data over the web as well. There are also a lot of new features on the performance side. The ODS performance will be improved, there will be improved flat file uploads, and there will be more sophisticated methods to filter out data. The other feature is the integration piece I talked about before, using Microsoft Analysis Services, but you can only use this feature if you're running BW on Microsoft SQL Server.

Another new development in BW 3.0 version is the %91hub and spoke model' that will allow companies to deploy robust centralized data warehouses, if desired. One significant feature to note in BW 3.0 is that SAP will provide a tight integration with a 3rd party ETL product from Ascential Software called %91Data Stage'. This will enable customers to load data from non-SAP data sources in BW, similar to Acta, Informatica and other SAP BW Staging BAPI certified 3rd party ETL tools.

Reed: Is one of the major goals of BW to take over the reporting aspects of R/3?

Hashmi: It's very unrealistic to say that there will never be any reporting done on the OLTP side. On the R/3 side, there will always be some real-time operational reporting. SAP's plan for BW is that companies should go with BW for all their near-real-time reporting, as well as their data analysis and historical reporting needs. This way, SAP does not have to keep on enhancing SIS, LIS, and all these R/3 reporting systems. To the best of my knowledge, that is what the R/3 reporting strategy is.

An In-Depth Interview with Naeem Hashmi, BW Author and Expert
Part Four
July 2, 2001

In part four of our discussion, we look at how the latest version of BW is holding up in terms of performance and functionality. Hashmi gives us his take on the state of BW web reporting, the use of the Internet Transaction Server, XML, and whether BW can handle terabyte-level amounts of data. In Hashmi's view, measuring BW performance involves dealing with user issues and expectations as well as managing many different types of data. In the next edition of the interview, we'll turn our attention to how BW is faring in the market and how it is facing up to the criticisms posed by data warehousing experts.

Jon Reed: And how is BW doing in terms of dynamic, web-enabled reporting?

Naeem Hashmi: You can do dynamic web reporting now. The development piece of it is not that fancy compared to other web application development tools, and there are some steps involved to publish web reports, but SAP is gradually streamlining the web publishing process, and with 3.0 it will be even more efficient.

Reed: Now when we talk about web reporting in BW, that's all utilizing the Internet Transaction Server, right?

 

Hashmi: Yes, BW uses the ITS as the engine for web-based reporting. In future versions of BW, ITS may be replaced with the SAP Web Application Server.

Reed: And one benefit would be that users who don't even have R/3 installed on their system can use web-based reporting for their reporting needs.

Hashmi: Once again, ITS is part of a common infrastructure. So whether you're working in R/3, or BW, or APO, or CRM, using ITS you can connect with all of them. You can mix and match, and merge BW web reports (via URLs) in corporate web sites. That's a very powerful option.

Reed: With all this robust functionality, it's amazing that every SAP installation doesn't have this stuff running.

Hashmi: That's true. In the past, there were a lot of issues with the licensing, in terms of how much you charge for web users and how much you charge when people are logging on and off the system. In the beginning, a lot of people got turned off from ITS because of the licensing costs. But I think SAP is changing its strategy in terms of ITS licensing.

Reed: So all in all, BW's diverse reporting capabilities can really ease the burden on an R/3 system.

Hashmi: Definitely. The way I see it is that the integration between BW and OLTP is based on your business needs. For example, if you have historical information in BW and current information in R/3, right now you can use a report-to-report interface called "drill down." Basically, you have two reports, and you pass parameters from one report to the other, and through RFC you execute the report on the server side. That drill down capability is available in 2.0B - it's sort of a basic way of jumping from one report to another. SAP has learned a lot about web applications product development, and so the web publishing methods now in BW 2.0B are interim solutions.

This interim approach really works because in data warehouse reporting, the project never ends, because people's needs and requirements constantly change. So you try to get something out there that people can use now. It is different than when you're releasing a key transactional feature in R/3, such as order processing, where ninety percent of the time you're doing the exact same thing. That's why XML is really great on the R/3 side, because you can define structures very quickly to move data in and out. On the data warehousing side, XML is really not as great, because you need to move large packets of data - sometimes as large as a megabyte in size - and XML is better for smaller packets of operational data, and data structures that change after almost every navigation step.

Reed: There seems to be a market perception that BW doesn't have the size and scalability to compete with an Oracle-type data warehouse solution that can handle terabyte-level data issues. What's your take on this?

Hashmi: I would say yes and no; it all depends on the perspective. In my book, I talk about performance characteristics. Just because you can handle a large volume of simultaneous users doesn't mean it's a scaleable system. For example, you could have a multi-terabyte database and thousands of BW users issuing the same types of queries over and over again, and you won't have a performance problem. In this case, the queried data is stored in the buffer, and subsequent data requests retrieve data from buffer over and over again for operational reporting. But you can have a terabyte size database, with just a few BW users doing extensive analysis, and it can kill the BW system.

So complexity and scalability depends not only on the number of users and the size of the database, it also depends on the nature of the analysis one is doing and how the data has to move around. So going back to your question about whether BW is scaleable or not, again, if you're looking up data for general purpose reporting and ad-hoc reporting, BW can go to the terabyte level easily today. When BW supported only the InfoCubes, which was the case for the 1.2B release, then the performance was not as good, because when InfoCubes are larger, they are harder to work with no matter what database you are using on the back end.

Reed: So BW is not as dependent on InfoCubes at this point.

Hashmi: Correct. Now when you use BW, you can construct flat tables, called ODS objects, in addition to InfoCubes. These flat tables can literally add or partition large database tables the way you do in a pure database environment. The only real performance issue has to do with the user interface - the Bex analyzer is the killer there. The reason for the problem is that Bex is based on Excel. So if you have a huge Oracle database and an Excel front-end, or a huge SQL Server database and an Excel front end, then you have a challenge, because Excel is cell-centric. So it requires a lot of memory management and cell management. When the data is moved in and out, it requires some programming to manage it. So if the user interface is a cell-based application like Microsoft Excel, then that is the bottleneck there in terms of performance.

In my book, I mentioned that when people speak of performance, each person has a different view. For the end-user, if the query is not processed properly in a reasonable time or the results are not displayed to them, then they call it "poor performance." In reality, that poor performance could be the result of a memory shortage or a slow CPU, or a poor graphics card in the end user's workstation, but to the end-user the data warehouse performance is poor. :) That's why in the book I have strategic radar charts to look at different aspects of performance characteristics - those issues are also addressed in Chapter 16 of the book. SAP BW has provided several mechanisms to improve performance. It all depends on how you design the application. The deployment architecture is the key. If you want to design a successful, flexible, high performance application, you really need to think through the design.

An In-Depth Interview with Naeem Hashmi, BW Author and Expert
Part Five
July 16, 2001

In part five of our discussion, we take a hard look at BW's struggle for market acceptance. Hashmi tells us about a very significant PR achievement for BW: the increasing level of endorsement from Bill Inmon, the father of data warehousing, who is now giving BW support after his initial strong skepticism. We go on to a broader analysis of BW's marketing challenges, and Hashmi outlines the cultural and organizational issues that must be conquered for BW to gain broad market acceptance. We also get Jon Reed's take on how cultural obstacles have affected the BW staffing market. Then Hashmi outlines how BW is currently positioned by SAP within the mySAP.com solution, as well as the relevance of InfoCubes to the BW of the future.

Jon Reed: How do you feel about the level of market acceptance of BW among SAP clients? Up to this point, the market for BW has not been as explosive as one might have expected, given the deep functionality and possibilities with the product, although there have obviously been some successful implementations. What is your take on the level of BW market acceptance?

Naeem Hashmi: The major problem that BW ran into was that the traditional data warehouse leaders like Bill Inmon and other did not really understand BW architecture and its role in the enterprise applications environment. They wrote papers and went out and gave talks that were very critical of whether the ERP vendors can truly provide DW solutions, especially SAP. These are the same experts that major companies invite to consult with them on data warehousing strategies. I was the only one in the industry who spoke at DCI, ERP World and the Data Warehouse Institute events (starting way back in April 1997) to educate data warehouse community on BW and how BW is to become the Corporate Information Factory by year 2001. And the facts are now in.

Up until November 2000, most of the comments from data warehouse gurus were still pretty critical of BW. Today, Bill Inmon's views towards BW have changed drastically. Traditionally, when data warehouse people talk about a business intelligence solution, they often talk about it in terms of the database environment. Anytime people think of data warehouses, they think of database issues - they don't go beyond the database level into business solutions; they don't really look at how information flows into the rest of the business processes in a integrated fashion.

Reed: Tell us more about Bill Inmon's change in perspective on BW.

Hashmi: It was only recently that Bill Inmon, the father of data warehousing, spoke favorably about BW. In a November 2000 interview on the TV at the BW Congress in Hamburg, Inmon was asked "What are your impressions on the SAP solutions approach and how do you see SAP's development since 2 years back when SAP entered in this market?"

Bill answered, "First off I have to say that I have been very favorably impressed with the notion that SAP indeed is building solutions. I am not aware of any company out there that has a true solutions approach. There are other companies that have tools and have a lot of the components, but in terms of all the way going to the operational environment to the collection, to the integration, extraction of information and then usage of the information, I guess I have to say that from a solutions standpoint, I am very favorably impressed with what I saw this week from SAP in their solutions approach."

Inmon further stated in his interview that SAP "has taken a very different approach from day one - a solutions approach." But even then, he could not state that BW is ideal for enterprise data warehousing, he still sees it as a limited analytical environment sitting on top of SAP R/3 only.


 

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