MongoDB for the SAP Community

One of the most common questions I get from my friends from the SAP ecosystem is how MongoDB works with SAP. So I thought I will pen some initial thoughts on how I see the technologies working together. 

NOTE : Please don’t look at this as an official roadmap or anything – this is just my personal view. Neither MongoDB nor SAP has agreed to do anything of this sort . This is just Vijay thinking aloud – and I am sure someone will set me straight if I am not making sense.

First, what does MongoDB not do with SAP systems ?

This is easy – MongoDB is not a database to run your ERP / business suite or BW type systems. MongoDB also doesn’t do native predictive analytics.That is what Hana (or other RDBMS systems) are for. MongoDB has no competitive position against Hana. Also SAP Hana Cloud platform has been using mongodb for some time already for content management. And MongoDB is one of the databases for SAP’s Hybris platform.

Now that we got that out of the way, lets see what can MongoDB do to complement an SAP landscape

1. Visualization

SAP announced a technology collaboration for Lumira to work with MongoDB at SAPPHIRENOW last month. Lumira is SAP’s agile BI solution . MongoDB holds data in JSON (BSON internally ) . The existing connector uses a JDBC protocol for the integration – and more native options are planned for future.

What is the big deal ? the big deal is that MongoDB holds richer data than what you typically see in rows and columns of a table. 

MongoDB holds data that has a hierarchical or nested nature – and visualizing that rich data ( for example, not only what region that customer is from – but details of what is the past history of sales in that region for customer, what other customers have bought in similar categories etc) is an amazing value add for a business user.

On top of that – given the dynamic schema, you can keep enriching the data (like campaign information at real time from a web site) and visualize the results immediately . 


I could totally see in future SAP data services and Hana cloud integration for ETL/EAI use cases where MongoDB is the source or target. MongoDB is probably one of the most  popular database for cloud applications already – and that trend will only increase. But those apps need data to be fed into it from somewhere, and I think data from there might need to get pumped into other systems. So an ETL/EAI type tooling from SAP around MongoDB is something I can imagine being a sensible thing assuming those sources and targets could be SAP systems.

3. As a datahub for integrating SAP and non-SAP applications

Consider a business application SAP would build on Hana for retail . The sources of information that need to pump in data to that app will typically be disparate in every sense – POS data, ERP data, IS-Retail data, Web store data, Click streams and so on.

One way to do it is to pump all this data into Hana and write code there to filterthe dataset that the app needs. This will make sense for cases where the schema is set in stone and not subject to frequent change. But that is usually not the case for retail like data – schema needs as much flexibility as possible. So a second way to design that will be to use MongoDB as a data hub to consolidate data from all the sources, and then from there provide the app on Hana with just the right data it needs to do its thing. 

There is no certified connector for MongoDB with Hana today. But that probably is not such a big deal for a project based solution once the Hana SDK for AFL (app function library in C++) is available. MongoDB has a C++ driver that can be hooked on to AFL  and this should solve the data exchange problem from a technology point of view.

Another option – a little bit of code on XS engine (the lightweight web server/app server in Hana)  can make it work too – since XS understands JSON well. Thomas Jung probably is the best contact to help with this – but I don’t think you will need a lot of support. 

And for non-Hana customers of SAP, you probably need to code in ABAP from the app server layer to make mongodb integration work. I have not opened an ABAP editor in a while – so my memory is rusty. But I think its only from 7.x that ABAP has native JSON support. So you might want to do some hack to check if Kernel supports JSON. Horst Keller might have published some standard way to do that. Or if your ABAP skills are not top notch and you would prefer to use PERL or something outside the app server that MongoDB has a driver for . I guess you can create a service via ICF and take an RFC route. Probably not the most elegant way, but it should work too. Maybe Thorsten Franz can enlighten us on the possibilities.

The Second Question

As many of you have pointed out in private and in public – I have not blogged much since I have joined SAP . Trust me it was not intentional – just that other things like kitchen remodeling , getting used to my new job etc took all my bandwidth. But now that remodeling project is complete , I can get back to more blogging etc .

Any way – my first assignment at SAP is to work with our customers and partners to make sure they realize the value of BW on Hana . Since the day I joined SAP – I have been talking to customers about this, and something interesting became clear to me. So I thought it might be useful to summarize my customer and partner conversations in my blog so that we can have a more extensive conversation virtually .

When Suite runs on Hana , BW runs on Hana and assorted data marts run on Hana – what would be different for a business user ? In my opinion – after talking to several customers – it is the “ease of answering the second question” that is the most value adding scenario for a business user – especially the “business analyst” types.

Let me explain with an example that should resonate with many of the readers here

Analysts live in an ad-hoc world – their “real” work starts when an executive asks them a non routine question like “how many bottles of soda did we sell to top 5 distributors in Arizona last summer and how did we do against plan” . Question is simple enough – but there might not be an easy way to answer this .

Analysts will probably go to BW or CRM to find who their top 5 distributors are , how much was sold to them etc. and then they will probably log on elsewhere to find plan information . Finally, all of that gets dumped to an excel sheet , massaged with various vlookup functions etc and a prettied up table and graph will be presented to the executive . Most probably , one of the sources of information is yet another spreadsheet stored in a share point site.

Now, I have never met an executive who had asked all she wants to know in one question – and that includes me !

So as soon as the first answer comes in – the exec would ask her next question . “Hmm – that is interesting , how is that split across the various brands we sold them ?” .

The best analysts know this and will come with as much info that they can second guess. But that is a limited approach with most executives – invariably , more data dumps and analysis will be needed . And this takes time – hours at a minimum, days to weeks usually .

Now, what would change with Hana ?

For starters – a lot of data sitting in BW can be crunched and compared to spreadsheet data on the fly by the analyst without IT help using workspaces . This can be done without Hana too – if speed is not an issue and patience is over abundant .

BW sitting on Hana can be combined easily with other datamarts modeled directly on Hana via composite providers. So – adhoc queries spanning multiple sources become all the more easy . And of course the front end like BI 4.x Analysis makes this an excel friendly exercise .

Now when suite also works on Hana – and suite has the Hana Analytics Foundation under it – this becomes all the more easy . SHAF is nothing but Hana views that can also understand BW data . And of course it understands BI front end tools . So in effect – data sitting in suite, BW and other Hana datamarts are all available to users without a lot of manual work to make sense of it all .

Back to our analyst friend who got the second question – now he can quickly change the query to include more parameters and respond to the executive much faster than in the pre-Hana world . What is not to like ? :)

Of course , Hana does not replace the need to have a good solid BI discipline in place . The right way to look at this in my opinion is to think of how powerful is the scenario of having Hana and a good BI system together than just one or the other (or god forbid, neither).

It is also important to note that suite on hana does not eliminate the need for BW. Neither is it always a good idea to move everything in a BW system to a custom data warehouse even if it sits on Hana . If you are not convinced , try to implement a reporting scenario that is based on an ERP cost center hierarchy with time dependencies directly in Hana and also in BW on Hana . You can see why having these solutions to compliment each other is better than trying to force fit every requirement into one of them .

Now tell me – what is your “second question” I can help with :)

SAP Needs A Better Cloud And Platform Story, And A Good Story Teller

This past week, there was a 2 day influencer event in Palo Alto where SAP explained (or tried to explain) its Cloud, Mobility and DB&T vision to about 16 of us. SAP paid for my airfare and hotel and ground transportation. Many thanks to Mike Prosceno and Stacey Fish – you are the best at what you do.

We started with cloud on Day 1 .  Cloud session was led by some of the smartest people I know in SAP, yet it did not go as well as I expected.  None of us in the room seemed to understand what the cloud story really is even after SAP tried a few times. As a technology fan, it did not matter to me that SAP had a sub par performance in the same week as Dreamforce was happening, but I am not sure if everyone else in the influencer gang look at it that way.

Sanjay Poonen and his team did the best job at the event when it came to explaining SAP strategy on mobility. I would say Sharron Ruddock, the COO for mobility, deserves special mention for  how well she explained mobility pricing. Steve Lucas and team took second spot – a close second I should say – with their HANA and DB&T story. And cloud brought up the rear.

If I travel back in time, when SAP execs were pitching ERP to customers, it was all about the business needs that ERP solves. It was not based on ABAP and Basis that a sale was made (which I felt bad about at the time, since I made a living as an ABAPer).  Fast forward to cloud era – and the whole conversation started with technology. Isn’t the whole idea about cloud that we don’t need to worry about technology as much as before?  SAP missed the boat on this one, and should try to revise the story line before their next attempt at Teched and SAPPHIRE.

It is not to say technology vision is less important – it is vastly important. But technology does not serve a purpose without tangible business benefits. If SAP has to succeed in cloud – it needs a VERY strong play as a platform.  This is also where that old DNA question comes to mind again. SFSF has the DNA for cloud based Apps without a doubt. But has that acquisition helped SAP inherit something useful for platforms ?  If it has, then someone needs to point it out, I did not see it.

There were a few highlights that definitely caught my attention. My friend Sethu, who is the deputy CTO at SAP, explained to things that are important.  The most important one is that SAP should not have multiple platform pitches – like mobility platform, analytics platform, Neo platform and so on. There should be  just one SAP platform going forward – which unfortunately does not have a name yet. Sad to say – this important memo did not reach the other parts of SAP in time. We got great explanations of mobility platform and Netweaver cloud platform right after Sethu told us there will only be one platform. The second thing that caught my attention from Sethu was that SAP is aiming for a unified semantic layer for everything that works on SAP platform. This is a much needed aspect of the platform story, and I am waiting to learn more about this.

SAP also has a good integration story that Nayaki Nayyar explained. I had met her once at Madrid last year, when we co-judged innojam before SAPPHIRENOW there. Cloud integration is critical to SAP’s cloud and platform future, and Nayaki explained that there is an integration technology they developed called Netweaver Cloud integration , and that it has two components – PI on demand, and Data services on demand.

The integration concept is webservices based. That is good – I get that, but that is not to say it completely reduces integration costs. It still needs harmonizing security, data, IDEs, and a consistent way to meter the services and components.

I am not fully convinced of the integration story on cloud. To begin with – I am shocked SAP positioned it as Netweaver brand. I don’t know a lot of clients who think of netweaver as a best in class integration platform. And calling its components as PI on Demand and Data Services on demand just gives the impression that SAP just repackaged something to make a new offering. Nayaki clarified that it is not so – and that it is all brand new.  I am sure I have said it before, and will say it again – without an acquisition story to go with it, I doubt SAP will have credibility in market with an integration story.  There are a variety of acquisitions possible based on what SAP can afford from TIBCO to snaplogic.

There is no MDM on the cloud from SAP in this whole cloud integration story. So essentially, one of the existing transaction systems will need to be treated as the master for the data that integrated systems will play with. I am sure this is just a matter of prioritization for SAP on where to invest for short term. While this is ok in convincing bloggers, I am not sure this is a good story to tell customers who typically need a longer term roadmap. Not having an MDM on cloud story makes it harder for them to buy into this integration strategy in my opinion.

I liked the analogy that Aaron Au used (he is the SFSF CTO, and a very friendly guy) of how Amazon evolved from “it is all about the shopping cart” to “shopping cart is just a small part, and only used to close a transaction” to explain how SAP is looking at User Experience.  It is probably the best explanation of Systems of Engagement concept that I have heard from SAP till date. What did not happen unfortunately is that SAP could not tie this example to their products and strategy in a coherent way.

Rainer Zinow was articulate as usual on the ByDesign side. I finally understood the thinking behind Financials on Demand. It is good to know it is not exactly carving out financials out of Bydesign. In fact nothing is carved out – just some parts are activated and others kept inactive. And the business case is mostly the ability to do Mergers and divestitures faster, by moving those entities to the cloud solution first.  That is a story I can live with and I see value in it. I did not hear a ByDesign for Large Enterprises story – maybe I missed it, or maybe there is no such thing. In any case, I think ByDesign and B1 ( Richard Duffy is an excellent speaker I might add)  did not get sufficient coverage in this event.  At least there were no surprises.

I don’t recall anything earth shattering in terms of bold new use cases for cloud. May be the intention was to set the foundation with this meeting, and make the big announcements at Teched or SAPPHIRE. Or maybe I missed out the transformational message when it was mentioned. In any case – there were heavy weight cloud experts in the room with me amongst the influencers, and one of them might explain that part better.

Sameer Patel could not present his vision for social and collaboration in the event proper, but he took time at lunch to educate me on that. I am duly impressed – and it is a grown up version of how social and collaboration should work in enterprises, and it puts it in the context of business processes where it belongs.  Sameer gets the prize for the best elevator pitch of the day.

There was a slide shown at the end of the meeting, but put under NDA – which is kind of sad, since that was the best part of the story. Maybe the next time around, they should start with that picture and work back to the technology issues and solutions. I know it sounded cryptic – but I respect SAP’s reason to put an embargo.

Bottom line – SAP should do some serious homework on unifying the theme of their cloud story . Knowing many of the people involved in this, I don’t have the slightest doubt that SAP will get its act together quickly. It is not to please us bloggers that they should do it – if they don’t do this in quick time , there won’t be much attention from their customers who are getting better messages from other vendors. HANA will run fine for SAP for another year with no issues – but without cloud and mobility picking up pace big time, SAP might not live up to big ambitions of its leadership team. And as much as the story is important, SAP needs to find a good candidate from inside the company or outside to say that story clearly to the world.

This was way longer than I expected when I started the rant here, and I am sure I missed a lot of points. But given my day job needs me to to run back to my customers :)



Is There Anything Left To Be Said About SAP HANA – Yeah, There Is

I have written a lot about HANA, and have participated in several podcasts, webinars and so on about HANA. And I am probably the least prolific person around on the topic. SAP and its influencers have all done a lot to spread the word to the extent that I was joking on twitter recently that I wonder if there is anything left to be said about HANA.

I guess there is – about what is going to happen next about HANA.

Apart from the stand alone HANA option and BW on HANA that are both in GA, a lot of things are in the pipeline from what we have heard from SAP – ECC on HANA, CRM on HANA, and every other business application from SAP on HANA, the HANA App cloud and so on. There is also a lot of activity going on about HANA start ups. We know this – but what remains as a question is what will SAP prioritize when it comes to HANA ?

We have heard Vishal Sikka state that ECC running on HANA in some shape will come out in Q4 this year. I know it is a topic close to Vishal’s heart – and for good reason. Having heard Hasso on the topic too multiple times, I know this is a big priority for him as well. I think the primary reason to do this is to prove to the world that HANA can take transactional workloads as well or better than Oracle and other traditional DB vendors. It is a coming of age of sorts for HANA. So this definitely has merit as a worthy goal for SAP to aim at. But is this a good commercial goal for SAP?

HANA apparently has about 600 customers for what is available today as functionality. Not all of them have projects on HANA, but probably will have one at some point. Now, it has only been out for a limited time – so we have to give it time. For a 16000 strong install base, HANA has barely skimmed the surface. Probably it will sell a lot more – and it is a safe bet, since BW is not always a mission critical system, and more customers can be persuaded to buy HANA for BI purposes even though it has only gone into GA recently. There is enough value to offset cost for most BW customers.

However, that is not the story for ECC. Most companies will come to a screeching halt if anything at all goes wrong with ECC implementations. Although to a lesser extent, so is the case with CRM. So I am curious as to how many customers will make the leap into ECC or CRM on HANA in near future. I am sure there are a few that always will buy into SAP’s vision and jump into it. But the vast majority of SAP customers might take a conservative stance on changing their database for a production ECC or CRM instance.

As I and many others have pointed out before – just by porting ECC from some database to HANA, things won’t get incredibly fast by default. The reason is that most of the bottleneck is in the ABAP layer. Unless all that code is rewritten, the schemas simplified and so on – it is difficult to imagine ECC consistently getting a huge boost from Hana. I am sure SAP will probably rewrite some code to make use of HANA, at least for long running batch jobs. But even in that case – the best case I can see is most customers using it as a secondary database for accelerating some parts of ECC at best. Add to this the efforts of all the other DB vendors to attack HANA to protect their turf. So all things considered, running ECC etc on HANA is at best a technical triumph, but not a sure shot commercial success in itself.

Then there is the HANA App cloud. When I first heard about it from Vishal, I was super excited at the potential. But not a lot of action has happened for customers to jump into it. But I am a bit confused on the whole cloud strategy at SAP now. There is the big cloud division under Lars Dalgaard that has BByD, LOB On Demand solutions, SFSF etc. Then they bought Ariba – and I am curious to see where that will fit in. Will Ariba folder under the existing cloud organization? I doubt it – but curious to see is it does. And then there is the Hana App cloud, and netweaver cloud. Where does all that fit? will it stand alone ? Will it fold under Lars’ organization? Why does this matter ? Only because now SAP has so many disparate technologies and data centers, that I am not sure they have the time and effort at their disposal to get synergy out of all of this – in data centers, in applications, and in platforms. Sure we can assume that user experience will converge at some point, but if the back end is heterogeneous, it is hard to drive down costs. I hope I can get some clarity from the SAP people next time I meet them.

Many years ago – SAP made an all out effort , though not quite as impactful as current efforts on HANA , on Netweaver. Netweaver was supposed to be the super platform that would make everything work together seamlessly, and with great performance and low development effort and all that good stuff. As it turns out, it was only a moderate success. Not many people – except some die hard SAP shops – trust netweaver as the platform to run non-SAP stuff. With HANA – SAP has a chance to correct that, and make a big platform play.

Hana as a Platform is where I think SAP has biggest bang for their buck. I also think that is where SAP customers and the developer ecosystem also has the biggest bang for their buck. I am not sure if SAP sees it that way – but surely there are people there who are exploring that. Look at all the start ups, the interest in HANA during techcrunch and so on. These are not the traditional SAP ecosystem people. Their needs are different, and they have no loyalty from past that will keep them tied to SAP . And SAP has a relatively short window to keep their interest and make them loyal.

But there in lies the problem – there is only so much money and time SAP can throw at HANA, despite their deep pockets and excellent commitment at all levels of the company. The needs of HANA as a Platform are not always consistent with the features it needs to be an excellent database for ECC and other business suite products. If SAP tries to do this sequentially by getting HANA ready for business suite first, and then think of Platform plays, they might not have enough of interest from the ecosystem by the time they are ready for pltforms. Of course when I say platform, I don’t mean just the technical features – I mean everything from Go to market, pricing, support – the whole enchilada.

There is a blogger meeting with SAP coming up in few days – I will try to find answers to these while I attend those sessions, and post a part 2 if needed.



Still In Doubt About BW on HANA ? Ask Steve Lucas and Vijay in Global Webinar on September 5th, 2012

From the day HANA was announced, people in SAP ecosystem have been trying to find a crisp answer to “Does HANA replace BW? “. Countless blogs and tweets have been posted about that topic, as well as Q&A sessions, emails and so on. Guess what – that doubt still lingers . Not a week passes without someone asking me this question .  Of course that is not the only question – people want to know why they should migrate to BW on HANA, what is the process to do that and so on.

After one of such twitter conversations where many people restarted this conversation, Steve Lucas and I got together to figure out what is the best way to answer this once and for all.  Mico Yuk suggested a public webinar – along the lines of her “All Access” ones.  In fact, Mico did such a session with Steve last week or so which I unfortunately could not participate in due to other commitments.  Apparently, there was not enough time to get through all the questions.  That I fully believe is the case with HANA – I have had day long workshops with clients, and there will usually still be more questions at the end.

Steve and I are holding a Global Webinar on September 5th, 2012 at 1PM EST to try to tackle this issue.  SAP Insider will be hosting this event. Please join us and ask whatever questions you have on this topic. We are not planning to do this as a presentation with lots of slides. There probably will be a couple of slides just to introduce the topic, speakers and so on, but the intention is to make this as interactive as we can.  The intention is to let you ask questions and we will try to answer. If we cannot find you a good answer on the spot, we will follow up with a follow up blog to get to those.

Here is where you can register for the event.

I am sure a lot of you already know Steve (especially Steve) and me – but in case you do not, please check the above link for a brief on our profiles.

If you leave your questions on this blog as a comment, I will make sure we discuss those in the webinar. Of course, you could also ask  live during the webinar.

I am looking forward to the webinar next Wednesday .  Lets have some fun, and hopefully put at least the “Does HANA replace BW ?” question to bed  :)


Happy First Birthday SAP HANA !

So on Monday, Hana celebrates first birthday ! I will be in Palo Alto to be part of the celebration.  It is amazing that one year has passed since the GA announcement came for HANA. Looking back over the last year, SAP can definitely be proud. They put their heart and soul into it – from Hasso, Jim, BIll and Vishal to all the way down the labs and sales organization hierarchies.

I have had many discussions with Hasso and Vishal on Hana in the past couple of years. Their passion is infectious – and they have an excellent vision on where Hana will take SAP to.  Vishal has a rockstar team – and I know most of them, and that talent runs deep many layers down the hierarchy. Engineering for Hana is definitely in good hands – and as time progresses, it will only get better.

Hype or not – last year showed  the power of good PR and marketing. Jonathan Becher deserves major kudos for this. Same goes for the global communications people under Hubertus Kuelps and Mike Prosceno. Without their extreme effort, Hana probably would not have had the coverage it got amongst analysts, bloggers etc. The power of social media was fully utilized for HANA – probably more than any other product before it.  It is now in a state where if someone has a question about HANA on twitter, some one from the ecosystem can clarify most of the times without needing an SAP person to jump in.

On the sales front – they got the best GM for the job in Steve Lucas. He is a solid leader and an excellent communicator, and is supported by an amazing team. They are going all out to sell Hana to customers. And from what I have seen – they have all the support from Enslin, Poonen and other big executives.

SAP also got around to enabling HANA developers on the cloud. That is a great step in the right direction. Another thing that excites me a lot is the set of Hana start up companies that SAP is supporting. Again – a great step.

The one area I am not equally happy about is SAP education for HANA. I saw somewhere that 2000 people are certified. I seriously doubt even if half those people can hold their own in a HANA project. Education needs to keep pace with product, not lag it . Parts of SAP like the CSA team have done a fair bit to help partners keep pace, but that is not sufficient. If education does not contribute in a significant way – several of those projects that start now will end in disasters next year, and none of us want that. I was extremely happy to talk to Marcus Schwarz few days ago. He is the SVP leading SAP education. He understands this better than me, and he is doing all he can to turn this around.

Last I heard , they have about 350 Hana customers and about 140+ live installations.  That is not bad for a product that is only a year old by any stretch. The question is how much of acceleration will Hana see in 2012 and beyond? Will it be what moves the needle for SAP in a big way in terms of  revenue and profit?  I am cautiously optimistic.

Hana works now as one of the possible databases for BW.  There are apparently something like 17000 BW installations around the world.  If half of these customers will switch their databases to hana – that itself will make the investment SAP made in HANA worthwhile.  But that is not easy to pull off for many reasons

1.  Other DB vendors will do all they can to prevent erosion of their instal base. And they are all bigger companies than SAP with more money to throw at communications and product development. Interestingly, they are all good partners of SAP too. So it will be a fun dance to watch from the cheap stands.

2. Not all BW installations have the prospect for a big sale due to size of DB. So SAP will need short sales cycles to get them to act. This is not easy in several cases since SAP has not actively sold BW in the past. I haven’t seen a lot of SAP sales people articulate value of BW on HANA in a convincing manner.

3. Kind of related to above, and it is about SI partners. Despite the top leaders trying their best – partners have not really had a significant role in HANA yet. Unlike SAP themselves, SIs have articulated BW before and this is their game. By not removing the hurdles for SIs, SAP will slow down the uptake of HANA as a BW database. This is changing, but not at a pace I would like to see.

4. Although I have no real idea why – it was clear this past week on twitter that several people, including some SAP Mentors and big customers of SAP, still think HANA replaces BW.  Steve Lucas posted an excellent blog, and I wrote parts of it. but that did not seem to help since questions keep coming on twitter. I also did a podcast with my DSL buddies on this topic – and guess that did not help either . I guess this will not get solved easily when SAP influencers themselves are not clear on the details.

5. Some of the HA questions did get answered after Hasso’s keynote showed a live demo. But there are plenty of people who need more convincing on data center sturdiness of Hana. SAP needs to step up its efforts big time on this front – and fast.

6. SAP also needs to articulate the IQ vs HANA some more. Generic statements doesn’t help. Listen to the podcast link above and listen to Clint and the DSL guys.

By end of this year, SAP will announce ECC running on HANA in some form.  On the sales and communication side – SAP will hopefully manage to fine tune its act with BW so that they can go all out for ECC. In my view, ECC on HANA is not a big deal really for customers. Not everything in ECC will benefit from having HANA as the DB. Some long running batch jobs etc might improve – but I cannot imagine the majority of ECC functionality benefiting from HANA. However, for HANA to gain credibility as a pure database compared to Oracle, DB2, MS etc – it needs to work on ECC. And for that reason – I think it is necessary for SAP to get HANA on ECC right.

Finally the quest for the killer apps continue. BPC on HANA so far is the best application I have seen, and that will evolve more with time. But given the developer and start up enablement – I hope this is just a temporary issue.

So – Happy First Birthday SAP HANA ! I am looking forward to celebrating with everyone at Palo Alto and Monday, and many happy returns of the day.


SAPPHIRENOW 2012 Orlando – Day 2 – Cloud, HANA and Mobility

My initial idea was to write an update for each day after the session – but after the first day, that plan did not work out. So here I am finishing this post in India., while fighting jetlag. Day 2 of SAPPHIRENOW was a lot more chaotic for me than Day 1 for sure. The day started with Jim Snabe’s key note, including Lars Dalgaard’s presentation on cloud at the end.

Right off the bat – Lars brings a kind of energy to SAP that is usually only seen with Bill McDermott on stage. Lars came across as confident, positive and strong in my opinion. I was also mighty pleased to hear that SAP and SuccesFactors implemented all of each others cloud solutions internally in few months. I had a chance to meet Lars with my blogger buddies. He is an amazing guy with a laser like focus on details. Jon Reed did an outstanding job in that meeting, and came in well prepared with a comprehensive list of questions for Lars.

Here are some highlights of what we learned
1. Lars had a chance to kill Business By Design if he wanted to. But since he thinks the only missing part for the product to be succesful is a good go to market strategy, he decided to not kill it.
2. There is an opportunty for SI partners in cloud space, and he is looking forward to working with them.
3. He thinks HANA is the best thing that could have happened to cloud portfolio, and he will be using HANA extensively in his products.
4. Engineers from SAP and SFSF are being integrated now

As expected, Jim did a solid job on his keynote.It started with a video on SAP history. Funny part for me was Josh Greenbaum saying R/3 was an open platform or something such, and the guy sitting next to me watching the keynote choked on his coffee. So things started on a light note for me.

While BByD will continue to exist as a suite, parts of it will also be offered as smaller point solutions – like for Finance. I am on the fence on this strategy. SAP is a late entrant to the cloud market, and needs a strong differentiating message for its cloud portfolio. I think they could do one of two things – or even both.
1. Create horizontal solutions which cover large number of customers – for example, Collections and disputes management in cloud, with integration to BByD or On-premises FI-AR.
2. Vertical solutions for SAP’s industry solutions that cover the business partner network – like say dealers for automotive, or insurance agents for insurance companies.
I am looking forward to see how SAP differntiates in cloud going forward.

Jim also envisions the world will move in a few years to putting all the data in main memory. I beg to differ on this as well – I seriously doubt disk will get replaced soon. Later,I was happy to see Hasso’s vision is that of hot storage on main memory, and cold storage on disk . Of course, Jim could be totally right – and I am looking forward to seeing how this will unfold in the market with customers. I did a gut check with a few that were in the convention center – and none of them seemed to think all data will ever sit in main memory.

After the keynote, in a private blogger meeting – Jim discussed the future of HANA. BW on HANA is the next big thing on his mind to get traction in the market. I readily agree – since it is low risk and high reward for customers. Also – most BW systems are small, and SAP already has proven that HANA works with 100 TB, when the largest BW instance in the world is only 80 TB.

However, there is a big issue in making this work – and that is the sales enablement. BW has 17000 or so installations worldwide. If SAP has to hit 10% of the market in 2012 that Jim thinks they can hit – they need to close more than 10 deals every working day for the rest of the year. As I have mentioned many times before, the partner ecosystem has been largely shut out of HANA so far for many reasons. It is getting better now, but not to the extent that between SAP and Partners, 10 deals will be closed every day.

However, when we met with Bill McDermott – he did not define the challenge as 10% of existing market. His minimum goal is to double the revenue they got last year out of HANA and Mobility. That I think is an achievable target, and will not need 10% of the BW instal base to be converted. Bill did clearly mention that it is a bare minimum goal, and that he fully expects to beat that target.

Another difficulty with expediting the HANA sales process, according to SAP executives like Lucas, Enslin and Snabe, is the availability of hardware in quick time to do POCs. If SAP can put HANA on the cloud and ensure data security, this is a problem that will go away quickly. Customers can migrate HANA from cloud to a physical box, as HW gets delivered. Hacking the installer to put it on cloud is very easy – so hopefully this stops being an issue.

Jim did mention something that picked my interest a lot. His vision is an 8 day migration of a BW HANA system. Apparently SAP is working with some SI partners on migration factories where a customer can ship BW systems to be upgraded and sent back. I am not convinced this is workable in the field.

1. Most customers run a 3 system landscape for BW, and each will need to be upgraded.
2. Shipping them to India is not going to be easy due to security concerns on data
3. Very few of the 17000 are on 7.3 version which is needed for BW on HANA. It is not realistic to have an 8 day upgrade to both 7.3 and HANA.
4. Migration directly depends on quantity and quality of data in the system. If the system has huge data, and customer only has a short weekend window to migrate the data in production- it will be a challenge. Either they will have to archive a lot of old data, or they will stop migrating and just stand up a new system with just high value reporting.

But Jim’s vision is the right one to have despite all of this. If HANA is to become a volume play for SAP, they need to find a way to accelerate sales and implementations tremendously.

Another interesting couple of tid bits while we are on the topic of BW on HANA

1. John Appleby found out from one of his meetings that 3.x objects do not need to be converted for BW on HANA. They will work ok, but will not have the ability to take advantage of HANA. I did not know this till John told me on Tuesday. SAP could do better with communications.

2. How will BW (and eventually Business Suite) enhancements work in HANA? The enhancements are today done in ABAP server, and typically uses a row by row processing technique to process data, as opposed to set processing. So essentially they cannot make use of HANA’s power, and will become a bottleneck in performance. I asked this question to Hasso and Vishal on Wednesday afternoon, and they did not have a clear answer. Rewriting them manually into some kind of stored procedure is not easily accomplished due to volume of enhancements in a typical ABAP system. I am waiting for SAP to give us an answer to that.

We also spent considerable time with Sanjay Poonen, who heads D&T, Mobility and Apps. Sanjay is big on mobility ever since he took over that portfolio, and is very optimistic about SAP’s chances. He took our feedback to heart last time and was instrumental in getting developer access sorted out to a great extent. Afaria on cloud is a tremendous value proposition for SAP if the price point is really low. On Apps side, they do need to woo many more developers to make it work. But with open technology partnerships announced for Sencha etc – SAP has a shot at making money on mobility.

In my mind – for SAP to succeed in cloud and mobility, they have to immediately address one thing. That one thing – often ignored – is APIs. SAP needs to be good at APIs if it has to attract non-SAP developers to work on mobile and cloud solutions. And it is an easy target for the existing couple of millions of developers in SAP ecosystem. It is low hanging fruit in my opinion, and ripe for plucking. If I might go on a limb and make a suggestion to SAP – that would be to let Craig Cmehill form a team and evangelize that with the developer community. He is already a rock star with a big fan following, and will be readily able to hit the ground running.  Of course, some one at SAP needs to check with Craig first to see what he thinks of this :)

Day 2 was also a big party night – starting with Global Comms reception. After spending a few hours there, and catching up with several mentor buddies , I skipped over to the IBM party a few doors away. I was amazed to see how many customers were interested in Mobility and HANA and wanted to start projects on it. And then we walked back to Hilton at the convention center late at night, led by Mike Prosceno. There is an unconfirmed rumor that we passed the peabody hotel twice in the process !

SAP’s announcements on April 10,2012 – and Vijay says…

SAP very kindly let me participate in their analyst day on April 10th, and a dinner the night before in San Francisco Westin. I particularly enjoyed spending some time with Irfan Khan, who is the CTO of Sybase, and an SVP at SAP. SAP paid for my flights and hotel too. Here are my thoughts coming out of the meeting. As always, these are just my personal opinions and not that of my employer.

GA announcements were made for BW on HANA and BPC 10 (also works on HANA). SAP said they have 80 live customers – although I have not seen a number of how many have switched off their old disk based BW systems, if any. Vishal also showed impressive performance stats on a 100TB 16 node IBM system running HANA.!/vijayasankarv/status/189764752694722561/photo/1
It was also impressive seeing how much performance improvement has been attained on the new Sandy-bridge processors . All of that is commendable – and something SAP should be proud of.

There are a few things I would like SAP to address at the field level. Customers want benchmarks – and SAP should give them some benchmark as part of certifying the hardware. SAP should also prove out the data center readiness of HANA – things like DR/HA, power consumption etc. I told Vishal Sikka that it will be awesome if he can pull the plug literally on HANA system during his SAPPHIRE keynote and show on stage that nothing will happen to data, and that fail over works. He seemed to be in agreement. Same with concurrent users – it is a common question on how performance will vary as concurrent users work on HANA. If these questions are quickly answered, SAP has a good chance of capitalizing on the momentum.
I was also pretty psyched to hear that Vishal had designed some parts of HANA himself – hats off to him. That is true technical leadership.

Steve Lucas explained SAP’s vision on being a database company – and reminded us that it is not just HANA, but also EIM products, ASE, IQ etc. First off – SAP could not have found a better guy than Steve to lead the charge on DB. He is terrific and has a great team behind him. I was not a big fan of SAP’s original message of trying to be the number 2 DB vendor on the planet by revenue. That is not only a rather unrealistic goal given ORACLE, IBM and MS will go all out and protect their turf, it will also weaken important partnerships SAP has with IBM and MS. Vishal played down the number 2 DB vendor message, and instead put this idea forward that SAP just wants to be the fastest growing DB vendor out there. Now that is a credible message, and I am sure the partners will not feel so bad about it. Nevertheless – it will be naive to think that the three other DB vendors will stand still. It will be an interesting play off.

SAP also announced a fund to subsidize HANA implementations which is worth 250 million Euros. The idea is that if a customer buys HANA, SAP will throw in free consulting up to some % of their license fees. I seriously think this is a terrible idea on many levels. Of course I don’t deny that I work for a big SI, and hence I have a serious bias.
1. It will shut off SI partners from HANA for next couple of years. And if they have nothing to gain from HANA, why would they help SAP sell it to clients where they have relationships?
2. If HANA is truly easy and simple – why does it need SAP to implement it? And after SAP walks out of the implementation – who will support HANA ?
3. If SI partners are kept out of HANA work, what will be their confidence in investing in training and IP generation for HANA and everything else SAP comes up with?

Obviously, SAP needs to capitalize on HANA momentum now before ORACLE and IBM come out with something that makes it less of an attraction. So I get why SAP has to go all out now. But I truly believe that taking SI partners along with them would have been a superior strategy. In any case, there is a chance that SAP might in turn “outsource” some of the free consulting work they give to clients to partners. I will be watching this action closely.

SAP has also come up with a VC fund for HANA based start up companies for $155M . This is a brilliant idea – and I hope many people will make good use of it.

Sanjay Poonen spent some time explaining the mobility vision. They are not going to use SUP any more – and stick more to SAP Mobility Platform as the branding. They also announced partnerships on mobility with 3 companies. I got a chance to talk to the CEO of one of these companies called Sencha. I readily admit I like the Sencha partnership more than everything else I heard during the event. If anything, SAP missed a chance to showcase them more prominently. They have a free opensource SDK for HTML5 based mobile and desktop app development. They have an OData connector too for accessing SAP systems. They have a flexible licensing model, and have millions of developers. Now – that does not mean those millions should be claimed as part of SAP ecosystem. But it gives SAP a chance to attract those people to build SAP apps. I would encourage everyone interested in mobility to check these guys out – I am planning to do a hello world on that SDK when I get some free time.

Not a lot of clarity was given on the SAP’s mobile pricing models, sandboxes of SAP systems for mobile developers to make sure their apps work etc – but we should know more from SAPPHIRE.

Here is a parting thought for SAP – at the next teched, could you get Sanjay Poonen on stage to do a bit of keynoting for mobile ? From what I have seen and heard at other events – I am sure Sanjay will surely capture the attention of SAP techies, and he is one of the most articulate people at SAP.

All things said – it was one of the best run SAP events I have been to. Well done, SAP

Big data – because it “can” deliver you huge value doesn’t mean it “will”

Big data is the talk of the town in social media, and has picked up some interest amongst customers too.I had a series of big data conversations this week with customers, colleagues and friends and thought I will share some here. As always – these are just my personal ramblings, not my employer’s views.

In social media – “big” usually means close to petabytes or at least several tens of  TB rushing at you from all over the place. At customer sites, the expectation seems to be much more modest – 50 to 100 TB is considered excessively big data even for some very large customers I know.

Cost of big data is bigger on all fronts compared to status quo volumes (and velocity and all other factors) of data in most shops. Storage is cheaper than few years ago, but it is not free – and when you talk about petabytes and all, it needs a LOT of storage. And then there is the multiples needed for HA/DR/Archiving etc. And this needs more data center space, cooling , power and so on.

What about the quality of data? As we know – poor quality is a big problem in all kinds of data related stuff. Quality becomes a bigger problem when volume and speed increases. Existing tools may be stretched to deal with that kind of data. But assuming tools can somehow do this – there is a question of the human effort to fix data. A lot of data projects fail to deliver value because no one owns data from business side. Big data will most probably make this problem worse, unless software improves by leaps and bounds in short order to make data quality a non issue. How many of us will hold our breath on that?

What about security? even with just 2 TB of structured data – there are companies who struggle to make sure everything is secure, and everyone is kept honest, and all the legal compliance is ensured. I have seen the amount of trouble they go through when status quo is changed (like an M&A , or even a small CRM system is introduced).   Most of them are not equipped to deal with more data unless they beef up on more sophisticated governance, and probably more staff.

Some companies love BYOD and others do not. The ones who do not, frequently worry about support cost and security. Imagine the effort they have to go through if BYOD will happen in their companies, and they have to protect much larger data than they are used to?

We are right now in the middle of a small POC for a customer – and the data in the datawarehouse is miniscule compared to what “Big Data” can be. We are talking about something only like 150 to 200 million lines per cube. The data comes back at lightning speed from database to appserver. But the user did not see this speed from his iPad connected from a starbucks wifi via VPN. He did see some improvement, but not enough for a big WOW.  And every drill down needs a roundtrip that also chokes up the network yet again.  Essentially, the bottleneck moved from the DB/App server side to the network/client side. These networks will need serious upgrades in capacity to cope with big data. And the mobile software should be smart enough to use the processing power and memory of the device to minimize the use of bandwidth when it is not required. Carriers will probably need big upgrades too, and if big data catches on – we should start seeing different types of data plans from them, dissimilar to the rates that we see now when we buy tablets and smart phones.

Then there is the cost of licensing – and the models of licensing evolving. But if licenses are tied to the quantity of data that is processed/stored – then that adds up quickly.  And even with sophisticated software – you need smart data analysts who can make use of it to generate value. These analysts – or architects, scientists, artists, artisans or whatever it is they are called this week – don’t come in big numbers, and they won’t be cheap either. And long term – I am not sure if this is given enough importance in universities.

The other side of the equation – the more important side, is the value that big data delivers. There is definitely value in big data – significant value – for sure. But it is not value that gets delivered overnight, and it is value that takes significant investment before reaping benefits. And this value will not be spread evenly across industries, or even companies across industries.  So it is a decision that needs to be taken carefully.  Given the cost, the insights from big data has to be not just “big” but  “BIIIIGGGG” – for the investment to be worthwhile.  And because it “can” deliver value does not mean it “will” – it is not a secret that several companies could not even make good use of much smaller quantities of structured data available to them readily all these years.

Several CXOs I have spoken to are willing to dip their toes despite the cost.  And they are all trying to find out where it is that they can gain competitive advantage by jumping in. Several are interested in a cloud offering for big data – mostly from a cost point of view. This is an area where SIs and SW vendors and analysts et al need to do a better job in my opinion. There seems – in my limited visibility – a serious shortage of  specific use cases to help companies make a business decision. There are a few – like in healthcare for example – where compelling arguments were made, and customers and vendors are partnering effectively.  Given the investment needed for big data – evolutionary change might not make it look appealing to the buyers.  It needs to be revolutionary . And as my ex-manager used to tell me –  almost every project that pays for itself will get funded irrespective of the economy.

PS: If big data catches on big time, then we can seriously expect a boom for the tech stocks across the board since several companies will benefit from the vendor side. The economy – at least in history books – will probably thank big data for the good that it did :)

What are the plans for SAP’s planning solutions portfolio?

A quick jog down memory lane, as I am flying from PHL to SNA. About 10 years ago, I went to an SAP training course in Northern CA to learn SEM-BPS . My background at that time was all ABAP, BW and some SD/FI on functional side. Till today – that BPS training by Peter Jones has been the best class I ever took for an SAP technology, and till date – BPS is the fastest I ever came up to speed on any SAP technology.

With all its technical beauty, BPS had its fair share of problems too. One such issue was the front end in Excel. It was a powerful front end, but BEx had an excel front end too. It was not an efficient process to use BPC excel for planning, and then switch to BEx for reporting. As a result, we used to replicate a lot of reporting functionality into BPC layouts to make life easier for users.  Needless to say, users were not thrilled – and this was not good for TCO.

BPS was not the slickest way to do planning in an enterprise, but it did its job within its limitations. SAP did the right thing soon after – and brought out integrated planning – popularly known as BI-IP. Now, BEx was the one client for planning and reporting. But IP could not do everything BPS could do – and there were a lot of consultants who hated it, and thought it was a step backwards compared to BPS.


One  issue with IP was lack of CRM integration. CRM planning could not be done with IP – it still needed to be done using BPS, due to a UI limitation. So market planning, TPM etc continued to use BPS while others moved over to IP.  Incidentally, the CRM integration to BPS is nothing to write home about – it is as un-user friendly as it gets. But it did its job at the time.

Then SAP acquired Outlooksoft. When I was a BPS consultant, I used to think that SAP will surely buy Hyperion. But Oracle bought them instead, and SAP took Outlooksoft, which is a Microsoft based product.

Outlooksoft’s strength was superior user experience. When I played with it – not in a project scenario, I think it was at an SAP booth at Teched or SAPPHIRE – I liked it, and thought it was pretty fast too. The only thing I did not like was that there was no netweaver integration. But SAP said they will come out with a netweaver version soon, and they did.

By now, SAP had at least 4 planning options – BPS, IP and 2 outlooksoft versions, which got renamed to BPC. Well, same with consolidations part of the house too – with EC-CS, BCS, BPC, Cartesis. As far as I know – everything was and is supported till date, and there is a “it depends” answer if SAP is asked what tool to choose.

So much for history – lets fast forward to the shiny new world of HANA. So the stand-alone HANA is mostly a datamart on steroids, with no generic killer app till date. SAP came up with CO-PA accelerator, which is pretty good. Then there is smart meter analytics – which I never understood why SAP did, instead of something else with more widespread appeal across the install base. And all this time – SAP, customers and partners have been asking “where is the HANA killer app?”.

So the next generation of HANA came where BW could use it as a database. The moment I heard about BW on HANA – the thought that crossed my mind was “wow – this is exactly what SAP needs. Not just for reporting, but for planning”. BPC netweaver is not exactly the fastest planning engine I have seen. In fact, I am not so sure how well it will work with big amounts of data, unless customers also buy BWA.  I am sure SAP will claim it is quite good on performance etc based on what they have seen – but based on my own limited experience, it has some ways to go.

Remember the BPS question of why do I need separate excel client for BPS when BEx already has one –  And then SAP coming up with IP that solved that issue? One would have thought that lesson was learned well by SAP – but guess not. BPC has its own excel client, while BEx, and Analysis for office also have excel clients. It beats me why analysis client couldn’t have been enhanced to cater to BPC too. There is more – remember the postable nodes in BPS that saved many a project some valuable time in implementing? Where did that disappear in the new products?

In my mind – BPC on HANA is a no brainer for SAP to prioritize. That is a killer app that SAP and Partners and Customers can all be happy to implement without the necessity for marketing  hype. Now, I do know that BPC on HANA is in the works, and will come out some day soon. I also understand from some blogs on SDN that SAP is building a planning layer in HANA that is different from BPC (but probably can be used by BPC later I suppose). The question is how many evolutions will it take before it moves all the performance hogging functionality into the HANA layer and provide true disaggregation, and lightning fast performance?


Since ECC on HANA is also around the corner, will it take away investment from BPC on HANA?

And will SAP converge its planning technologies? Can SAP incorporate the best of BPC’s user experience, IP/BPS’ netweaver integration, NGAP’s HANA friendliness, R’s predictive abilities , BWA’s OLAP processing speed etc into one coherent product? or- as a buddy warned me today on twitter – will it end up with BPC’s integration and BPS’ user experience if SAP went down this route?  And will SAP come up with a full fledged cloud based planning environment along the lines of tidemark ?

I am sure SAP has some smart people doing its product portfolio planning, and that everything will converge at some point. But the sooner it happens – the more their customers will appreciate it.

I am not sure if the agile development paradigm used by SAP these days will help or hurt the speed of such integration. When different scrums happen for BPC, BW, NGAP etc – the project manager in me keeps thinking they will find it harder and harder to prioritize integration dependencies. Each product might get unique benefits for sure – but customers only care about overall solutions at the end – not individual products. With a distributed development organization like SAP, I would expect this to create more silos – not less. I have seen fiefdoms develop in big globally distributed teams I have managed in my past life – but those were in implementation projects, not product development. I have heard that SAP uses scrum of scrums to address this issue – so I trust they have a grip on this. And in any case, I am out of my depth when it comes to product development – so I will leave it at that.

Random parting thoughts -

1. Now that SAP plans to put HANA as the engine on every SAP product runs, and since Vishal has announced ECC will work on HANA in Q4 – I wonder if planning will stop being a separate system, and get folded into the business suite. On first thoughts it makes sense to me for a large set of customers to do cross domain planning to pull it back into business suite, and then let HANA deal with OLTP/OLAP planning loads efficiently. Planning is one of the most collaborative aspects in an enterprise – so I think streamwork integration is also a no brainer in this situation.I have no idea what are SAP’s thoughts on this – but I am very curious on what is the strategy for planning in the nirvana state.

2. A more technical question – if HANA is the database for BW going forward, will it make sense to convert most cubes to an account modelling structure to make use of columnar storage? Has any one tried to compare this with a traditional key figure model in BW on HANA to check performance?  If my instinct is right – and account model does help – it is definitely a plus for BPC, since it only supports account model now.

Only time will tell – or may be one of the EPM leaders at SAP can explain that to me at some point, ideally as a comment here, so that everyone can read it.