SAP HANA – we did it in 4 days, and lived to tell the tale

SAP Teched is fast approaching, and I have an ASUG session on HANA where I am presenting.  Due to a variety of reasons – I could not get my presentation and demo completed earlier. And then the idea dawned on me – why not crowd source this within the larger organization ? Having worked on a number of global projects in IBM – there was not a doubt in my mind that I could  find a team of super smart people from across the globe who will work with me to accomplish the goal.  We also enlisted the help of SAP, which they gladly provided.

Goal was simple – Stand up a whole infrastructure from scratch – hardware and software, and do a meaningful scenario of loading data using data services, putting it in HANA, and getting it to show up in multiple BI 4.0 reporting tools. We explicitly did not want to take any short cuts – no programming workarounds – enhancements or mods, no use of existing stable systems in the landscape, etc. And if we could not complete it in less than a week – we decided to stop. And for the information of my friends in enterprise collaboration – we made utmost use of lotus suite. Lotus connections, sametime, lotus notes and good ol’ telephone.

We did not want any “managers” in the team – we only wanted hands-on techies, irrespective of the official titles.  As it turned out – we had a core team comprised of folks from India, Europe and USA.  Plus we had an extended team in IBM and SAP who we could call on if we needed help. Some of the core team guys were on vacation, some had to do fasting through the day and only eat at night – and those who were working, all had one or more active projects that needed their attention.  Essentially – this had to be done on the side. This team had skills in basis, Linux, BI, ETL, SQL and some java.  I think on an average – we all had more than 10 years experience in SAP and/or BO  technologies.

The first big challenge was getting the Linux OS loaded on the box. It took almost a day to figure it out, but then finished quickly.  We could not have done this without the active help of  the IBM HANA/BWA  expert  Henning Sackewitz – thanks guys. HANA installation was next – and it was relatively smooth. We did the Rev 13 of HANA, and we could finish this in a few hours.  Although my basis colleagues are routinely used to seeing .SAR files and SAPCAR utility – I was a bit annoyed using them. Eventually I got the right version installed on my laptop – and studio/client got installed very quickly. However, not every one had the same luck. Few others had to fight the studio install before they were up and running.  Bottom line – my question for SAP – Why do I need to do command line options to install a windows application in 2011?  Is it that hard to package a visual installer that I can unzip and install?

Onwards to data services. Seriously a huge pain in the neck to get this one up and running. The post installation steps needed to get it working are not explained in a straight forward manner. We spent a lot of time hunting for the right .jar files and .dll files for the front end. Even as I type this, designer does not work on my PC. Thankfully – it did work for few others, so we could move ahead.

Data services integration to HANA was also quite painful. If the source is ECC- it is quite smooth. But once we  used some flat file sources – it gave us a tonne of false starts. Just setting up the connections with HANA took us a while. So my next question to SAP – why can’t I connect two of your systems in a more straightforward way?  For example : why would I need to read through your documentation to understand that the only port that works  is 30015? if you have a consistent logic to derive this anyway according to the documentation, why can’t the software figure this out without me wasting time?  SAP should consider spending some serious design thinking time on making sure the integration between data services, hana and BI 4.0 is seamless as advertised.

BI 4.0 was a known beast since we had experience playing with it before – and hence the additional grief was kind of minimal.  The connections to HANA are not exactly straightforward – but not too difficult either. We could expose universes and Explorer to HANA relatively quickly.

HANA studio is eclipse based, and hence had a familiar feel to it. However, when SAP talks about design thinking – this would not be what they are referring to as a top example. Context menu is not always very useful – and getting help on some features are just not possible. Quick launch is a nice touch – except there are some links which do not give useful responses. For example : Configure import server – you put in the data, hit an ok and then you wait. Guess what – data is saved, and you can see it if you go in a second time. But system won’t tell u what happened after you hit the OK button.  Another example: If you right click a table – would you not expect to see an option to see the data flow on how it is getting populated? or even an option to create data provisioning for it? well – no dice.  If you find me at Teched, I can give a few more of these misses.

And what is with the error messages? If you try to display data – and if you don’t have the right previleges, all you get is a java exception that shows up in top right of the screen. It is useless – and we have to trace to find the issue.  Took us a bit to figure out all the right access requirements. I did not get a good feeling that I can implement HANA security for a productive instance. Need to work on this some more .

Other than to test some inserts – we did not use SQL script at all. We stuck to the visual tools, and all its limitations. Calc views would work a lot better with SQL, but our intent was to do it in the most straightforward manner possible. Visual modelling is ok – but has room for plenty of improvement on consistency.  For example – I could get automatic mapping for unions, but not for joins.

In any case – by yesterday evening, we over came all the hurdles – and could get data to flow from source to hana, and get it to show up in BI 4.0 reports.  That is quite an achievement – and I am incredibly proud to be part of the team.

Special thanks to my fellow gang members – Gagan, Tomas, Manish, Ayub, Sudhir ,Suresh and Abhishek.  You guys rocked it. It is amazing that a small group of passionate techies could accomplish so much, with limited time and resources.  We speak different languages, work in different time zones, belong to different organizations and hold various formal titles – but we made it work.
Without Tag Robertson doing the needful in getting us the shiny new hana box, none of this would have worked in the first place – thanks Tag !.  And many thanks to Bill, Elaine, Birdie and entire hosting team for the fast turnaround in getting the box wired and ready for us.  The ever helpful Xavier was always came through for us and we owe him one.  And I specifically want to thank our BI Partner Craig Rich and IBM’s SAP CTO Chuck Kichler for their unwavering support.

And from SAP – Patrice, Balaji, Mani and other colleagues – many thanks for the continued support.   There are many more from SAP and IBM who have contributed to our success – you know who you are, and I am very grateful to all of you.

Although I criticized it a fair bit – I also admire how well HANA has turned out to be by Rev 13.  SAP’s HANA team should be genuinely proud in getting a 1.0 product this far ahead. There is some work to be done – but that does not take away any of the credit that is due to the team that develops hana at SAP.

Now – lets try to put HANA into the cloud over the next weekend 🙂