Believing in magic isn’t just a domain reserved for children. Jan van Ansem discovers his own piece of magic in SAP BW/4HANA on Amazon Web Services (AWS) – and it’s free (well, almost)!
My children can’t get enough of the ‘Winnie the witch’ stories. For those not familiar with them, the storyline is simple. Winnie gets in trouble, waves her magic wand and says the magic word. The magic works and the problem is resolved. My boys’ favourite story is where she uses her magic to create a larger-than-life birthday cake1. Having some cake-baking experience themselves, they know that making a cake requires actual resources and (lots of) patience. Still, they are happy to go along with the story and imagine what they would do themselves, if only they had Winnie's magic spells.
Winnie the witch magic
This week though, it was my turn to experience some “Winnie the witch” magic myself. Granted, it took a credit card instead of a magic wand but the experience left me bedazzled. Since the launch of BW/4HANA (BW/4) I wanted to feel what it was like to work on this brand new platform. I have always been very ‘hands-on’ and reading up on a subject and watching videos does not satisfy my curiosity – it merely wets my appetite. I want to experience the differences and explore the new features so I can get to grips with the latest technology quickly.
As you can imagine, I was overjoyed when, out of nowhere, I found myself with my personal BW/4 system. I don’t own any suitable hardware and I wouldn’t know where to start if I had to install a BW/4 system so as far as I was concerned, this BW/4 system came just out of thin air – like Winnie’s birthday cake. And the magic just keeps on giving; you can experience the same yourself. All it takes is a little bit of your time – and a credit card to cover some expenses. US$50 will get you a long way although some vigilance is required as this magic comes on a “pay for use” basis.
The real magic was actually provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS). I had read somewhere that AWS and Microsoft Azure both offer BW/4 as a service - apparently free of charge! After some research I found this was only partly true (hence the credit card) but what is absolutely true is that you can run your own BW/4 without having to install any software yourself. A few mouse clicks and a bit of patience and you’re up and running.
Setting up your personal BW/4HANA
Both Microsoft and AWS offer a service to run BW/4 in a developer instance. Neither SAP nor Microsoft nor AWS will charge you for the BW/4 software (when using a developer instance). However, you will have to pay for compute time, storage and Input/Output. These factors are typically bundled up into a configuration model, which also determines the CPU configuration and memory. Once you’ve chosen your preferred service provider it’s very straight forward: simply go to cal.sap.com, locate the ‘BW/4HANA 1.0 [Developer edition] and hit the ‘Create Instance’ button.
From there simply follow the instructions until the message ‘your instance is being created’ is being displayed.
So what do you get for your buck on AWS?
I certainly got more than what I asked for. I just wanted to look around the environment, do a bit of modelling and load a couple of small csv files with data to play with. What I got was an 8 CPU / 61 GB Memory / 160 GB SSD machine. Nice!
Even if you don’t have your own tools installed (SAP GUI, Eclipse) you can start straight away as AWS also provides a remote desktop with the software you need. This certainly felt like magic to me!
How much does it cost?
Once you have pushed the button to generate an instance, you will have to pay a minimum of US$23/month for ‘having’ the system. When you actually want to use it, you pay for every hour of the system being active (this is not the same as actively used – it is the system status active, meaning it can be used). The price for the active system is US$1.31 per hour. Additional costs might be incurred when exceeding the free limits for I/O, storage, compute etcetera. So far, I have only incurred a total usage cost of US$14. It appears that I won’t easily exceed the limits of my bundle, so I shouldn’t get a nasty surprise. Bills are updated hourly and alarms can be activated to automatically notify the user of excessive expenditure, allowing a keen eye to be kept on costs at all times.
Happily ever after
I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but what I experienced when creating the BW/4 environment on AWS is what’s classed as “Infrastructure as Code (IaC)”. Chris Kernaghan explains this concept beautifully here. It’s evident from Chris’s insight that it’s going to become increasingly common to use a service provider’s infrastructure, which is fully implemented using an automated script. In the meantime, it means that I can sample the latest and the greatest software for low cost and minimum effort.
Currently, I am still spellbound by my personal BW/4. The AWS BW/4 instance has given me the opportunity to experience a state-of-the-art Enterprise Data Warehouse system for less than US$50, and by doing so I have learned some lessons which otherwise I could only have gained by either going on a SAP training course or by running a BW/4 project. This is great value for money. Hands on experience is, of course, only part of the learning journey. To those new on the BW/4 road I can thoroughly recommend the free OpenSAP training course ‘SAP BW/4HANA in a Nutshell’, which can be found here.
A final note: Please be aware that the prices I have quoted here might change and I can take no responsibility of any unforeseen costs incurred. Magic in the grown up world only goes so far I am afraid.
1 Happy Birthday Winnie, Book by Valerie Thomas, published by Oxford University Press, 2008.