How 'real-time' is Enterprise Data Warehouse reporting, powered by SAP HANA?

21 November 2011

Jan van Ansem

Jan van Ansem

Principal consultant SAP Data Warehousing

SAP is running a successful campaign to dazzle customers with impressive stats about the speed of reporting with SAP HANA. Customers and consultants now have expectations that 'all' reporting can be done in real-time: The capacity of the SAP HANA appliance in terms of size and speed are sufficient to support all but the most exotic user requirements.

I don't want to burst anyone's bubble, but there are still some limitations around real-time reporting, specifically in an Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) scenario. The reporting 'wait time' might be nearly down to zero thanks to the state of the art SAP HANA technology, but you will have to get your data in the context of an EDW first before you can report on it. More often than not, extraction from source systems is done in overnight load processes, so if you don't change this, you're real-time reporting is still lagging one day. Sure enough there are real-time extractors available in SAP BW, but they had limited capacity (and are fiddly and temperamental on top of that). So, is all hope on true real time reporting in an EDW lost, or is SAP HANA going to help us to achieve just that?

Real-time extraction

Okay, so you are running SAP BW on SAP HANA (well, changes are you are not actually doing that just yet, but you would like to) and the formally quite sluggish SAP BW reports are now flying. Still, data is only refreshed once a day, so the critical business users ask you when you are going to fulfil the promise of real time reporting. The traditional 'real-time' extractors in ECC cannot be used in your scenario as volumes are too large or they simply don't exist for your requirements. Perhaps you have heard of Sybase IQ replication server, which allows real-time extraction from any generic RDBMS and, like me, you have been disappointed that this technology cannot be used for extracting data from SAP applications. And even though SAP Data Services is a great tool for extracting, transforming and loading data, it still is mainly a tool for creating and controlling batch load processes, and anyway it does not enable real time extraction from ECC or CRM.

Things are about to change for the better though with SAP LT Replication Server. It is one of those 'quiet revolutions' in SAP and I think this one is going to be well loved by many of us. At SAP TechEd SAP told us, as a sort of a side note that with SAP LT Replication Server it is possible to extract Sales Orders, Purchase Orders and COPA data from ECC in real time, pretty much regardless of volumes.

I nearly fell of my chair. "Excuse me; did you just say you can extract Sales Orders, Purchase Orders, and COPA data in real time?"

"Well yeah," said the presenter, "and with a bit of configuration you can replicate any table from any ABAP stack in real time".

"Okay.... you have my attention... you have my full and undivided attention. So, how does it work and when can I get it?"

SAP LT Replication Server - how does it work and when can you get it?

The principle of SAP LT Replication Server is very simple: For any ABAP source table you can activate a trigger. For each change (update, deletion, modification) the trigger writes the changed records to a log. The log is then replicated into a SAP HANA database. Both processes are in 'real time' - writing the log and replicating the log to the SAP HANA database takes (far) less than a second.
For those of you who have had a look 'under the hood' of any SAP system will know that finding the right tables involved in a business transaction can be a tricky business. This is the reason why the standard Business Content extractors for BW are so highly valued. SAP recognises this and has delivered SAP LT Replication Server with some business content as well, and is rapidly developing more content. Note that this has nothing to do with the existing extractors: The old extractors were based on ABAP reports, LT Replication Server uses database triggers. LT Replication Server also has nothing to do with Sybase Replication Server: They are different products using different principles for data replication.

Rapid Deployment Solution (RDS)

SAP offers the technology I described above as a packaged service, a so called 'Rapid Deployment Solution' (RDS). The CoPa / Sales Orders / Purchase Orders and several other areas are part of RDS-ERP Operational Reporting. There are already offerings for different functional areas: Smart Meter Analytics and Strategic Workforce Planning. Many other subject areas are in the pipeline: Cash management, Trade promotions and Sales & Operations planning to name a few. (These are still subject to change or might never materialise, there is no official roadmap for any of this).
You will be pleased to know that you don't need the newest and latest hardware / software to run LT Replication Server. It can run on existing NetWeaver platform (minimum NW 7.02; SAP Kernal 7.20EXT) or you can implement it on a separate server with quite modest capacity. Installation can be done in a day, including activation of the standard extractors.
What great news! Not only for business users, but also for the IT Admin team: No more need for managing those long running overnight load processes. I can hear a sigh of relief from my BW Admin colleagues.

It almost sounds too good to be true, so... what is the catch?

Point solution, limited integration in EDW

When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Yes, the tandem SAP LT Replication Server and SAP HANA can deliver real time BI reporting on top of SAP ECC/CRM, which is quite a leap from where we are right now. However, in this scenario, the SAP HANA database is a separate box, not integrated in the EDW. So, if you have three ECC systems, you'll end up with three HANA databases and none of them are an integrated part of SAP BW (regardless of SAP BW running on HANA or not). So you can slice and dice at the speed of light, but only within the context of the source system.

There is not really a standard solution yet to integrate the data from a source system into SAP BW. Sure, in BW 7.3 you can create HybridProviders based on Direct Access. This allows you to look at a SAP HANA database for your real-time data and at other data already in SAP BW, and use both sources for an integrated report. You will have to do this for each datamart though, and it is more a workaround than an architected solution.

So where does that leave us with real-time EDW?

I happily join the cheering crowds to celebrate what SAP HANA does bring us. The clear benefits SAP HANA will bring are:

  • Fast reporting
  • Massively reduced loading times
  • Real-time operational and tactical reporting with RDS (and what a beautiful solution this is!)

I reckon this will make a lot of people very happy. And the real-time EDW? We can wait a bit longer. We can now speculate how such real time EDW might take shape, using technology already at our disposal. Something I will be happy to do in my next blog.


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