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Should you stick with SAP Business Information Warehouse?

SAP Business Information Warehouse has some drawbacks, according to Forrester, but customers should consider a number of factors before migrating to a new enterprise data warehouse platform.

SAP's 2008 acquisition of Business Objects has created a lot of questions for customers of both firms, and not...

only about business intelligence (BI) applications.

In addition to choosing between two sets of BI tools, SAP Business Information Warehouse (BW) customers must also decide whether they want to stick with the SAP-centric analytic database, which the vendor says it will continue to maintain, or turn to a true enterprise data warehouse (EDW) platform from a competing vendor, according to Forrester Research.

For customers whose data is 80% or more SAP-based, the decision is an easy one: stick with SAP BW as your data warehouse platform of choice, said Boris Evelson, an analyst with the Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm. But those customers whose data is less than 30% SAP-based should "definitely consider migrating" to a new data warehouse, Evelson said.

Even customers in the "gray area" in between, whose data is close to evenly split between both SAP and non-SAP based, might benefit from a change, he said, as SAP BW has a number of deficiencies over competing data warehouses.

For one, despite the Business Objects acquisition, it is still extremely difficult to integrate non-SAP data into SAP BW, Evelson said, and SAP is unlikely to address the issue going forward. In fact, most Forrester clients that use SAP BW in heterogeneous environments often also use EDW platforms from rival vendors -- including IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Teradata – to handle data from non-SAP applications.

SAP BW also lacks the scalability of competing data warehouses, though the recent SAP-Teradata partnership has helped some, Evelson said. As is, SAP BW "only scales out to tens of terabytes in a clustered symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) environment, while a growing range of rivals scales into the hundreds or thousands of terabytes," he wrote in a recent report on the topic, co-authored by Forrester analyst James Kobielus.

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 Finally, SAP has let BW fall behind its rivals in a number of features that have become key differentiators in the EDW market. They include cost-based query optimization, query-predicate pushdown to an intelligent storage layer, and intelligent compression by data types, according to Evelson. While underlying third-party database management systems can sometimes make up for these deficiencies, that is not always the case, he said.

"While we expect SAP to offer significant performance and scalability improvement in the next major release of Business Objects BI applications running on top of BW, it will not provide any additional [especially, non SAP-centric] EDW functionality," Evelson and Kobielus wrote in the report. "Other planned enhancements in BW administration, partitioning, data modeling, and real-time support at this point offer little hope of further competitive differentiation."

Even with all SAP BW's drawbacks, however, Forrester does not recommend that customers migrate to a competing EDW straightaway, at least in most cases. Unless "mission-critical business requirements" call for it, most BW customers should hold off on major migration decisions until they have a chance to beta-test the next BW upgrade, likely due in 2010, Evelson said.

Customers can even get a sneak-peak at SAP's BW plans, he said, if they would only ask -- and keep asking until they get an answer. "There are many specifics that have already been worked out for the next major release of the SAP BI and BW products," Evelson and Kobielus wrote. "Most of these details can only be revealed by SAP under a nondisclosure agreement, but it will be worth your while to take the time, understand specific plans, and align your migration and timing plans accordingly."

SAP sales reps are also under pressure to upgrade customers to Business Objects products, and BW customers should use that to their advantage. Even though SAP has publicly stated it will not give discounts or other credit to BW customers that want to upgrade to Business Objects Rapid Mart, for example, Evelson suspects the vendor's position is more flexible. After all, he said, SAP is eager for successful case studies of customers that made the upgrade in order to seduce yet more upgrades. Extending discounts to potential upgrade customers is one way to do that, he said.

Of course, not all customers can afford – either in terms of money or manpower – to make the transition from SAP BW to a competing EDW right now. For those customers, Evelson said, data federation technology can help extend SAP BW deployments until the time is right for an upgrade.

With this approach, customers can use BW with specific, SAP applications where it performs well and tap data federation technology to integrate data from non-SAP applications and data sources in a middleware layer for deeper analysis. Customers both "avoid unnecessary, costly migrations away from BW and integrate BW into a comprehensive, multivendor, multiplatform BI environment that leverages and extends existing investments," Evelson and Kobielus wrote.

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