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Forrester: SAP data management offerings not ideal in all environments

SAP's data management offerings are not ideal for companies with heterogeneous IT environments, according to Forrester Research.

If your shop is largely SAP, the vendor's data management tools – data warehousing, master data management (MDM), data integration and data quality software – are a good choice..

But, with some exceptions, if your company has a heterogeneous IT environment, you may want to look elsewhere for tools to meet your data management needs, according to Forrester Research.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based analyst firm on Wednesday held an hour-long teleconference with its top analysts on all things SAP data management. While their conclusions were not altogether new, taken together they serve as a pointed reminder of SAP's data management limitations.

James Kobielus, Forrester's lead data warehousing and advanced analytics analyst, said he recommends SAP Business Warehouse (BW) and SAP Business Warehouse Accelerator (BWA) to customers who are also heavily invested in SAP's NetWeaver platform, CRM, ERP and/or supply chain management software.

"[BW] is a good solid data warehousing platform … and BWA is definitely a strong front-end data warehouse appliance," Kobielus said. "But keep in mind that there's a number of deficiencies in the overall BW product as it stands today in terms of scalability," he added.

Specifically, most BW installations scale to only the 40 to 50 terabyte level, compared with competing offerings from the likes of Teradata and IBM that scale to the hundreds of terabytes and even petabyte levels. And BWA has limitations when it comes to integrating data from third-party data warehouses and other non-SAP data sources, Kobielus said.

While SAP has plans to address these "deficiencies," as of now, most companies with heterogeneous IT environments should "consider BW just one component of a broader data warehousing architecture that might require you to adopt any of the rival offerings," he said.

Are companies getting the most out of SAP's MDM platform?

Similarly, SAP's MDM offering, SAP NetWeaver MDM 7, works well in SAP-heavy IT environments, especially within the products and materials data domains, according to Forrester analyst Rob Karel.

"MDM 7.1 does now support multiple data domains much better, but most of their experience is in managing material masters in a relatively homogeneous apps environment," Karel said.

Customers with heterogeneous IT environments, in order to get the most out of MDM 7.1, will also have to invest in SAP BusinessObjects Data Services or another vendor's data integration and data quality tools. "[Data Services] really helps SAP MDM bridge a lot of those heterogeneous issues," Karel said.

Still, while SAP claims its MDM platform, with the help of Data Services, can serve non-SAP environments and multiple data domains, Karel fields more inquiries from Forrester clients frustrated with SAP MDM than any other MDM vendor.

"A lot of that has to do with the fact that it's not as easy to integrate with non-SAP environments as they say," Karel said. Even largely SAP shops report trouble extending SAP MDM to non-product data domains, he added.

"SAP has had trouble proving to the marketplace that its single MDM platform can in fact do everything it says it can do," he said. "They say they can do it, but can they prove they can do it?"

SAP data quality and integration improve but still have limitations

Where SAP has done a better job is in its data integration and data quality offerings, namely SAP BusinessObjects Data Services. Prior to its acquisition of Business Objects in 2008, SAP lacked truly enterprise-class data integration and data quality tools, relying instead on partners like Informatica to fill the void.

With its inheritance of Data Services, SAP can now offer data integration and data quality software for heterogeneous IT environments, Karel said.

But Data Services, like SAP's data warehousing and MDM offerings, has its limitations.

Data Services works well in integrating data for business intelligence (BI) purposes, especially in Business Objects BI environments. "But be more careful when considering it for non-analytical, non-BI use cases," Karel said. "While the technology is very good, their experience in proving value in operational scenarios is not."

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