It has taken multiple briefings, presentations, and well, time, for SAP to convince me that their just-announced in-memory solutions will be game changing. My ‘ah ha’ moment came only after seeing a prototype.
As I wrote in this feature last year on in-memory, speed of thought analysis is the way people want to work. The technology is not new, and SAP first jumped into the in-memory fray three years ago with its BW Accelerator appliance. Others, such as IBM Cognos TM1, TIBCO Spotfire, and QlikTech QlikView have been around longer.
So what’s the big deal about SAP’s new Business Analytic Engine (BAE)? First, they’ve announced that it is in development. Production product is expected within a year, although CTO Vishal Sikka suggested by by the end of this year. Assessing differentiators of an in-development product is a challenge, but here are a few:
· BAE encompasses transactional and analytic data. No other product or vendor does this. In the keynote, founder and chairman Dr. Hasso Plattner started off viewing a monthly sales chart in SAP BusinessObjects Explorer (product review here). Sales projection looked lower than target. In contacting the production manager, the production manager could review open orders from within SAP’s Business byDesign; the transaction system was working off the same in-memory database as SAP BusinessObjects Explorer. Once the confirmed date was updated in the transaction system, the change was immediately apparent in Explorer (demoed, by the way, on an iPad. Integrating the operational and analytic processes opens up new applications. When I visited the Labs at Sapphire, I also saw a prototype of a customer segmentation application. The segmentation was done so intuitively and quickly, that the whole segmentation process was more iterative than normally possible. A de-duplication of records, that typically takes hours, took seconds.
· The new BAE does not require BW, unlike BW Accelerator (BWA). SAP’s previous in-memory approach only benefited customers who had committed to BW. In this regard, there is greater flexibility than with BWA, because star schemas do not have to be built first. The new engine promises to benefit existing Business Objects customers.
· The BAE is an appliance; most other in-memory approaches on the market are software-only. HP was highlighted as an initial partner co-developing the solution, but IBM was also mentioned in a subsequent interview. IBM is a hardware partner for the BWA appliance.
· The modeling of the in-memory model will be incorporated with the current business meta data layer or universe; so it sounds like both business users and DBAs will have modeling capabilities that today are often separate. More complex calculations can be done in memory.
· The database will be accessible via SQL, MDX or Excel, so it is not disruptive to the application layer or front-ends. I still have to see this still to believe it.
· Planning applications will leverage the in-memory engine bringing more flexibility and allowing for more iterations than currently possible. In theory, this would also provides more integration between BI and planning than other vendor solutions.
Beyond in-memory, cloud computing and mobile also took center stage.
While these were some of the headlines, I have to mention General Colin Powell’s key note, both amusing and inspiring. I am still picturing him getting patted down by TSA, having paid cash for his airfare, shown up late, and post Secretary of State. He spoke of his work in trying to improve high school graduate rates and reminded us, “It doesn’t matter where you start. What counts is where you end up and what you do in between.”
Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard