The future of Flash may no longer be in the hands of Adobe but instead in the hands of IT security.
It hasn’t been a great month for Adobe Flash. Both Google and Mozilla took extraordinary steps to temporarily disable Adobe Flash from their respective browsers, bringing disruption to SAP Dashboards (see related BusinessObjects Board article).
Adobe released a patch and all was well again, but isn’t it really just a matter of time before we’ll be going through the same exercise? There’s a growing chorus in the mainstream press, not just the technical press, to walk away from Adobe Flash.
While the Occupy Flash movement (yes, there is a movement) advocates letting “your IT department know you can do without Flash”, there are some obvious places (like Explorer and Dashboards/Xcelsius) where the Adobe Flash Player is required by SAP BusinessObjects.
Songify your #SAPBI4#BI41 exp. ** AM I BORN TO DIE by Tim Eriksen (Cold Mountain) ** Dealing w/ BusObject Explorer & #XC Xcelsius
Unfortunately, there are also several less-than-obvious places (see related article, Adobe Flash- Dying but not Dead Just Yet).However, much of everyday web browsing no longer requires the Adobe Flash Player. I was motivated by the recent controversy to remove Adobe Flash from my two Macs, just to see what would happen. I’ll limit Adobe Flash to my Microsoft Windows VM that I use at work.
SAP customers have endured similar scenarios with the Java Runtime Engine and Web Intelligence. But unlike Java, which still manages to have multiple dependencies in today’s enterprise, there are fewer reasons to rely on Adobe Flash and IT security may act more quickly to eliminate it completely from corporate desktops. Mainstream web sites like YouTube no longer require Adobe Flash (and let’s be honest, many organizations prevent you from watching grumpy cat videos at the office anyway).
SAP’s strategy for Dashboards and Explorer has been to leave them as-is as new plug-in free tools like Design Studio and Lumira increase in both maturity and adoption. That strategy assumes that Adobe will continue to support Flash indefinitely, allowing SAP customers to continue to use Dashboards and Explorer content even though the tools no longer receive investment. However, the future of Flash may no longer be in the hands of Adobe but instead in the hands of IT security, keen to remove Flash from the enterprise. This change of direction will to put more pressure on business intelligence competency centers to retire SAP Dashboards and Explorer more quickly than anticipated, and earlier than the current SAP BI roadmap will comfortably allow.
How are Adobe Flash vulnerabilities affecting your BI strategy? Is your organization under pressure to retire Adobe Flash? Please share a comment below.
SAP isn’t ready for Microsoft Windows 10 but its customers already are.
On Tuesday, Microsoft provided the media with a first look at the next version of its Windows operating system, Windows 10. Windows 10 is currently available as a technical preview for those courageous enough to play with unfinished software. Steph Cowan from IT Performs in Midlands, UK was able to quickly get SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.1 SP4 running on the technical preview.
Of course, you won’t find Microsoft Windows 10 on the Supported Platforms/Platform Availability Matrix (PAM) just yet. And no doubt there are issues with any software running on such an early preview OS.
I had so much fun talking about SAP BusinessObjects CMS clustering and Ben and Jerry’s Clusterfluff ice cream (see related article, Don’t Fluster the Cluster). A bit of humor can really help bring a dry technical topic to life. The 2014 conference season is now over for me, but I thought somebody out there would see this and be inspired to use it in their own slide decks about CMS clustering. We wouldn’t want any SAP BusinessObjects installations to turn into a cluster chuck, would we?
Raising my glass to SAP BusinessObjects administrators everywhere. Skol!
Possible to squeeze the entire universe into SAP’s desktop data discovery tool?
When SAP Visual Intelligence was introduced in 2012, it could visualize data from any data source as long as it was SAP HANA. Thankfully, universe support came just a few short months later in version 1.03, opening up a wealth of data sources and allowing customers to leverage their existing investments in SAP’s “agnostic” semantic layer. Universe support in Lumira is interesting because the front-end doesn’t give the full BusinessObjects query panel experience that experienced universe consumers expect. But it’s also interesting because of how data gets from the data source, through the universe, and into Lumira. It uses a Web Intelligence mechanism originally designed to allow Web Intelligence documents to be exported from the browser in Microsoft Excel and text formats.
The SAP Lumira universe query panel
First, let’s take a look at the query panel experience. First, here’s the Web Intelligence Java-based universe query panel (from BI 4.1 SP3).
And here’s the Lumira universe query panel (from version 1.19).
At first glance I assumed that Lumira was offering some kind of reimagined query panel of the future. But upon closer inspection it’s a query panel that’s missing quite a few features from Web Intelligence panel, similar to Explorer (see related article, Family Planning), Live Office, and Query as a Web Service (see related article, What I miss in the Query as a Web Service (QaaWS) and Live Office query panels). Even Design Studio has more query panel functionality (although still a subset of the gold standard Web Intelligence panel). It’s possible that the Lumira product team assumed that its users would want something easier to use. But consider that SAP Lumira already has a free-hand SQL capability that’s still lacking from Web Intelligence. Free-hand SQL provides many things, but “easy business user interface” doesn’t immediately spring to mind (see related article, Free-Hand SQL Isn’t Free).
There definitely is an opportunity here to extend the functionality of the Lumira universe query panel.
UPDATE: Lumira v1.24 will integrate the Information Design Tool’s Query Panel, but only for UNX universes.
Consuming Existing Universe Queries
I’ve already made the unsuccessful pitch that Lumira should be able to extract queries from Desktop Intelligence documents (see related article, True Desktop Intelligence with SAP Lumira). And the longer I work with Lumira, it seems obvious that it should be able to consume a query from a Web Intelligence document, too. There are obvious differences in functionality between Web Intelligence and Lumira. Reporting is not data discovery and I’m not proposing to change that. But whether seconds, minutes, hours, or days were required to create a critical Web Intelligence report, it seems logical that a Lumira user might want to consume the same query logic without reinventing the wheel.
UPDATE (June 9, 2015): This idea was intriguing enough to APOS, who has developed the APOS Data Gateway plug-in for SAP Lumira.
SAP Lumira and the Web Intelligence processing server character stream size
The other issue Lumira users will encounter while squeezing the entire universe into their visualizations is the Web Intelligence Processing Server maximum character stream size. Experienced SAP BI administrators refer to this as the “10 kilograms of universe, uh, DATA in a 5 kilogram bag” problem. Users will see the following message and probably have their own nickname for it.
The following verbiage first appeared in the SAP Lumira 1.17 Release Notes. It was removed from the SAP Lumira 1.18 Release Notes but has been fortunately documented by SAP Note 2020352.
The data acquisition of medium-large, large, and very large datasets from UNV or UNX universes is not supported on default installations of both SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence platforms 4.0 and 4.1.
It is recommended for customers that want to acquire such datasets to install a SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence platform (SAP BIP) server dedicated to SAP Lumira and significantly increase the value of the Maximum Character Stream Size of the Web Intelligence Processing Server on that particular server. Note that increasing this value on a running SAP BIP server can impact the memory consumption and performance of any BI clients tool running on that installation, particularly Web Intelligence. While this practice is not formally discouraged, we advise customers implementing this solution that they might face memory consumption increases and longer document data refreshes so they will need to monitor the SAP BIP server’s behavior adequately to control the impacts.
In an era of “big data” hype, I have no idea what SAP means by the terms medium-large, large, and very large datasets, other than “don’t blame us if you didn’t buy a HANA server”. But as with Mobile BI (see related article, Viewing Large Web Intelligence Documents with Mobile BI), Explorer (see related article, Hacking SAP BusinessObjects Explorer 4.0) and Live Office, the solution is to increase the Maximum Character Stream Size and to a lesser extent the Binary Stream Maximum Sizeon the Web Intelligence Processing Server. SAP’s documentation is slightly unclear on this point, but it seems that XML and Microsoft Excel XLSX formats (which are zipped XML files- see related Wikipedia article about Office Open XML) are “character” files affected by the Maximum Character Stream Size setting. Adobe PDF and Microsoft Excel XLS formats are “binary” files affected by the adjacent Binary Stream Maximum Size setting. There isn’t an easy way to determine the optimal stream size, other than “keep increasing the value until the error goes away”. Keep in mind that poorly designed universes will return bloated data sets to any client tool, whether it’s SAP Lumira, Mobile BI, or any edition of Web Intelligence. So a code review of existing universes can be a healthy activity in addition to increasing server settings.
Oddly enough, Web Intelligence and its predecessor Desktop Intelligence contain SAP’s first in-memory database- the microcube. Long before HANA was a gleam in Hasso Plattner’s eye, the microcube facilitated multi-dimensional analysis of large datasets (called slicing-and-dicing back in the day) that may have taken a bit of time to be retrieved from the now-obsolete spinning disks in the database server. The Web Intelligence web application requests data from the microcube one viewable page at a time, but modern apps like Mobile BI and Lumira need the entire microcube before they can visualize data. So these apps are riding the coattails of the mechanism SAP originally created for exporting Web Intelligence data to Adobe PDF and Microsoft Excel files.
Rethinking when to install the SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio server components.
Over two years ago, SAP unveiled their roadmap and strategy for dashboards (see related article, The Future of SAP Dashboards). Today, in 2014, many SAP BusinessObjects customers have committed to a two-prong strategy of continuing to support legacy Xcelsius/Dashboards while looking for opportunities to begin using SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio, the successor to both SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards and SAP BEx Web Application Designer (WAD). In some cases, it still makes sense to prefer Dashboards over Design Studio for new projects due to the maturity gap between the products.
Practically speaking, the two-prong strategy means that many BI administrators are installing the Design Studio components as part of their new SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.x deployments. SAP releases new versions of Design Studio approximately every six months. The current version is 1.3 and version 1.4 is expected in November 2014.
The Design Studio client app opens with an attractive welcome screen featuring a breathtaking mountaintop vista.
Although there’s a “Getting Started” section on the welcome screen for developers, there isn’t one for BI administrators, so here is some guidance. Design Studio, like SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, is not integrated out-of-the-box with the BI platform and has both web-tier components and server components, as shown in the installation screen below.
Ideally, these Design Studio server components would be integrated into the BI 4.x platform (see related article, Please Integrate the Integrated Enterprise BI Platform). But they aren’t, so plan ahead and put specific line items in your BI 4.x project plans for Design Studio installation and configuration tasks. The additional time required to install the server components can really add up, particularly if you have a lot of nodes in your BI 4.x deployment.
Installing Design Studio Before You’re Ready
In theory, proactively getting your BI 4.x platform ready for Design Studio seems like a best practice. I’ve done it for several customers. Unfortunately, in many cases you’ll spend extra hours installing a version of Design Studio that’s obsolete before your developers are able to use it for meaningful projects. This means that you’ll spend even more time later uninstalling the old version of Design Studio server components before installing newer ones.
Installing Design Studio When You’re Ready
Instead of budgeting hours for Design Studio in your BI 4.x upgrade project, place them instead in your first funded Design Studio development project. In this way, you’re guaranteed not to waste effort deploying a version of Design Studio that’s obsolete before you begin using it. The planning phase of a Design Studio project is also a good time to either apply the latest patch for your BI 4.x platform’s current Support Pack level or move up to a higher Support Pack level entirely.
In the meantime, install Design Studio on a sandbox server that isn’t part of your normal Development->Test->Production software development life cycle (SDLC). A sandbox environment is also a recommended place to test BI 4.x patches before committing them to the environments you use daily. You’ll be able to satisfy the needs of curious developers who want to begin learning Design Studio and conducting functionality bake-offs between Dashboards and Design Studio. New version of the BI 4.x platform or Design Studio server components? No problem. There’s only one server to upgrade.
If they aren’t already, your developers should definitely be putting Design Studio to the test (see Chris Greer’s related article, Is Xcelsius the new Deski? Die, Deski, Die!, on the EV Technologies blog). Give them some quality playtime in the sandbox. But until you’re truly ready with a funded project, don’t over-design your BI 4.x environment.
Do SAP analytics customers just not care anymore? Or simply big Phil Collins fans?
Which 80’s hit captures your reaction to today’s #askSAP webcast for BI Strategy and Direction? According to my unscientific poll, 38% of the respondents had a negative reaction ranging from “Shattered Dreams”, “What Have I Done To Deserve This”, to the most popular selection, “I Don’t Care Any More”. 32% of the respondents had a hopeful reaction, represented by songs “Things Can Only Get Better” and “Don’t You Forget About Me”. And 30% had a positive reaction, responding that “Jayne’s Getting Serious” about analytics. Those SAP customers are “Walking on Sunshine” in “Paradise” with their SAP HANA-powered analytics.
After the candles are blown out, here are some things to work on during the next year.
Happy Third Birthday, SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0! You came into the world on September 16, 2011, after a lengthy gestation. We’ve made a lot of memories together, from your birth to taking your first steps. Potty training took a bit longer than expected, but we eventually got there with your BI 4.1 release. And I’ve mostly gotten over that time you pooped in the bathtub. As the parent of three children, I’m familiar with children moving from “baby” to “toddler” to “preschooler”. Software doesn’t mature in the same way as human children. But just like with humans, some things that were expected, manageable or even “cute” in earlier years become wearisome after three years. So I’d like to mention ten things that I hope you’ll work on before your fourth birthday.
10. Group Hierarchy tree control with “too many objects”
We’re thankful that after three years, the “too many objects” error is largely solved in the BI Launch Pad (see related article, Too Many Objects in Your BI Launch Pad). I realize that BI Launch Pad users outnumber Central Management Console users. But any administrator with a large BI installation knows how tedious it is to live without a decent tree control.
9. User search feature in CMC
There are a lot of user attributes beyond just title and description. And I’d like to search any of them, thank you. Isn’t this just a few extra lines of code?
8. Server search feature in CMC
Although most servers are appropriately named, sometimes they just aren’t. Please make it easier to find a server by type (Adaptive Processing Server, Crystal Reports Cache Server) regardless of what somebody else decided to name it.
7. SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio server installation
We’ve suffered through poor SAP BusinessObjects Explorer administration since Explorer debuted as Polestar on the XI R2 platform. As you fold Explorer functionality into Lumira, please fold its administrative tasks into the Central Management Console (see related article, Family Planning).
5. Web Intelligence panel preference
Thankfully you provide a script, setGroupPreferences (see SAP KB 1659566 or SAP KB 1816617), but even simpler would be the ability to set the default Web Intelligence report panel via the CMC. But even better would be retiring the Java report panel in favor of a single kick-a__ HTML 5 panel. Which leads us to number 4.
Monitoring was a big marquee feature of the BI 4.0 launch. It’s a great first step, but it’s time to show us a more mature second generation of this important feature. Oh, and the Adobe Flash interface needs to go (see related article, Adobe Flash- Dying but not Dead Just Yet).
2. Promotion Management/Lifecycle Management
Everyone thought the Import Wizard was evil. Until it went away. Like monitoring, this was a marquee feature of the BI 4.0 and rightly so. Also like monitoring, it re-appeared in BI 4.1 largely unchanged.
There are over 80 articles in the SAP knowledge base about platform search. Most of them highlight a design flaw or document a workaround, which isn’t terribly flattering. Given that platform search is often the first feature a new user will try, it’s time to put away the duct tape and introduce the next generation of platform search to the SAP BI platform.
Make a wish, blow out the candles, and enjoy some well-deserved cake. But I hope you’ll take these things to heart over the next year.
What are your thoughts after three years of the SAP BI4 platform?
Three takeaways from this week’s #askSAP webcast for its analytics roadmap.
This Tuesday, Apple unveiled its new iPhone and Watch. While I wouldn’t consider it an unveiling- as most of the details were previously disclosed- SAP provided an #askSAP webcast to elaborate on its analytics roadmap (see related article, The Future of the SAP BI Platform, Again) and respond directly to questions posed by its customers. I caught three key messages from the #askSAP webcast.
When I hear Jayne Landry speak, either directly or through her blogs, she always conveys the message that “we’re listening”. While we may quibble about the speed and direction of SAP analytics, I do believe that SAP is sincerely listening to its analytics customers more than they have in the past. Further evidence of this listening is Ty Miller’s news that SAP including Lumira Server as part of the BI platform license and creating a limited-use lower-cost HANA license to facilitate that. Even more shocking was Ty’s admission that SAP is looking at providing web access to Lumira visualizations without the need for HANA. If true, this is a welcome break from the HANA Everywhere messaging (see Steve Lucas’ SAP Insider article, SAP HANA Everywhere). I’m still confused on details and timeframes, but am looking forward to hearing more first-hand at this month’s ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
Bill McDermott’s message of Run Simple is taking root throughout SAP, including analytics. Folding together tools for the analyst persona like Analysis, Live Office, Explorer and Lumira makes a lot of sense. So does keeping Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence largely intact. As a big Explorer fan, the news of its functionality moving to Lumira (and therefore HANA) makes me nervous, but I’m curious to see how Explorer’s road map might change in light of Lumira w/o HANA (see previous paragraph). Sure, we all wish things would move along faster (see related article, The Future of the SAP BI Platform, Again), but I have no doubt that SAP executives agree with customers on this point.
We’d Really Rather You Didn’t Buy Those Other Smartwatches Analytics Tools
I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about why Apple announced a product (the Apple Watch) that won’t be available until 2015. I came up with two reasons. First, Apple wants to give developers plenty of lead time to support the watch with their apps. Second, and I believe more important than the first, Apple wants to suck the oxygen out of the smartwatch room. “Don’t even think of buying an Android watch for Christmas because we’ll have you covered in 2015.” (Fast Company came up with three theories).
SAP employed a similar strategy to Apple’s this week. At first, I wondered why SAP would schedule the webcast on a day where any news was likely to get buried under the deluge of Apple coverage. But September 9 was also the day of Tableau CEO Christian Chabot’s keynote from the Tableau Customer Conference as well as their financial analyst day(I still haven’t watched either presentation but hope to get caught up over the weekend). It’s no coincidence that SAP planned their webcast on the same day as Tableau’s keynote (and that Tableau was the only competitor mentioned by name in Steve Lucas’ latest blog post). It’s year-end budgeting time. And SAP would be eternally grateful if customers based their desktop data visualization strategy around Lumira. And keep those pesky land-and-expand Tableau desktop licenses out of the capital budgets because it isn’t the enterprise standard application dictated by corporate IT (remember those guys?).
The roadmap made clear which direction the SAP Big Data bus is headed in. But what remains unclear is when it will arrive with shipping software. No doubt we’ll be hearing more at the ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference and throughout the rest of 2014.
It seems like just yesterday, but it’s actually been one year since we weathered the Web Intelligence certificate expiration crisis, better known as WebiJavaGeddon (see related article, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste). I wrote something a year ago and it seems to be worth repeating, ahead of SAP’s BI Strategy and Direction Webcast next Tuesday (see related article, The Future of the SAP BI Platform, Again).
If SAP had any doubts…, it should now be acutely aware that Web Intelligence is of profound importance to many of its business intelligence customers. And while customers and partners are grateful for innovations like SAP HANA and Lumira, we still need SAP to be passionately committed to what they probably refer to as “legacy” tools.