Thoughts on BI 5.0

Some serious (really) reflection on the future of the SAP BI platform.

Last month, I took a light-hearted look at the future of the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence platform (see related article, A Glimpse of SAP BusinessObjects BI 5.0). This month, I’d like to make some serious predictions about what the next major iteration of SAP’s BI platform will look like. There’s no public roadmap or timetable for the next major release. SAP is putting the final touches on BI 4.1– which should go into General Availability (GA) later this year. And SAP is already making noises about BI 4.2 coming in 2014.

But it’s fun to dream. Let’s begin!

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64-bit Client Tools

I predict that the first broad theme of the BI 5.0 release will be fully 64-bit code. With the server platform already mostly (but not entirely) 64-bit, I predict that BI 5.0 will be the first release of SAP’s BI suite to not include 32-bit client tools. By the time BI 5.0 arrives, 32-bit Windows XP will be officially retired and most corporate desktops will be running modern 64-bit operating systems.

SAP hasn’t made any official announcements, but to get to a 64-bit-only world, we’ll need a transition period where client tools are, like SAP Lumira (formerly SAP Visual Intelligence), offered in both 32-bit and 64-bit editions. SAP Data Services already offers its design tools in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors. SAP Lumira was exclusively 64-bit when introduced, but enough customers balked so SAP responded with a 32-bit edition (SAP Visual Intelligence 1.07 in December 2012). For Not So Big Data, I guess.

Some of the existing 32-bit client tools, such as Crystal Reports 2011/2013, have already been classified as “legacy,” meaning that SAP will use the transition to 64-bit to leave these tools in the cyber dustbin of history. Here are some of the side-effects of a 64-bit-only future.

The End of Desktop Intelligence (finally)

While SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 marked the formal end of Desktop Intelligence, this year’s BI 4.1 will mark the formal return of Desktop Intelligence. Sort of (see related article, Desktop Intelligence – Back for a Limited Time). But as Desktop Intelligence is a 32-bit client, it will not find a home in the brave new world of BI 5.0. Unless SAP reconsiders my Desktop Intelligence fantasy (see related article, Hell Freezes Over).

The End of Crystal Reports 2011/2013 and Business View Manager

As part of the BI 4.0 launch, SAP introduced Crystal Reports for Enterprise, a fresh start for Crystal Reports based on the Eclipse platform. Although a feature gap presently exists between Crystal Reports 2011 (soon to be Crystal Reports 2013) and Crystal Reports for Enterprise, the gap will be largely closed. Expect Crystal Reports for Enterprise 5.0 to be the only edition of Crystal Reports compatible with the BI 5.0 suite. And goodbye Business View Manager (and therefore Business Views). It was fun while it lasted.

The End of Xcelsius

With the road map for SAP Dashboards paving a freeway to Design Studio (see related articles, The Future of SAP Dashboards and Between an Xcelsius Rock and a Dashboard Design Hard Place), expect Dashboards (formerly known as Xcelsius) to not be part of the BI 5.0 suite. Buried next to it will be Live Office (we’re hearing rumors of Live Office functionality moving to Analysis for Microsoft Office) and Query as a Web Service (QaaWS).

The End of the (Classic) Universe

Although it’s entirely possible that BEx will be the only supported semantic layer in BI 5.0 (just kidding), it’s more likely that the classic UNV universe will be retired in favor of the UNX universe. The current Universe Design Tool (formerly known as Designer) is 32-bit code that will not be transitioning to 64-bit. Expect this one to be as controversial as the retirement of Desktop Intelligence, with the current UNX generating Information Design Tool widely perceived as immature in comparison to its 32-bit UNV generating ancestor.

Plug-In Free Browsing

I predict that the second broad theme of the BI 5.0 suite will be plug-in free browsing, largely based on HTML 5. Not only will this move be good news for desktops, it will help SAP further its “Mobile First” strategy for analytics.

The End of Adobe Flash

I predict that BI 5.0 will be the first version of the platform to completely eliminate Adobe Flash. I killed off the 32-bit Xcelsius/Dashboards tool in the previous section. The other major component relying on Adobe Flash is the data discovery tool known as Explorer. While the upcoming Explorer 4.1 architecture will largely be unchanged from the current 4.0, expect Explorer to either gradually or abruptly end its dependence on Adobe Flash (see related article, Family Planning).

The End of Java

I predict that BI 5.0 will be the first version of the platform to eliminate both ActiveX and Java plug-ins. While Crystal Reports on the BI 4.0 platform still offers ActiveX and Java-based viewers in addition to HTML, expect them to be retired in favor of an HTML 5 approach. Similarly, Web Intelligence 4.0 offers both a Web and a “Rich Internet Application” (aka Java) edition. Unfortunately, the Rich Internet Application offers robust functionality compared to its “Poor Internet Application” web-based cousin (see related article, The Other Web Intelligence Feature Gap). But expect this to change. With Tableau having recently introduced mobile and web authoring in Tableau 8 (see related article, Tableau 8 Roadshow), perhaps we’ll see similar functionality in Visual Intelligence- and hopefully Web Intelligence- long before BI 5.0 arrives.

Not Your Father’s BW

I predict that the third broad theme of BI 5.0 will be a reimagined Business Warehouse that fully embraces technology from both SAP HANA and SAP Sybase (for the latter, see SAP Mentor Clint Vosloo’s related SCN article, SAP’s big play in the EDW Space – But does any-one know about it?). Unlike traditional BusinessObjects customers who are told that all of their favorite toys are being taken away, BW customers are reassuringly told that “BW isn’t going anywhere”. BW may not be going anywhere, but it will be going faster.

As SAP HANA matures we’ll see it transform from one of many possible database foundations for BW to the premier database foundation for BW. SAP HANA is also moving from simply a database server to a robust application server. Read this excerpt from Thomas Jung’s recent article about SAP HANA Extended Application Services,

The core concept of SAP HANA Extended Application Services is to embed a full featured application server, web server, and development environment within the SAP HANA appliance itself. However this isn’t just another piece of software installed on the same hardware as SAP HANA; instead SAP has decided to truly integrate this new application services functionality directly into the deepest parts of the SAP HANA database itself, giving it an opportunity for performance and access to SAP HANA differentiating features that no other application server has.

So it’s likely that SAP HANA DNA will show up in the BI 5.0 platform in places that we don’t expect it today.

The Road Ahead

If these predictions are correct, a lot of legacy code will be pruned from the SAP BI platform.  Could SAP BI 5.0 be the lean and fast Snow Leopard edition I’ve been waiting for (see related article, SAP BusinessObjects Snow Leopard Edition)? We must wait and see.

What are your thoughts about a future BI 5.0 platform?

A Glimpse of SAP BusinessObjects BI 5.0

A select few customers and partners are getting an early preview of SAP BusinessObjects BI 5.0.

Even though SAP customers are just now seeing a glimpse of SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.1 through SAP’s customer validation program, a select few customers and partners are getting an early preview of SAP BusinessObjects BI 5.0.

“One of the major goals of BI 5.0 is simplicity,” according to April ErsteSAP spokesperson for business analytics. “Our research shows that CIO’s are purchasing alternate solutions like QlikView, Tableau, and Tibco Spotfire because those organizations’ sales reps show fewer blocks on architecture diagrams. The current BI4 platform contains 19 discrete servers and an even greater number of services within them, which on a Microsoft PowerPoint slide can be perceived as difficult to manage”.

SAP_BusinessObjects_Architecture_BI4_FP3

By applying design thinking, SAP has been able to radically simplify the BI platform architecture. Over the past few releases, SAP has been moving functionality from discrete servers to the Adaptive Job Server and Adaptive Processing Server. SAP BusinessObjects BI 5.0 will take this approach to the next level of simplicity, moving all Crystal Reports, Dashboards, Explorer and Web Intelligence processing to those two servers. The BI 5.0 architecture currently in the SAP test labs only has six discrete servers: CMS, Input File Repository Server, Output File Repository Server, Adaptive Job Server, Adaptive Processing Server, and Connection Server.

SAP_BusinessObjects_Architecture_BI5

“BI administrators often complain about splitting and sizing the two adaptive servers,” continued Ms. Erste. “However, CIOs really appreciate having a simplified architecture.” With BI 4.1 going into general availability later this year and BI 4.2 already planned for 2014, no release date has been set for BI 5.0.

SAP BusinessObjects Snow Leopard edition?

Imagine the SAP BusinessObjects BI suite, but smaller, faster, and ready for the future.

Imagine reading the following article on ASUG News in early 2014:

For a company known for breakthrough products with cool features, SAP this week is doing something unusual: It is introducing a key product with very few new features that are visible to its users. This new release, the latest major version of the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence suite, looks and works almost exactly the same as its predecessor, but has been heavily re-engineered under the covers for greater speed and efficiency, and to add future-oriented core technologies.

Sound far fetched? Probably. But those are the (slightly altered) words that the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg wrote in August 2009 about Apple Snow Leopard. For those of you unfamiliar with the Apple Macintosh and its OS X operating system, Snow Leopard, also known as OS X 10.6, was released in June 2009. It was the first OS X upgrade to cost $29 instead of the then-usual $129 and didn’t bring many new features. But it did do a lot of work under the hood that we’ve come to appreciate in OS X 10.7 Lion and the upcoming OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. Here’s what David Pogue wrote about Snow Leopard in the New York Times, in Snow Leopard Takes a Page From the App Store Playbook:

Snow Leopard really is faster–and smaller. Yes, smaller: The OS occupies only half the disk space of the previous version, saving you a cool 6 gigabytes. That’s a first in the history of OS upgrades. Apple says that everything is faster, too: Snow Leopard installation is 45 percent faster, shutting down is 75 percent faster, waking up 50 percent faster, 55 percent faster joining Wi-Fi networks, and so on.

Imagine being able to make similar claims about the SAP BusinessObjects BI platform.

Last week on March 16, 2012, SAP began the ramp-up of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Feature Pack 3 (BI4 FP3), a marriage of Support Pack 3 and what was previously called BI 4.1. Although as easy to deploy as a support pack, it contains a lot of new functionality (think increased user adoption) and new code (think bugs). But it also contains a lot of fixes for last year’s BI 4.0. Feature Pack 3 is slated to go into general availability (GA) in the third quarter of 2012.

Support Pack 4 is most likely already locked in from a feature perspective and will be focused on stabilizing the Feature Pack 3 release. But what then?

I’m proposing Snow Leopard for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0. Let’s call it SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.5. Now is a good time for SAP to take a step back, look for opportunities to refactor bloated and hastily written code, reduce system requirements, shorten installation times, increase performance, and address UI consistency. A great time to clean up issues normally tagged as low priority and pushed to the bottom of the fix list.

There’s plenty of time to wait for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 5.0. If my instincts are correct, that release will be fully 64-bit and therefore jettison legacy products like the Universe Design Tool, Business View Manager, and Crystal Reports 2011 (see related article, Thoughts on BI 5.0). That will be a large pill for many enterprises to swallow. And my proposed BI 4.5 would be a great code base to leap from.

So what do you say SAP? Your developers are probably barely clinging onto sanity after two large back-to-back releases (BI 4.0 and BI 4.0 FP3). And your users are a bit stressed, too. We would enjoy some time to actually use the software instead of constantly upgrading it.

I, for one, would love to see a snow leopard running through my data center. How about you?

Many thanks to Jody Bankston, Josh Fletcher, Greg Myers, Jamie Oswald, and Eric Vallo who provided invaluable feedback to earlier drafts of this article.