SAP is trumpeting new business intelligence (BI) and search capabilities that will be added to the next version of NetWeaver, scheduled to launch this spring.
SAP is transitioning NetWeaver into the platform that will serve as the backbone of its applications, which are slated to be service-enabled by 2007. SAP NetWeaver serves as the platform for creating composite applications built by customers in-house or purchased from independent software vendors.
"SAP is becoming much more integrated in its approach to BI," said Lothar Schubert, director of SAP NetWeaver marketing for BI and information management. "In the BI space, larger players claim to have a BI platform. It's no longer reporting and planning tools, but an overall platform, where those technologies are brought together. SAP has that platform in NetWeaver."
SAP is extending the capabilities of its search features, allowing end users to tap structured data in addition to unstructured data, Schubert said.
The latest version of NetWeaver will also support SAP Business Intelligence accelerator, an appliance box that can be plugged into NetWeaver to speed high volumes of queries from end users of SAP NetWeaver BI, Schubert said. The device, developed in conjunction with Intel, is currently being tested and is aimed at SAP's largest customers.
Customers can choose either HP or IBM for their respective server and storage technologies, Schubert said.
"The traditional methods involved a lot of database tuning by IT to handle queries being fired off on the back-end system," he said. "Accelerator is very easy to install. Our partners, IBM and HP, preinstall their respective NetWeaver piece on this hardware and you plug it into the network."
While the BI accelerator provides faster query processing and load times, and lower maintenance, it will appeal only to SAP customers that have already purchased SAP Business Warehouse, said Dan Vesset, research director for analytics and data warehousing software service at Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC. According to Vesset, most of the features in SAP BI accelerator, such as search indexes and column-based data structures, are not new. Still, SAP has brought them together in a cohesive solution, Vesset said.
"It has some very strong data compression features and quite fast processing capabilities."
Meanwhile, SAP is boosting some BI capabilities for applications in specific industries, one of its core strengths. SAP has a two-pronged strategy of expanding NetWeaver BI's predictive analytics tools to use it more as a data-mining engine, while at the same time expanding analytics within its composite applications, Vesset said.
"They have gotten better, but at the same time there is still obviously plenty of space for third-party providers."
According to Vesset, larger companies have on average at least seven different BI vendors. Different company divisions choose BI tools based on their specialties.
"In some cases, a company may want something that is neutral, because they may be pulling data together from multiple sources," Vesset said. "And at other times, companies don't want to be tied to one vendor."