What is SAP BW on HANA and how does it work?

BI expert Ethan Jewett explains how running SAP Business Warehouse, or BW, on the SAP HANA database works, and what the advantages are.

I hear people talk about "running SAP BW on HANA." What does that entail, and what are the benefits?

When people refer to running SAP Business Information Warehouse on the SAP HANA in-memory database, or SAP BW on HANA for short, they are talking about running a particular version of SAP's BW software that uses HANA as its primary database and is specially optimized for the HANA platform. BW supports many databases, including Oracle, MS SQL Server, DB2 and now HANA. Using BW on HANA means that no other database is required.

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SAP BW is also specially optimized for HANA above and beyond its optimization for other databases. BW does have database-specific optimizations for other databases -- for example, it supports DB2's clustering concept for very large tables, whereas most other databases use a partitioning concept to handle this scenario -- but the situation with SAP HANA goes above and beyond. Activities like the activation step for DataStore Objects, or DSOs, and certain types of transformations are functionally the same on HANA as on other databases, but the actual processing has been moved into HANA rather than happening on the BW application server as it does with other databases. This cuts down on data movement, making it possible to execute these activities much faster with BW on HANA.

Other features are available only with BW on HANA. For example, the Open ODS View concept is a way to overlay such BW semantics as security and the BW analytic engine on data that is stored in tables outside of the BW system. However, Open ODS Views are enabled in BW only if it is running on top of the HANA platform, and is not available on other database platforms.

The exact features available, as well as the question of whether they are executed on HANA vs. the BW application server, changed between NetWeaver BW release 7.3 and release 7.4, so check on individual features if you are looking at BW on HANA using the 7.3 platform.

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