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How SAP BW and HANA will merge over time -- and why it matters

The differences between SAP HANA and Business Warehouse will melt away, says expert Ethan Jewett in this second of a two-part series.

Read the first of this two-part series on SAP Business Warehouse and HANA. Part one addresses how companies should consider their data management needs when assessing the technologies.

Though SAP swears HANA won't replace Business Warehouse (BW), there are good reasons to believe the in-memory analytics platform will eventually absorb BW. But I think it is more accurate to say that SAP BW and HANA will begin to merge. If this scenario plays out as I believe it will, the murkiness surrounding skill and technology decisions between BW and HANA starts to clear.

This article describes the likely paths of BW and HANA and outlines three possible scenarios for their convergence, or lack thereof. While this discussion of roadmaps is speculative, it's informed by carefully watching SAP's moves and a good understanding of the products and technologies involved. I've linked to public statements from SAP. Anything not referencing such public statements is speculative.

Where BW and HANA stand now

As I explained in the last article, SAP has taken the first steps to move its main data management platforms into position to fully use HANA's capabilities. This means moving BW onto HANA as a primary persistence database and allowing the BusinessObjects tools to natively connect to HANA.

This first step has been very basic. For the most part, BW treats HANA as a pure database. BW on HANA introduces relatively minor schema changes in InfoCubes and data store objects (DSOs) to optimize performance on HANA. The only truly unique optimization for HANA is in the DSO data activation procedure, which in many scenarios runs completely in-database and not on the BW application server.

Under this configuration, we see good performance improvements for BW on HANA, but not a lot else. BW doesn't leverage HANA's integration or security features, and HANA doesn't leverage BW's numerous capabilities. Furthermore, HANA has little to offer in architecture, data quality or support for adding meaning on top of data.

Where they're going in the next few years

As SAP continues to build out its integration between BW and HANA, we can expect to see BW leverage more features of HANA (and vice versa), and HANA add features to support BW. We are already starting to see this trend play out in BW 7.3 Support Package (SP) 8, which supports many mixed scenarios in which BW consumes HANA data (often virtually, with no data replication), or in which HANA makes HANA-native views available on data in BW InfoProviders. In its own update SP5, HANA provides a feature for marking data as "not active," which will keep that data out of memory unless it is accessed, thereby saving significant memory. BW systems on SP8 will automatically make use of this feature.

In the future, further integrations should come as the ABAP application server makes progress on supporting HANA natively. With the exception of ABAP routines, transformation execution will likely be pushed down to the HANA system. The complex BW analytic engine handles everything from complex time-dependent hierarchy reporting to identification of "not assigned" master data values. This engine has already outsourced some calculations to HANA, but we can expect more analytical processing to be pushed to HANA in the future.

Eventually, BW's ABAP layer will become less oriented toward executing data transformations and queries and more oriented toward maintaining metadata and semantic information, along with execution plans to be carried out in the HANA layer.

BW and HANA in their final state

As BW and HANA both mature and converge, I think the process will conclude in one of three ways:

  1. The ABAP application server, along with the heavily evolved BW application running on it, remains separate from the HANA database. This end point differs from the direction of SAP's current strategy: offering application services directly on HANA, thus making HANA into a combination database and application server. Nonetheless, it is a likely scenario, despite some disadvantages, as the three-tier database-application-client architecture offers significant advantages compared to the two-tier architecture.
  2. The remaining pure-ABAP BW services (metadata, semantics and execution plans) are ported to HANA, making this next-generation BW a fully HANA-native application.
  3. The ABAP application server architecture is ported to run natively on the HANA cluster, bringing the remaining ABAP layer of BW along with it. This could happen either at the operating system level or by writing a version of the ABAP application server to run within HANA's application services. The former would be, in effect, running the ABAP application server side by side with HANA on the same system while the latter is a more native scenario. The level of effort to achieve either scenario would be immense. I'm not even sure the native scenario is technically possible. But it would be a huge achievement that could deliver further performance improvements and landscape simplification to SAP's customers.

At this point, no one can say what will happen. In any of the above scenarios, the result may not be called BW, but I believe SAP will continue to provide the much-needed capabilities of BW in one of these forms. For the moment, SAP users should watch and wait while developing at least some familiarity with both platforms. The process of integrating BW and HANA will be a long one, with many twists and turns along the way.

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This was last published in January 2013

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Excellent post Ethan, thank you!

1 small point of clarification, made only because it is a source of major frustration in my world and I of course am always keen to help others avoid my problems....

There is mention SAP's moving of BW to Hana and allowing the Business Objects tools to connect natively to Hana; whilst this is possible from a technical perspective, if using the "Hana for Applications and Accelerators" license *, you are restricted to only Visi and Explorer, the rest of the tools either have to go through the application layer, either as Data Federated relational Universes, or using Bex/BICS.

*This is an important restriction for users of this licensing model, which is the runtime license for BW on Hana, and the special purpose accelerators.

Thanks again.

This is wrong, and you have no reason to publish such pure speculation that has no basis in reality. It makes no sense for us at SAP, and particularly for our customers to make BW a part of HANA. BW is a model driven application intended to run on different platforms, and this is something our customers have always appreciated. Certainly we will make it very attractive for our customers to run BW on HANA, and very much hope they (and you ) see the synergy that results from the combination, but we have no plan to force BW users to buy and use HANA. We will optimize BW, and the other Information Management tools and technologies we offer for HANA, and hope that our customers see the advantage of running them together, but we will not unnecessarily restrict the market for these tools by insisting that they be purchased with HANA. I do not understand why people who have no actual knowledge of our strategy and intentions choose to speculate publicly. It is misleading to our customers, and not helpful for anyone!
Hi Voltar,

For something that is wrong, it's turned out to be very right. I think it's possible your are only referencing the headline, which is an oversimplification, but not a wrong one. But if you look at the article, you'll see that most of the near-term ("next few years") predictions have been spot on, and the longer-term predictions look to be playing out. To quote:

"In the future, further integrations should come as the ABAP application server makes progress on supporting HANA natively. With the exception of ABAP routines, transformation execution will likely be pushed down to the HANA system. The complex BW analytic engine handles everything from complex time-dependent hierarchy reporting to identification of "not assigned" master data values. This engine has already outsourced some calculations to HANA, but we can expect more analytical processing to be pushed to HANA in the future."

Indeed, all of this has been delivered in BW 7.4 SP5 when running on HANA.

Speculation about further future plans and integration is, of course, speculative, and I go to great lengths to make that clear in the article. I trust that readers and SAP's customers are all savvy enough to know that my thoughts on possible future plans are just possibilities and not based on anything shared with me by SAP. As far as I know, SAP doesn't share explicit future plans with anyone. I base my articles only on publicly available information.

As far as your other accusations, I don't see any basis for them. No where do I say that SAP will force BW or EIM customers to use HANA. I don't believe this is SAP's intention, so of course I would not say that. I do, however, have some actual knowledge of SAP's strategy (and also just what inherently makes sense), but I believe people should judge the article based on whether the predictions make sense and/or turn out to be true.

If you'd like further clarification, or would like to discuss any factual inaccuracies here, please feel free to be in touch. You can contact me through my website at

Best regards,
Very good piece Ethan. Folks with a deep understanding of the functionality, shortcomings and recent enhancements for each of HANA and BW, will understand why this is a very well written piece. Thanks! Johannes
Ethan, Much of the article is accurate, and I did read it. My problem is with the implication that BW and HANA will Merge, whic by my definition of merge would mean that customers who want to use BW will need to buy HANA. This is not the case as I stated, and as a product strategist at SAP it is my responsibility to make sure this is well understood by all stakeholders, hence my comments.
Sorry, I did not realize that my original post was from my personal account, not my SAP account
From a technical stand point, I do not see HANA and SAP BW merging at all just because the underlying technologies are different. I agree with VOLTAR.
SAP jacks up Business Warehouse to in-memory speed
Nice Article to read.

It's true that there's a lot of speculations saying HANA will replace BW, BW will not be replaced by HANA etc.

But one fact that everyone should know is Hardware pricing. HANA might be expensive now, but it will not be the case in the future or even in near future.
When Hardware become affordable, users will be willing to spend to have faster reporting, faster loading, faster everything.

To be honest, I do hope BW will be able to fully leverage and utilize HANA in the future. It would be best of both worlds.