It's been some time now since the press releases and SAP TechEd Bangalore keynote proclaiming that SAP's BI OnDemand product now runs on HANA as its underlying database. The press releases have gone out. The product is here. The BI OnDemand website has been updated with a shiny new "Powered by SAP Hana" logo.
There is only one problem. It seems that the BI OnDemand that most people can see is not actually powered by Hana.
I discovered this for myself when discussing the topic with Courtney Bjorlin, who was working on an article about the announcement. SAP confirms in the article that only the "Advanced Edition" of BI OnDemand is available on the HANA database. At SAP's TechEd in Madrid, I was able to ask around on the show floor and hallways and find out more about the situation.
How do I get BI OnDemand running on HANA?
You have to buy the "Advanced Edition" of BI OnDemand. This involves a sales process and is a hosted version of the BI OnDemand platform. It seems that it's not exactly SaaS or "OnDemand", but more on that below.
The fact that the logo at https://bi.ondemand.com says "Powered by SAP Hana" is apparently an inaccuracy. Hopefully that will be corrected soon.
What are these different "editions" of BI OnDemand?
There are three "editions" of BI OnDemand: Personal, Essential, and Advanced. Based on my discussions, it seems that Personal and Essential editions are SaaS applications hosted by SAP, while the Advanced edition is hosted by partners. All editions seem to include the same web interface as seen on bi.ondemand.com, but the Essential version includes customization and branding options as well as more storage. The Advanced edition features even more storage and customization options, plus access to a hosted version of the BusinessObjects Data Services, which can be used to manage contents of DataSets. This integration of Data Services can allow for incremental updates to DataSets, which is a key feature and is not possible in the Personal or Essential editions.
As far as I can tell, none of this is documented anywhere on SAP's standard sites. My thanks to Richard Hirsch for finding this presentation outlining some of these points (see page 17): link to PDF (link has been removed because SAP has let the domain lapse - original URL was http://sap-partnersummit2011.com/doc/post_event/FKOM2011_BA&T%20track_Day2/BAtrack_2_BA-Solutions&Innovation.pdf).
So if I have the Advanced edition, I'm now on Hana?
No, not quite.
First of all, based on discussions at TechEd Madrid, it seems that only new customers can currently get onto the Hana-based BI OnDemand platform. Apparently there are contingencies for existing customers to migrate eventually, but right now it is only for new customers.
Further complicating the issue, it seems that not all hosting partners for the Advanced edition provide HANA as the underlying platform. I was told by SAP employees on the show floor that only one partner is currently providing BI OnDemand on HANA, and that partner is only in North America. Other partners are providing the BI OnDemand on the older Microsoft SQL Server-based platform. I have yet to confirm this; it is only based on the one source, so take it with a grain of salt. But there is clearly confusion around the availability of BI OnDemand using HANA, even if you are purchasing the Advanced Edition.
If capabilities provided only by HANA are required for your implementation, be sure you are actually getting HANA when you buy the BI OnDemand Advanced Edition.
Is it Hana or HANA?
I have no idea. I did learn at TechEd that HANA (or Hana) is not an acronym, so I'm leaning towards Hana, but old habits die hard.
Ok, enough with the Q&A. What does this mean?
In my view, this means that SAP still has a lot of work to do getting its message across clearly. It is not particularly bad or good that HANA is not available for the Personal or Essential editions of BI OnDemand. These editions are limited to data set sizes that are simply too small for HANA to make much of a difference.
The greater concern here is one of communication. For any company, it is extremely important to say what you mean and mean what you say. It would have been much better if SAP had been clear about the roll-out of HANA for BI OnDemand from the beginning. As it stands now, many people will try out the Personal edition and think that they are using "Hana", but they're not.
Looking to the wider view, I worry about what this partial roll-out means for SAP's BI cloud play. The BI SaaS market is still very immature and SAP has the opportunity to play a leading role in this emerging market. However the BI OnDemand product doesn't seem to have received the sort of development attention required for this role, and the deployment options seem to be severely lacking.
Companies and departments looking to buy powerful SaaS BI capabilities are not interested in figuring out what database the product is using and the impact this has on their reporting needs. SaaS should work as defined in SLAs, and it should keep getting faster and better in a way that is non-disruptive.
After talking with some of the BI OnDemand development team in February, I know that they have a good understanding of the BI SaaS space and have some great ideas for the BI OnDemand platform. I'd love to see SAP deliver on its potential in this area and I think they have the people and the vision to do so, but we haven't seen it in the product yet.
Hopefully SAP can get both the BI OnDemand message and the platform straightened out quickly. The BI SaaS market it still extremely young and SAP could be leading the way.
Disclosure: SAP provided my travel and badge for the TechEd + Sapphire 2011 conference in Madrid.