I always get a charge when an innovative technology comes along that immediately makes a significant and obvious improvement over the technology it replaces. Reports coming in from customer sites suggest that SAP has such a technology on its hands: SAP BI Accelerator (BIA).
BIA is a hardware/software solution to the problem of painfully long waits for results to reporting queries. SAP developed this product in collaboration with Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM. Its debut at SAPPHIRE last year featured an impressive demo where it delivered results against a massive set of data nearly instantly. I was impressed at the time, but I also thought that there had to be a catch. It was just too big a jump in performance to be believed.
If Kimberly-Clark’s experience, which we profile, is any indication, you can believe it. In fact, companies implementing BIA might have an unexpected problem: convincing users that the results are valid. The psychology here is interesting. Everyone hates waiting for queries to return results. However, waiting provides reassurance that the system is working. Getting a result in a second when it used to take a half-hour can be unsettling.
It helps to understand how BIA works. In a conventional SAP NetWeaver BI system, queries work against a large database stored on a hard disk drive. Sorting through that database and accessing the drive account for the vast majority of the delay in getting results. To compensate, query developers do a lot of precalculation and aggregate building, but these provide less benefit the bigger the data set becomes.
The BIA approach is simple: Get rid of the database and replace the disk drive with memory, which is much faster. This allows you to query the data directly, cutting out the middleman, once that data is placed into memory. This is how BIA delivers lightning fast results.
BIA has significance beyond performance enhancement, and this is why I think it’s a milestone product: With performance issues minimized, you make BI available to more information workers within the company. IT worries less about the overhead created by additional reports and queries, and users find BI a little more approachable. That’s a business win however you look at it.