SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 Mixes Expected Upgrades, Innovative Breakthroughs

The list of business intelligence enhancements includes long-awaited fixes as well as in-memory and real-time advances.
Oddly enough, it was the SAP integration that got little attention at the actual launch event, as the vendor continues to try to remain agnostic for non-SAP business app customers. The company had pre-briefed me on what's new here, the main headline being improved performance between BW and the SAP BusinessObjects client tools.

Because the client tools now access content through the BICS (Business Intelligence Consumer Services) layer, a proprietary communication layer that SAP's Excel interface, BEx, also uses to communicate with BW. Xcelsius leveraged BICS connectivity last year, but now in BI 4.0, all the traditional BusinessObjects client tools do as well, including Web Intelligence. This change reportedly boosts performance by a factor of four and addresses one of the biggest complaints with the SAP BusinessObjects XI 3.1 integration kit.

Beyond the performance improvement, the other big benefits here are that customers don't have to first create a universe on top of a BEx query or BW InfoCube; the BEx query can be access directly in WebI.

The big question will be: what does this mean for third-party BI vendors who support BW and for customers who use third party BI tools? If you are an SAP customer with a custom data warehouse, the playing field is still level. If you're on BW, SAP BusinessObjects now has a leg up.

Two of my biggest questions about BI 4.0, though, remained unanswered (or answered but vaguely, so I am unconvinced). One question was "how easy will the upgrade be? Executives were clear to say it's an upgrade, not a migration, but none of the ramp-up customers at the event had evaluated the upgrade utilities.

The other question is about the impact of the 4.0 server running only on 64-bit operating systems. While many corporations use new hardware and OSs in their data centers, infrastructure for BI application servers seems to still be 32-bit (one recent survey cites 83%, which sounds high to me). Bottom line: if your current BusinessObjects deployment is on older hardware, you need to plan for an upgrade. And if you have server-based licensing that counts cores, expect to have to re-negotiate.

You tell me: is your BI server on 64-bit already? And if not, do you suspect that the 4.0 upgrade will be costly on the hardware and software licensing front?

Cindi Howson is the founder of BI Scorecard , an independent analyst firm that advises companies on BI tool strategies and offers in-depth business intelligence product reviews.