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SAP BW on HANA vs. B/4HANA: What’s the Difference?

SAP BW on HANA and BW4/HANA are different application suites running on the same database. SAP BW on HANA uses SAP’s legacy BW software, but moves it to the HANA database. BW/4HANA uses a reengineered software suite designed to fully harness the power of the HANA database.

SAP BW on HANA provides dramatic ROI with real-time reporting and accelerated analytics, without requiring companies to commit to a complete system transformation. BW/4HANA provides a range of additional benefits on top of those performance improvements.

History of SAP Business Warehouse Through BW/4HANA

SAP BW was first released in 1998 as Business Warehouse Information System (BIW). At the time, reporting on transactional data was a challenge, due to hardware limits. You could use production to run your business or your fiscal closing, but not both at the same time—at least, not without major performance degradation.

SAP BIW (later shortened to BW) was an elegant solution. At night, it would extract data, transform it into an optimal format, then load it into a separate BW landscape where it could be analyzed. BW has gone through many iterations since then, but the use case has remained the same. For big data, it made sense to have a separate system optimized for analysis.

That started to change in 2010 with the release of SAP HANA (SAP’s in-memory database platform). Up until that point, databases ran on disks, which limited performance. While computers have made tremendous gains in power, hard drives remain slow. When a business warehouse is analyzing gigabytes or terabytes of data, the speed of the hard drive becomes a limiting factor—that’s why traditional BW reporting takes so long.

The SAP HANA platform operates entirely in memory—one of several design innovations that dramatically improve performance and reporting. In many cases, reports that took days can now run in under an hour from your production landscape, using up-to-date data—all without degrading performance.

BW on HANA and BW/4HANA are two steps along the way to a new paradigm that SAP is still developing. Both provide major performance benefits, and BW/4HANA provides additional advantages through an application stack designed specifically to take advantage of HANA’s new capabilities.

What Are the Benefits of SAP BW on HANA?

BW on HANA provides quick ROI through performance. Due to HANA’s in-memory computing capabilities, reports that used to take days to run now take hours, dramatically accelerating a range of reporting and analytical tasks. In addition to speed is new functionality. You can query current data, instead of relying on reports from months ago. This allows you to react much more quickly to changing business conditions and make more informed decisions. It’s also possible to react in a more granular way; for example, you can tweak your supply chain to eliminate bottlenecks before they cause a significant impact.

What Are the Benefits of SAP BW/4HANA?

SAP BW/4HANA provides a number of advantages over BW on HANA:

  • Functional capabilities
  • IT strategy
  • Agility
  • Productivity

Some of these key benefits of BW/4HANA center around integration. BW/4HANA couples with SAP Data Hub, SAP Analytics Cloud, and other data analytics solutions, allowing you to use your data more effectively across a wide range of business and hosting scenarios. With BW/4HANA, you have your choice of on-premise, cloud, or hybrid deployment.

Deploying or upgrading to SAP BW/4HANA allows you to adopt new features as they’re released. As SAP continues to modernize their application stack to harness HANA’s capabilities more fully, this can provide substantial benefits across a wide range of industries and use cases.

SAP BW/4HANA adoption also replaces the aging SAPGUI Admin Workbench with the modern SAP BW/4HANA Web Cockpit, and plugs end users into SAP Fiori. This greatly enhances productivity in business, development, and IT administration.

Recent updates have extended and enhanced the operational range of the SAP BW4/HANA 2.0 application suite, providing significant improvements in data modeling flexibility (such as new join types & operators), data integration capabilities, and data protection and privacy. Data Tiering Optimization (DTO) has been augmented; new features here include dynamic partitioning and automatic temperature rule maintenance.

These updates bring BW4/HANA 2.0 closer to realizing SAP’s long-term goal of creating a modern data warehousing solution that is fully optimized for SAP HANA.


Is SAP Going to End BW?

The short answer is yes—eventually. SAP is working to expand the functionality of their ERP solution, S/4HANA, to accommodate users of BW, CRM, and other applications in a unified technology stack. Hardware has outgrown the need for data warehousing, and software will follow this development.

In February 2020, SAP announced that it would extend maintenance for SAP BW/4HANA and SAP BW 7.5 through 2027. As Torsten Ammon, Head of Data Warehouse in SAP HANA & Analytics, points out, “This is excellent news for our SAP BW and SAP BW/4HANA customers, as it confirms SAP’s continued investment in our established enterprise data warehousing products. SAP BW/4HANA has a strong roadmap and will continue to be the innovation code line.

“This also allows our customers to secure their path to SAP S/4HANA and be sure the SAP BW/4HANA does support that strategy in the long-term.

“I’d like to re-iterate the overall SAP data warehousing strategy: to innovate and provide industry-leading data warehousing technologies with SAP Data Warehouse Cloud, SAP SQL Data Warehousing, and SAP BW/4HANA to enable the Intelligent Enterprise.

“With SAP Data Warehouse Cloud, we took the opportunity to address new use cases. The idea is not to replace SAP BW/4HANA, but to extend it in hybrid mode towards the Line of Business users.”

“If you’re migrating to the cloud, you’ll be well positioned for a move to BW/4HANA in the future.”

Do I Have to Move to Suite on HANA to Migrate BW?

You don’t have to move ECC and BW at the same time. Many conservative and risk-averse companies are reluctant to migrate a production landscape they’ve built over years to a new database. Migrating first to BW on HANA gives them experience with HANA, along with the ROI to justify future upgrades to Suite on HANA or S/4HANA.

That being said, upgrading to Suite on HANA along with BW on HANA has significant advantages. Not only will you be able to accelerate your timetable for HANA adoption and provide better performance to your business—it will also minimize disruption and control costs by combining multiple upgrades into a single project.

Should I Migrate Directly to BW/4HANA?

At present, most existing SAP BW users start by moving to BW on HANA. This minimizes project scope, disruption, and organizational impact. You’ll be essentially using the same application stack, but with a major performance boost. This lets you try out new tools and gain some experience to plan your future SAP transformation.

Additionally, if you’re migrating to the cloud, you’ll be well positioned for a move to BW/4HANA in the future. You can just spin off an instance of your BW landscape in the cloud, convert to BW/4HANA, and perform all the necessary testing and development, then roll over to the new system when it’s ready.

However, there are good reasons to consider going straight to BW/4HANA. During the migration process, your team will have to thoroughly test, upgrade, and migrate your landscape. Going directly to BW/4HANA eliminates the need for a second project, saving you a considerable amount of time, money, and disruption overall.

When it comes to making the move to BW/4HANA, you have multiple options to select from: in-place conversion (transfers your existing landscape), remote conversion (begins with and based on a new BW/4HANA installation), and shell conversion (a greenfield method that does not transfer existing data).

What Are the Obstacles to Moving BW to HANA?

One of the biggest problems with planning a migration is uncertainty. Custom code is less of a problem in BW than it is in Suite, but there are other issues that can complicate migration. Enterprise data warehouses can develop elaborate, inefficient logic over time that your team may need to untangle. And you may not learn how complex (or expensive!) the process will be until your functional partner digs in.

Gaining an understanding of the impact of an SAP migration or conversion on your existing system is another potential pain point. Identifying and remediating all system prerequisites has traditionally required months of effort by the SI.

Resolving uncertainty is one of the reasons we developed Protera FlexBridge, an intelligent migration and management platform that simplifies and accelerates migrations, starting with a complete, automated assessment of your current landscape. You’ll know what changes need to be made before the project starts, so you can budget more accurately and avoid delays and cost overruns.

Protera FlexBridge also simplifies and accelerates the conversion process significantly. You’ll have full visibility with a dashboard of all open items that have been identified, which correlates possible fixes as identified by the tool and SAP, allowing you to track and rerun the checks on demand.

Downtime is a migration pain point mitigated by Protera FlexBridge. HANA migration has traditionally required multiple downtimes, harming productivity and creating scheduling challenges. Protera FlexBridge can sharply curtail SAP BW on HANA migration issues of this nature. It enables you to move to BW on HANA or BW/4HANA with only a single period of downtime, which significantly decreases the total downtime required and accelerates overall project timelines.

Whichever migration option you choose, the more information you have going in, the better. Start planning your transformation to HANA or to the next-generation ERP and Warehouse solutions from SAP with an assessment of your systems.



Contact us to discuss your SAP transformation project.