Monday, February 27, 2012

A quick brief about SAP

SAP is one of the world’s largest vendors of independent enterprise software, that provides specialized software applications for enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM), product lifecycle management (PLM), software supplier relationship management (SRM), and business intelligence (BI).

SAP provides enterprise software solutions (like SAP R/3) to a large number of multinational companies who require fast, stable and reliable business applications. These applications (categorized as platform applications, extension applications and composite applications) enable them to handle millions of transactions in multiple currencies and possess international presence. These applications are available in form of smaller components, which can be customized and configured as per the needs of the industry.

In case there is any need of further modification or functionality enhancement, these applications can be customized using the SAP Netweaver development technologies. SAP Netweaver development technologies includes ABAP (programming language along with an integrated development environment, something similar to COBOL), Java, and Composition development framework (tools and environment across heterogeneous systems).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

High Availability Basic Concepts-I

For any software application or service, high availability refers to the availability of that application or service to its users without any failure. For simplest example, Google is providing its search capabilities to all the Internet users (virtually) for 24 X 7 via its Google search engine. We assume that as soon as we switch on our PC or laptop (or any other compatible device), and connect to Internet, Google search will be available to us. The use of word virtually compensates for those small time periods, when Google search engine is not available to the users due to server maintenance, or some other reasons. This duration will be called as downtime, and is usually measured over a year. So if any application of service provider claims 99.9% availability, it means that over a year’s time, its services may be down for 0.1% duration of year, i.e. 8 hours and 45 minutes.

The primary goal of any high availability solution is to minimize the impact of downtime. And the Service Level Agreements for any such high availability solution (or service) always covers these clarifications in its terms and conditions. The availability of a solution (application or service, or a group of them) can be expressed as this calculation

Availability = ( Actual Uptime / Expected Uptime ) x 100:

The resulting value is often expressed by industry in terms of the number of 9’s that the solution provides; meant to convey an annual number of minutes of possible uptime, or conversely, minutes of downtime.

Number of 9’s

Availability Percentage

Total Annual Downtime

2

99%

3 days, 15 hours

3

99.9%

8 hours, 45 minutes

4

99.99%

52 minutes, 34 seconds

5

99.999%

5 minutes, 15 seconds

More details on various high availability applications and services will be covered very soon. (as soon as I'll have free time available for the same :)

Alright, got some time to generate some content as a blog Microsoft's High Availability Solutions.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Journey of Crystal Reports

For one of the recent assignments, I had to dig out the entire history of the world famous reporting product “Crystal Reports”, as it originated, transformed, and evolved into what we see as SAP Crystal Reports 2011 today. Here is the brief summary of the same:

Crystal Reports is a business intelligence application used to design and generate reports from a wide range of data sources. Started as Crystal Services Inc. in 1989, the company developed this product as a commercial report writing tool for their accounting software. They released three initial versions of the product as Quik Reports (1990), Quik Reports 2.0 (1991) and Quik Reports 3.0 (1992).

Then, after acquisition by Seagate Technology Inc in 1994, the company was named as Seagate Software. The product was also renamed and launched as Seagate Info 4.0 in 1995. In 1995, Seagate Software decided to have collaboration with Holistic Systems (acquired by Seagate technologies Inc.) forming Information Management Group of Seagate Software. Under this collaboration, the product was rebranded, and users enjoyed 5 versions, namely Crystal Reports 4.5 (1996), Crystal Info 5 (1997), Seagate Crystal Info 6 (1998), Seagate Info 7 (1999), and Seagate Info 7.5 (2000). (And yes, the name was changed almost after every release; they were just not able to find the right name for it!!).

In year 2001, the company Seagate Software was again renamed as Crystal Decisions. It then released the versions Crystal Enterprises 8.0, Crystal Enterprises 8.5 (2001) and then Crystal Enterprises 9.0 (2001) in quick successions.

Then it was again acquired by famous Business Intelligence solution provider BusinessObjects in 2003. The first version released after this acquisition carried the same naming format as its earlier trend, Crystal Enterprise 10.0 in year 2004. Then the product was released with revised names as Crystal Reports XI R1 (2005), and Crystal Reports XI R2 (2006).

With acquisition of BusinessObjects by SAP in 2007, this product again witnessed change of name. It was released as Crystal Report 2008 (2008).

The latest release is named as SAP Crystal Report 2011.

For details on future roadmap of this product, and what users can expect from SAP for this product, here is the SAP Crystal Reports 2011 and the 20-year roadmap.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Business Intelligence Technology Stack


Business Intelligence general refers to identification, extraction or transformation of business data into useful information (reports, charts, graphs etc.) to gain business specific insights like demand forecasts and sales predictions, thus providing better decision making capabilities. It usually refers to the computer based techniques, like reporting, analytics, data mining, benchmarking, predictive analysis etc., but is not limited to them.


As explained by D. J. Power in his work “A Brief History of Decision Support Systems”, there are various tools and technologies that provide Business Intelligence capabilities, and providing an efficient Decision Support System (DSS). His research covers even the basic systems like file drawers, which are used to keep information in organized and readily searchable manner (for small organizations). But in present information age, those kinds of systems seems outdated for requirements of a global organizations, with hundreds of branches across the world, and

generating and processing huge amount of information per hour. In this article, we are focusing only on computer based programs and applications, that consumes and processes the digital information available on organization’s servers, and then generates meaningful results out of it, which provokes better decisions from BDMs (Business Decision Makers), TDMs (Technology Decision Makers) or other IT Pros involved in decision making.

The well-known enterprise analyst organization Gartner predicts a five-fold growth in the Open-Source BI tools product deployment by the end of 2012. They also mentioned in their report on Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platforms 2011, that the growth in BI will be driven by factors like Consumerization of BI and support for extreme data performance with emerging data sources (known as Big Data). And with some recent break-through innovations by the major BI vendors (like SAP’s HANA appliance, Oracle’s Exalytics appliances,

and Microsoft’s BISM model), IT world may expect more surprises coming from the major BI vendors (including but not limited to Microsoft, Oracle, microstrategy, IBM, Information Builders, QlikTech, SAP and SAS).

But irrespective of vendor, all BI solutions have a generic technology stack, with following layers:

· User Interface: This includes the Web based or application based frontend that brings the analysis to the users. It includes the portals (in case of networked or web-based analytics) or the application front end in case of locally deployed BI solution.

· Development and Admin Tools: This comprises of the tools, languages and processes involved in the development and management of BI applications and systems. The difference between BI systems and BI solutions will be covered in another blog. For example, some BI development languages can be MultiDimensional eXpressions (MDX), XML for Analysis (XMLA), Data Mining Extensions (DMX) etc.

· BI Tools: This comprises of the tools (reports, dashboards or otherwise) that enables the users to perform the desired analysis on the underlying data. User access these tools via the User Interface layer discussed above. For instance, Microsoft’s PowerPivot and Power View, SAP’s crystal reports, Jaspersoft, Oracle’s Business Intelligence Foundation Suite are just few examples to name, there are more than 100 of readily usable vendor products available in the market.

· Applications and BI data sources: This comprises of the various sources that keep the information in pre-processed form that can be readily consumed for analysis. This includes models like Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) Cubes or Decision Support Systems, and concepts like Data Mining, Analysis Services, etc.

· Data Integration Tools: This comprises of the various data management tools and concepts like Master Data Management (covering data collection, source identification, schema mapping, normalization, data transformation, rule administration, error detection and correction, data consolidation, data storage, data distribution, data classification, item master creation, data enrichment and data governance) and services like taxonomy services, Data Quality Services,

· Data warehouse platform: This comprises of various data sources, including simple text based files, excel sheets, relational databases, or even complex unstructured data types like audio files, videos, web-logs, click-streams and geo-spatial data etc.

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