SAP was founded in 1972 as a business applications company but really came into prominence in the 1990s with the ERP boom. Its ERP solution (R/3) was first released in 1992. The vendor employs more than 100,000 people worldwide and had revenues of $27.84 billion in 2021. Today, SAP is one of the largest business software vendors in the world.

SAP’s original strategy was to view BI as an extension of its all-inclusive ERP offerings. Therefore, it launched SAP Business Warehouse (BW) in 1998, a completely packaged, plug-and-play BI solution designed to complement SAP ERP applications. BW is a package consisting of connectors, relational data storage, subject-oriented multidimensional structured data marts and predefined content as well as tools for reporting, analysis and planning. The goal was to provide a plug-and-play BI solution that would make it fast and easy for SAP customers to benefit from BI.

There are different versions of BW available. Traditional BW runs on third-party databases such as Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle for data storage. The “powered by SAP HANA” version uses SAP’s own HANA platform. SAP BW/4HANA will only run on SAP HANA. It uses different modeling objects with modeling taking place in HANA Studio (SAP HANA’s development environment) instead of the SAP GUI (the BW development environment) and leverages additional tools based on HANA technology (e.g., for data integration).

With BW/4HANA, SAP released its next-generation data warehousing offering in 2016. The overall concept and goal of this package remains similar to the approach with BW: to provide software support for customers to integrate SAP operational data sources with other data sources and create a data warehouse which exposes its data to different front ends. In contrast to BW, the new BW/4HANA solution does not include front-end tools anymore. The following document refers to SAP BW/4HANA.

SAP BW/4HANA is a completely revamped version of SAP BW that runs on the SAP HANA in-memory database. The new product improves performance and scalability, simplifies operation and development, and supports a variety of in-database analytic functions. It is mainly designed to support multiple analytic use cases, ranging from standard reporting and dashboarding to dimensional analysis. Basic support for real-time and advanced analytics is also included. Although it is not without challenges, the platform supports an array of functionality:

  • Data integration to combine data from varied sources and data types.
  • Real-time access to or replication of sources based on HANA’s in-memory architecture.
  • Algorithm push-down of operations/calculations to HANA supporting query calculations, planning functions and transformation logic.
  • HANA foundation-based spatial and graph support as well as text and predictive analytics.
  • Data Tiering Optimization (DTO) for managing hot, warm and cold data.

For analytics in on-premises environments, the HANA database is often viewed natively as well as SAP BW/4HANA. Currently, SAP is ploughing much of its data and analytics investment into the cloud, offering a combination of SAP Analytics Cloud as the user tool layer, SAP Data Warehouse Cloud as the analytical data store and SAP Data Intelligence for data pipelining tasks. This means that SAP is once again creating a competitive product offering within its own portfolio.

User & Use Cases

It is not surprising that 89 percent of users leverage the SAP BW/4HANA as a data warehouse and a large proportion also use it for data integration. These use cases are what SAP BW typically supports. Surprisingly, 69 percent of survey participants claim to perform data preparation using SAP BW/4HANA. In our view, data preparation as an iterative process in which business users prepare almost code-free data sets for exploration is not what is meant here. It is more likely they are referring to data preparation (data integration) for data warehousing. It is worth mentioning that the level of use of SAP BW/4HANA for data storage and as a query engine is relatively low. Both categories indicate the implementation of non-BI use cases from our perspective (e.g., as data storage for advanced analytics or a query engine that support data virtualization concepts to access and combine SAP data with non-SAP data sources).

SAP BW/4HANA is widely used within larger companies, as shown by the high median number of users (500) and the mean of 1793 users. This is not surprising considering that SAP technology is used primarily by large organizations with more than 2,500 employees (73 percent). In contrast, the number of developers who implement use cases with BW/4HANA seems relatively high. An average (mean) of 258 developers work with BW/4HANA, while the median is 6.

Use cases


Extend of usage in the company


Total number of users per company


Total number of developers per company


Company size (number of employees)


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Peer Groups Analytical Database Products, Business Software Generalists (data management), Products to Support DW Automation
Number of responses34
OfficesOffices in more than 130 countries worldwide
Customers> 440,000 (in total, not only BI customers )