Power BI & SAP HANA… can they play together nice?

I’ve been doing a bit of work for a global company who are SAP based. They use the BW solution and they are moving to the SAP HANA database solution (In memory database, swish!), however they have recently moved from Lotus Notes (blah!) to Office 365 (nice!) so they have a foot in both SAP and Microsoft worlds, and wanted to compare Power BI and SAP Lumira for their self-service business intelligence needs. So what did we find out? And can SAP HANA & Power BI play nicely together?

Connecting Power BI
The SAP Universe connector that was in the Power BI Desktop Preview is sadly not available any more in the release in July, and only lingers on in the Power Query connections in Excel 2013. Word on the street is that SAP poo-pooed the idea of a connector, as they didn’t want Microsoft having a better BI front end that SAP Lumira and their cloud offering had. Fetch the rolled up newspaper, bad SAP [Slap], naughty! So we are
left with two options ODBC and OData to connect to a Calculated View. For those not familiar with SAP (myself included), its like a OLAP cube, with aggregations, but flatter with dimensions and measures mixed together. (Please correct me in comments if needed). Normally I would extract the data to a source that Power BI can use like SQL Server or Azure, but not in this case, connect to SAP HANA or nothing!

Connecting Power BI 
In trying to connect Power BI I came across a few limitations.
1: You can’t have a live connection for the data in both the Power BI Designer and the Power BI Service. You’ll have to refresh the data in the Power BI Designer then upload it to the service. But what about OData? That can be used as a data source when loading it to the web service, well yes you can, but this is a On-Premise OData service, the web service part can’t resolve the internal URL in the OData connection, you would have to create/expose the SAP HANA OData URL to the internet for it to work, which in this case was a great big NO!.
2: ODBC & OData (On Prem) isn’t supported in the Power BI Personal Gateway, so no scheduled refresh of the data.
3: If you use Parameters and/or Variables in the calculated view, Power BI doesn’t like those and will throw an error message for both ODBC & OData connections when trying to connect so those options in SAP HANA are out.

4: For ODBC connections Calculated Views do not show up in the browser list of objects. You have to use an SQL query to get the data into Power BI.

5: Security and permissions can be an issues for the ODBC connections, as it will list all the objects that you technically have permission to see. As I had elevated permissions, this meant a long list of tables, objects etc, that the Power BI Desktop table selection struggled with and just hung for a minute or so when trying to move down the list of objects. I’ve encountered something similar when connecting to SQL Server connections, it will list the tables/views etc you have permission for, and the system ones in a database too.
For the OData connection, adding filters as per the OData standard to the URL worked fine for example filtering on the dataset for just the Europe region:
http://hanaserver.somevendor.com:8000/Power_BI_PoC/PowerBIODataV1.xsodata/Results?$filter Region eq ‘Europe’One of the other things with OData connections is that you add in the OData connection set up the SAP HANA column names, and it will bring through the column labels fine in the OData XML and then on to Power BI
ODBC connections and the resulting query is a lot faster than OData to get data from SAP HANA. Power BI took a few minutes for the OData, and seconds for the same volume in ODBC. I assume, that as its reading the data, putting it into JSON format, then Power BI transfers it back to a table format, its going to suck up some processing time.
IMHO, SAP have made a strategic mistake in not allowing a SAP connector to Power BI, it is old world thinking to limit the SAP application in such a way so they can sell SAP Lumira on top of their SAP DB’s. I’ve experienced first hand and the industry is moving to a place were customers want their technology to talk to each other, Power BI has connectors to Oracle, Teradata, Salesforce and so many more, sure it works great with the Microsoft stack of databases, both on premise and cloud, but its not limited to it. Customers want less tools and applications, training time is expensive both in cost and time for the person to be out of the business and they have already invested in capital for their IT systems. SAP Lumira having seen it, it can’t compare to Power BI in terms of usability and visualisations, and the rate that Power BI is moving with updates and capability, SAP Lumira isn’t going to catch up, so please SAP do yourself a favor, work with Microsoft get a connector sorted, welcome to the new world, it’s glittery and interconnected.