BI4 is a Big Baby

Anybody that has been in the BusinessObjects administration area of expertise for a long time knows that with each upgrade, the platform requirements get bigger and more substantial. The new SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4 (BI4) is no exception. While that is the underpinnings of this post, what I really want to hit on is the role that virtualization will or will not play in the future of BI4.

Define “Big”
Have you noted this from the latest Product Availability matrix for SP02 (Windows)?

Minimum Server Hardware Requirements (Updated)
4 x 2.0 GHz Core CPU
8 GB RAM minimum / recommended 16GB*
* Sizing Companion for SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 states: “In terms of typical hardware in an enterprise scale deployment of BI 4.0, a node in a BI 4.0 cluster would typically be an 8 core machine with 16GB minimum or equivalent.”

In simple terms, big. Lots of folks will say “that’s not big”. But relative to what we were able to deploy prior versions on, the minimum requirements took a significant bump.

How Big is Big?
I am on board with saying BI4 *can be* a game changer (sorry kitty and John Appleby).


BI4 comes with many many real benefits that some customers struggle to see and over time will catch on as meaningful upgrades. Oh, and Deski is finally gone. But that’s not the point of this article.

Take a look here at my BI4 VM on my laptop with no user activity whatsoever. Memory utilization is really high.


I sized this VM with 4 cores and 4 GB of ram. Proof positive here that the minimum requirements do not lie. Obviously, utilization on these servers will vary wildly as the day goes on. Out of the box, SQL Server (spiking to 300+ MB of ram) and unknown “java” (it’s the Adaptive Processing Server, count on it, spiking to as much as 1 GB of ram), will fluctuate and move back and forth in terms of overall utilization. Apache Tomcat, also now 64-bit, is taking a significant chunk of this lowly box.

Believe me, I know point-in-time views at the Task Manager are subject to…well…a lot. A true measure of performance is utilizing real performance monitoring tools to look at performance over time. If you’ve tried to run BI4 on a small VM like you did with SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise XI 3.1 or earlier, you know that doesn’t matter.

The next to go was my virtual memory.


It too was configured sufficiently prior to this upgrade at 4 GB of RAM. So with a VM with 4 GB of RAM, with 4 GB of swap, we’re dead in the water.

But What Can I Do?
Regardless of the purpose of your environment, decoupling the layers will continue to become important.

  • Web Tier – If you aren’t doing this already, get the web application server (Tomcat/Websphere/WebLogic) off your BOBJ servers and get them onto a VM. It is a perfect use case and frees up significant resources for the power-hungry BI4 to get what it needs to do its job.
  • Database Layer – Sure, knocking off MySQL was bound to happen sooner or later, but SQL Server (replaced with SAP SQL Anywhere in BI 4.1) is not a small platform for a CMS. Like the Web Tier, even in DEV or TEST, get a database that doesn’t compete with your BI4 environment for resources. Is this guy a candidate for virtualization? That’s between you and your database administrator. My gut says for a dedicated BOBJ database, most likely. But ultimately, if you can steal a ride on a larger enterprise database, do it.

Dallas Marks also starts down the road of what the beastly Adaptive Processing Server (APS) is really getting at. In it, he explains what this server is intended for, and walks through some of the sizing guides and how to use to your advantage to tune. Is this good for virtualization? My gut says “no”. Whether you have one process or many running the APS, the impact is still hard on a server.

All of these factors combined move to one underlying message: BI4 on a small virtual machine is currently an effort in futility. Consultants, demo machines, sandboxes, proof of concept environments….rethinking deployment strategies is a must. BI4 wants too much. VMware admins want to give you small slices of the farm. BI4 wants more than a small slice. You could argue that you can strip away a lot and get some performance back, but I think as you begin to rob BI4 of its soul, the value of a demo/dev/test VM or whatever you want to call it is gone.

Are there meaningful alternatives? I think so. I think Amazon Prime Web Services (AWS) like EC2 (I think I wrote Prime because I just subscribed!) or the like are going to be valuable for some. Others will want to reeeeaaally get in tight with their VMware admins to get bigger slices of the farm to make their environments perform if virtualization has become the norm.

In production environments, carefully consider the impact of *small* environments that are running with 8-16 GB of RAM and how much memory hungry processes like the Web Intelligence Processing Server, the APS, and Explorer are going to take as you size production environments as well. More thoughts on that coming soon.

  • SAP Note 1492000 – General Support Statement for Virtual Environments
  • SAP Note 1409608 – Virtualization on Windows (see related SAP notes for other supported operating systems)