One of the key messages to emerge from SAP’s big Sapphire/TechEd user conference last week in Madrid was the centrality of HANA to its developing product architecture. SAP is betting big on HANA’s success.
SAP HANA (high-performance analytic appliance) was originally devised, and positioned, as next-generation database to supplement and even replace the ubiquitous relational database engines that SAP products utilize today.
HANA holds all data in-memory – even if that is measured in petabytes – to give fast response times to load and query. With the latest upgrades (dubbed “SPS5”), HANA is now able to fulfill its promise to allow multiple data models to be supported (object, row and column store), and to support multiple workloads – both OLAP and OLTP – from the same system.
However HANA has taken on importance beyond its capability as a high-end database: it has become the centerpiece of SAP’s message that it is truly an innovative company, the flag around which the troops can rally and (to stretch the metaphor) march behind. HANA is on every product presentation somewhere and few conversations with SAP staff on products and futures omit a reference to HANA. Sales people have a strong incentive to sell HANA to their regular customers. Competitor companies have been forced to respond to the in-memory waves that SAP has been making.
And, as we saw in Madrid, HANA’s importance is now going even beyond this, as SAP’s architects realize the power of putting more and more functionality into the in-memory machine. It is no longer to be viewed as ‘just’ a database. Rather, HANA will take on more and more of the basic workloads formerly done by the middleware and even some applications. It now has a predictive analytics engine, a text analytics engine and more, and most importantly it now hosts a new application server capability.
In essence then, SAP’s plan is for HANA to become the next generation of NetWeaver (SAP’s brand name for its middleware stack for developing and running SAP applications today). More and more of NetWeaver’s functions are migrating into (or being replicated by) HANA. This should lead to a more elegant and efficient product architecture as SAP moves to embrace the Cloud more fully. As R&D costs are amortized and Moore’s law works its magic on the cost of the underlying systems, the economics will change, allowing HANA deployment to become the ‘norm’ underneath most SAP systems in some form.
However this vision has a few hurdles to overcome (and even if it comes to pass, the change will take years to make its way through the vast SAP installed systems base).
Most important, today SAP systems generally run on another vendor’s database and include third-party middleware, often from a variety of sources. Those vendors – especially Oracle, whose database is the default choice for larger SAP systems deployment – have their own middleware and tools and want to remain fundemental to SAP systems. Other vendors are all developing their own databases to try to keep them as attractive as SAP’s own, as a SAP platform. For example, Oracle has gone for its own flavor of in-memory and multi-tenanting, while Microsoft too has announced in-memory capabilities. IBM is pushing the virtues of its own extensive range of database, middleware and tools, while hedging its bets by also being one of the prime systems vendors for HANA appliances.
In addition, we have not seen ERP running on HANA yet. We have to wait to see how well customers will accept it. The recently announced SAP 360 Customer solution is the first step to running production transaction systems on HANA, and so we will soon be able to collect experiences of its capacity to run operational alongside analytical functions.
PAC believes that almost every customer will explore and exploit HANA, as it is becoming a standard component in many of SAPs portfolio items. But to say that it will become the norm to run SAP systems – mainly ERP – on HANA is, at this stage, a step too far. But all SAP users should take a good look at SAP’s rapidly evolving roadmap to thoroughly compare HANA with what other vendors bring to the table.