SAP HANA - myth-busting through the marketing hype

30 May 2011

John Appleby

John Appleby

Global Head of Sales

In the aftermath of SAP's annual SAPPHIRE conference, there have been numerous pieces of analysis on HANA - but they have all missed the point. Let's do some myth-busting.

#1 - HANA 1.0 is a replacement for BW

HANA 1.0 is no more than an analytics engine on Kool-Aid, which SAP has recently taken to calling an Application Platform. I don't think HANA is an Application Platform yet, but it seems clear that it is the DNA for SAP's future platform for almost everything. This is fine for a first-generation release and as I have written before, it seems likely that early adopters of HANA - in its 1.0 release - can get serious business value. Assuming they choose an appropriate use case, that is, for HANA 1.0 is not for everyone.

For most organizations willing to invest in HANA, they need to find a business problem which either was impossible to measure or analyse before due to large data volumes, or for which a Data Warehouse like NetWeaver BW is insufficiently agile - either in change terms, or in frequency of update. Those organizations who find such a business problem should implement HANA 1.0. Probably most large organizations have such a business problem, but not all will be able to find it.

#2 - HANA 1.5 is an upgrade to HANA 1.0

By the way, it seems likely that SAP will call HANA 1.5, HANA 1.2, but that's by the by. HANA 1.x will be a very different beast to HANA 1.0 because it will replace the Oracle, DB2 or MSSQL database platform for the NetWeaver BW Data Warehouse. Existing customers will be able to migrate from their existing platform onto HANA using a regular SAP migration process - which basically involves sucking SAP out into a file and injecting it into HANA.

The astute will notice that this means HANA can be a RDBMS for almost any SAP release including any of the Business Suite products but SAP aren't ready to risk putting the core business on HANA yet. Instead, they have rewritten parts of BW in machine language so they perform much faster - 2-3x faster for calculations and planning compared to BW.

But it seems clear that HANA 1.0 and 1.x will remain as two distinct products in the short-medium term, because not everyone wants a Data Warehouse and not everyone who does, will want to run it on HANA yet.

#3 - HANA is the solution to everyone's problems

Hopefully it's clear from the above that HANA isn't for everyone. For a start, you need a budget in excess of $500,000 to implement HANA - for now - which means that it is for larger businesses, and those with capital to spend on Business Analytics. The cost is partially caused by the hardware: SAP claims it is commodity, and has recently reworded this as "high-end commodity", which is more to the point.

SAP has also shown HANA running on a Mac mini, but this is marketing because whilst HANA will run on anything from your laptop upwards, SAP won't allow it. You can only run HANA on the latest and greatest Intel blade technology and SAP is very restrictive of what hardware it can run on so it shows HANA off at its best.

In addition, the low end of licensing is not that low, because - I suspect - SAP want to implement a small number of key customers and build success stories. This means that HANA is priced out the market for the Small & Medium Enterprise - for now.

#4 - HANA is already changing the world

The details of this are a bit shaky, but details of productive customers are unclear from SAP. In addition reports from the field suggest that those customers who are implementing now, are going through some teething troubles - with HANA as a database, and also with performance using SAP BusinessObjects BI4. This isn't particularly worrying because new technology always has teething troubles, and those organisations willing to implement very early ought to know that and be willing to put up with that in order to achieve competitive advantage.

It's certainly true though that as HANA matures, the competitive advantage that can be achieved may be immense and early adopters may pat themselves on the back.

#5 - HANA is a game changer

I've gotten a bit sick of people saying that HANA is a "game-changer" because it is totally missing the point. I met up with Ike Nassi at SAPPHIRE, who has the bizarre title of "Chief Scientist". From what I can see, he puts together the hardware for HANA and has a big technical playground from Hasso Plattner. He talked about how his team were actually building new Intel blades with very specific qualities like ultra-fast Level 4 cache to improve performance.

But more to the point, he seems to actually get HANA as well as anyone I have met and he's the first person to coin my phrase: In-Memory Computing is an inflection point. We don't get to see inflection points very often - for me, they are:

  • Transistor
  • Mini Computer
  • Magnetic Disk
  • Personal Computer
  • Cellular telephone
  • Compact Disk
  • Solid State Storage
  • In Memory Computing

In my opinion at least, everything else we hold dear - the iPhone, DVD, Laptop - are nothing more than miniaturisation and evolution. But In Memory Computing is different because it allows us to do things that we couldn't dream of doing. I can't tell you what those things are because they haven't been invented yet, but make no mistake, they will be.

If you remember the CD, people said it would never replace vinyl records because it didn't have the quality. And that's the thing with inflection points: we don't understand their relevance until we can look at them in a historical context. HANA will go down in history as the start of an inflection-point that we don't yet recognise.


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About the author

John Appleby

Global Head of Sales

I've always been passionate about new technology. I cut my teeth helping global financial services and consumer goods companies build data warehouses to manage their business - especially when they wanted to run faster.

These days, I travel weekly across continents, helping clients differentiate themselves using analytics technologies. This then involved building a team to design the solution, make it work and lead it through to successful completion.

I believe that in-memory computing is radically changing the face of business so you can ask me about SAP HANA, or about any other data platform like DB2 BLU, Hadoop or MongoDB for that matter.

I'm passionate that giving back to the community reaps long-term rewards and this has shaped the last few years of my career - being a contributor to knowledge sharing websites as an SAP Mentor; and a sometime advisor to Wall Street investors on emerging technologies and those companies bringing to market new innovations.

When I'm not busy designing in-memory apps, you may find me pounding the pavement to the beat of music in the hilly suburbs of Philadelphia, or traveling the world to meet new people and new cultures.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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