SAP HANA – The Journey from Platform to PaaS

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. July 16, 2014

There is no shortage of transformational technologies in the IT industry. Often, they arise via the efforts of a single vendor, like Intel’s x86 architecture or the IBM mainframe. Others leverage Open Source efforts, such as the development and spread of Linux, which benefits from the collaborative energies of numerous individuals and organizations. Yet others are fueled by vendors that capture the natural synergies between their own and other technologies to create something essentially new. SAP’s HANA in-memory database solution is a prime example of this latter dynamic.

The In-Memory Difference

Why is SAP HANA such a revolutionary departure? Consider first that in-memory database technology is no new thing. Vendors have long recognized that shortening the physical distance between compute resources and the data they require can substantially reduce or even eliminate the system and network bottlenecks that impede processing. Placing the data within a system’s memory delivers massive, often orders-of-magnitude improvements in data throughout and application performance.

That fact has enabled enterprise vendors to develop and deliver a variety of robust solutions, including real time analytics platforms. However, a longstanding blemish on this rosy scenario was the considerable cost of enterprise systems and components, including random access memory (RAM) itself. Not so long ago, including just a single terabyte of RAM (the amount required to support an average-sized enterprise database) to a high end systems added as much as $1 million to their total cost. That made in-memory options unaffordable and essentially unavailable for any but well-heeled large businesses and research institutions that could afford substantial CAPEX investments.

By dint of its innovative work on HANA, SAP and its systems partners have successfully opened the doors and let the sun shine into what has for years been one of the most exclusive clubs in enterprise IT.

Democratizing Data

How is the company achieving this?

  • Early on, SAP recognized that systems based on Intel’s rapidly evolving Xeon microprocessors, along with continuing declines in RAM price, offered a remarkable opportunity to apply once-costly in-memory technologies to an increasingly wide range of applications and workloads.
  • In 2008, using technologies developed in-house and via acquisitions, SAP redesigned its database architecture for native parallelization on multiple cores and developed other software innovations, including combining row and column stores, advancing data compression techniques and enabling “code push-down” in the DB layer. The result of these efforts was an application architecture for real-time analytics and aggregation that eventually became known as HANA.
  • In addition, the company created a reference architecture that opened the HANA platform to virtually any hardware vendor wishing to develop systems and appliances, thus exposing a highly-restricted market to increasing competition and innovation.
  • In May 2010, HANA 1.0 was announced as an in-memory appliance for business applications/business Intelligence with real-time response and shipped in November.
  • As falling memory costs sparked increasing interest in HANA, SAP moved forward boldly on its own, using the technology to enhance and transform its solution portfolio. HANA support for SAP NetWeaver became available in late 2011, and a year later, SAP announced HANA One, a variant that was available on Amazon Web Services for an hourly fee. In May 2013, SAP delivered HANA support for the ERP solutions in its Business Suite and announced a managed cloud offering: the HANA Enterprise Cloud Service
  • In March and April of 2014, the company announced plans to relaunch and repackage its platform as a service (PaaS) to better leverage in three areas: HANA Infrastructure Services, HANA DBServices and HANA AppServices. These new offerings will be delivered from SAP’s existing global data centers, and the company also plans to expand that infrastructure to support specific regional and compliance requirements.
  • As part of these announcements, SAP said it would offer new and simplified pricing, deployment and accessibility options: a new SAN HANA Marketplace, subscription-based pricing for the SAP Business Suite via the HANA Enterprise Cloud, and new enhanced cloud migration services.

We believe the last two bullets are critically important to understanding SAP’s intentions for HANA and the larger trends it both reflects and extends. How so? In essence, the company’s HANA efforts have leveraged industry standard technologies and open development processes to democratize in-memory solutions and free them from their enterprise confines. By creating HANA, the company extended the considerable benefits of in-memory technologies to a far broader range of organizations than ever before. SAP’s decision to deliver HANA as a Cloud Platform and Enterprise Cloud service should further expand that democratization.


Why is SAP’s development of the HANA Cloud Platform and Enterprise Cloud service offerings so important? For three reasons:

  1. First and foremost, though in-memory technologies, including HANA, have been available for years, the market is still catching up. Customers have wide, varying levels of understanding and sophistication when it comes to HANA and its potential uses. As a result, buy as you need/grow/go services like SAP’s new platform and subscription offerings provide the company’s clients maximum flexibility in learning how best to approach and apply HANA to their businesses.
  2. Though HANA and other in-memory technologies are commonly pitched for emerging “big data” use cases, their applicability is actually far wider and deeper. For example, by using HANA as an OLTP platform, companies can enjoy robust online transaction processing and also perform real-time and predictive analytics on the data as it comes in. Similar synergies exist in other common business IT processes, including application, database and infrastructure services. That means that SAP’s HANA Cloud Platform offers its clients the means to cost-effectively explore and consume a range of options without making sizable CAPEX investments.
  3. Finally, SAP’s HANA strategy reflects broader trends in how businesses are using cloud services. In contrast to the optimistic pronouncements of some public cloud proponents, businesses are likely to continue using those services as they do today—to support a limited number of work groups and use cases. However, organizations are also engaging trusted vendors to support their secure off-premises and hybrid cloud environments. SAP’s deep ties to and history with enterprises worldwide makes the company an ideal fit for such scenarios, and its new HANA PaaS offerings are designed to take full advantage of this trend.

Consider also that SAP’s work around the HANA Cloud Platform (since its launch in November 2012) and Enterprise Cloud services are similar to its initial, incremental development of HANA. Along with creating highly flexible consumption and pricing models (in size options from 128GB to 1TB), the company’s grouping its offerings in three areas—SAP HANA AppServices, SAP HANA DBServices, and SAP HANA Infrastructure Services—should help customers quickly determine what solutions they want and need.

Similarly, the company’s subscription model for the SAP Business Suite and NetWeaver Business Warehouse via the HANA Enterprise Cloud service should help demonstrate how HANA can benefit and be applied to business processes and applications beyond big data. Finally, SAP offers higher level services based on the SAP HANA Cloud Platform for specific use cases and scenarios, including the SAP Mobile Platform Enterprise Edition (cloud version), the SAP HANA Cloud Portal, the SAP Lumira Cloud (for analytics), Gateway as a Service (GWaaS) and SAP HANA Cloud Integration.

In essence, along with SAP’s existing HANA solutions, these new offerings open the doors for a glimpse at HANA’s future. The company’s enhanced services for cloud migration are designed to help customers who have tasted the benefits of the HANA Enterprise Cloud to enjoy a larger, fuller menu of solutions and opportunities. SAP’s planned expansion of its global data center footprint (from the existing 16 facilities worldwide) should help expand opportunities and use cases for the HANA Cloud Platform and Enterprise Cloud services that fully comply with local restrictions and regulations.

Final Analysis

In retrospect, SAP’s development of HANA demonstrated a level of foresight that helped position the company to lead and drive broader trends around in-memory computing, analytics, big data and other complementary technologies and services. None of this happened by accident but, instead, resulted from SAP’s substantial commitments of human and financial capital.

At one level, these new solutions simply represent the company’s latest efforts around what has become its most important tactical and strategic asset, but it would be a mistake to think that is all they are. Transformational technologies may be common currency in the IT industry and marketplace but what’s seldom considered is how the most successful of these transform not just customers, but the vendors that serve them.

Evidence of the effects of HANA on SAP abound, and resonate throughout these latest solutions, platforms and services offerings. Given the significant success of HANA and the continuing benefits it provides, we believe private and public organizations would be well advised to consider and investigate SAP’s growing portfolio of HANA-based cloud platforms and services.

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