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When clients ask Gartner’s Daniel Sholler about SAP HANA, it’s not generally a question of whether they should look to HANA as a data mart or a database. They usually don’t make that distinction, he says.
“I’ve heard SAP talk about this as everything from soup to nuts,” the Gartner research vice president says clients ask him. What exactly is it?
The answer? It is everything from soup to nuts—or, at least, SAP wants it to be. It’s so bold a vision that Gartner recommends in a new report that SAP users should plan for a migration of their NetWeaver-based applications to SAP’s HANA Architecture within the next three to five years.
“SAP is making an investment in a new technology here, and there’s every reason to believe it’s going to continue to be successful,” Sholler says. “It’s the most significant innovation we’ve seen from SAP in quite a while.”
HANA is SAP’s new infrastructure and architecture—one built around the in-memory DBMS (SAP HANA Database). On top of that database, SAP is “layering” applications, Platform-as-a-Service offerings (River and NetWeaver OnDemand), Software-as-a-Service offerings (Business ByDesign and the Software Development Kit) and cloud services (HANA Database-as-a-Service), Sholler says.
The first manifestation of this strategy is for sale now: the HANA analytical appliance, which includes hardware platforms (x86-based servers from Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, IBM and Lenovo), configured to run analytical applications that produce real-time results, according to the report.
And today, SAP kicks off its ramp-up program for BW on HANA. It’s the first debut of HANA as a database, the significance of which, and the resultant success or failure of, can’t be underestimated. SAP has more than 13,000 customers running BW, and whether customers adopt this approach may well signal the fate of SAP’s ultimate plans for the technology: for the Business Suite to run on HANA.
The HANA Fine Print
In encouraging its customers to migrate their current BW installations to the SAP HANA database, SAP faces many of the same challenges Gartner points out that it faces with the HANA effort as a whole: proving the value to customers and providing a smooth, non-disruptive migration path for them to get there.
The road to BW on HANA is littered with questions about the move being worth the customers’ while, and whether it truly will be non-disruptive, as SAP executives have promised.
SAP provided a few answers to those customer questions today:
-Customers need to be on BW 7.3 and Service Pack 5, the latter of which is available starting today, to leverage the HANA database. Customers will perform a traditional database migration to move to HANA.
-BWA customers will continue to have a choice to run BWA (Business Warehouse Accelerator), BW and another database, and SAP will continue to enhance and maintain BWA. Longer term, the adoption rates of BW customers migrating their current database to HANA will trigger whether BWA is put into maintenance mode, according to SAP’s Dan Kearnan, director of data warehouse marketing, business analytics.
-BWA customers that choose to move to HANA will receive credits for their existing BWA licenses toward the new HANA licenses. Asked whether there will be similar programs on the hardware side, Kearnan says only that it depends on the hardware version, because customers may need to upgrade their hardware to run HANA.
BW on HANA is better than BWA, BW and an “xDB,” according to SAP. Its customers—including Red Bull, singled out in the press release—have said reporting is three times faster than BWA, and 100 times faster than BW alone. Data loading is supposed to be 10 times faster. One customer even claimed its HANA rollout resulted in a 20 percent reduction in admin and maintenance full-time equivalents.
Upcoming NetWeaver Changes
Going forward, all enhancements to the HANA database will come in the form of support packs (they might not all be named “support packs,” but they’ll use similar delivery mechanisms), according to SAP.
SAP today introduced a new support pack for HANA analytical appliance customers: Support Pack 3. This one includes business function libraries (such as sales forecasting based on linear regression) and predictive analysis libraries (including advanced data mining and algorithms to analyze, for instance, purchasing decisions).
SAP also include an information composer tool to help business users upload and analyze data to the HANA analytical appliance using a spreadsheet or cutting and pasting from a clipboard, to blend their new data with data already published in the system. The HANA analytical appliance is now integrated with Solution Manager, NetWeaver Identity Management and SAP BusinessObjects Access Control.
SAP’s ultimate plan is to run the Business Suite on HANA: it being the only persistence layer. As such, there are changes coming in NetWeaver, according to the Gartner report.
NetWeaver 7.3.1, the likely successor to 7.3, will likely enter ramp-up in Q4 of 2012 or Q1 of 2013. This version will combine NetWeaver BPM and NetWeaver PI into a single package, with a new business process simulation capability and new business activity monitoring based on Sybase CEP (Complex Event Processing), according to the report. It’ll also provide Gateway, a standalone product to help users generate lightweight RESTful SOA interfaces into SAP applications.
In the next version of NetWeaver, dubbed 7.4 for now, SAP will introduce a Java-based NetWeaver Application Server with OSGI support, which will provide, among other functionality, cloud-enabling capabilities, according to the report.
The big challenges for SAP: In the short term, SAP could fail to create compelling use cases for the technology; over the long term, the transition of the Business Suite applications may be too arduous of a task for customers, Sholler says.
“SAP has shown the technology is capable of doing some very interesting things. As we look at the long term journey, any number of missteps could be made,” Sholler says. “At the same time, it is a viable strategy for SAP.”