SAP HANA is SAP AG‘s implementation of in-memory database technology. HANA DB takes advantage of the low cost of main memory (RAM), data processing abilities of multi-core processors and the fast data access of solid-state drives relative to traditional hard drives to deliver better performance of analytical and transactional applications. It offers a multi-engine query-processing environment, which allows it to support both relational data—with both row- and column-oriented physical representations in a hybrid engine—as well as graph and text processing for semi-structured and unstructured data management within the same system. eWEEK Senor Editor Darryl K. Taft sat down with Vishal Sikka, SAP executive board member and technology lead, for a detailed discussion on SAP HANA.
Where did the idea for SAP HANA come from?
Hasso had been building real-time systems since starting SAP, enabling companies to work in entirely new ways and creating a whole new industry. The three-tier client server architecture pioneered by SAP helped companies do business at scale—across customer orders, product shipping, and HR and financial processes—and brought in an era of great productivity gains. This was “real time” in 1992, bringing multiple departments and regions onto one system.
But because of the underlying architecture, these systems had to pump data into different databases to make sense of it. The limitations in the underlying architecture were aggravated by a general and massive explosion of data, brought on by social, mobile, Web and machine data entering the enterprise. Information was only accessible to the experts; it was always immediately outdated; the process of collecting and making sense of data was too slow. User expectations had also changed. They wanted direct access to the data; they wanted information in real-time; they wanted it to be a simple and beautiful experience to look at and interact with data.
It was clear that the current architecture would not serve the next 20 years of enterprise software. The divide between transactions and analytics was too big. We needed to figure out a way to bring real-time transactions and real-time analytics together on one database.
The answer was SAP HANA—a modern data platform that runs massive, parallel multi-core processing on one copy of data that is all in main memory. This is a radically simplified architecture that kills batch programs, captures data, and powers interactive and instant analytics on transactional data. It informs every decision in real time, allowing live collaboration and supporting the ‘always on’ mobile lifestyle, instead of after-the-fact reporting. This is an architectural advancement that delivers unprecedented speed of data analysis, solving some of the world’s greatest problems at magnitudes-of-order improvement across industries, from health to security, science, finance, engineering, design and beyond.
What was your role at SAP in conceiving and driving HANA?
In 2009, Hasso and I met and discussed his concern that innovation had stalled at SAP. He challenged me to lead an intellectual renewal at SAP, renewal that would transform SAP internally as a company and would transform the entire software industry. It became very clear that the intellectual renewal had to be based on products that would galvanize everything we do.
I saw clearly that this had to be a fundamental breakthrough. It could not be incremental improvement on existing products. It had to be truly revolutionary and an innovation which would become the core of everything we do going forward. The hardware market was changing significantly, and we wanted to provide a modern data platform that puts OLTP and OLAP together, doing massively parallel multi-core processing on one copy of data that is all in main memory, but how do we create this real-time platform? We knew we wanted to combine transaction and analytics, but how do we timelessly evolve all of our older applications to this new platform? How do we attract new kinds of developers, such as people from startups and people working to build Web- or mobile-based applications? How do we renew the old but also bring entirely new applications—our own and our partners’—all on this common platform? How could we bring breakthrough new innovation to our customers without disruption, without compromise?
SAP HANA: Powering Next-Generation Real-Time Analytics
The result was SAP HANA. It marked the entry of SAP into the database market but through a new real-time platform that introduced in-memory computing for combined analytics and transactions to become a new transformational platform for doing business.
To launch HANA with customer traction, I invited 60 customers to come to SAP to work with me on this, with design thinking as the basis for our co-innovation with these 60 customers. This was three years ago. So when we launched HANA in June 2011, we launched it with 25 customers, all of which had very interesting, diverse use cases. It was an incredible thing to see the response. HANA brought innovation back to SAP and introduced a disruptive, new innovation in the market.
HANA is now a major contributor to SAP’s recent financial successes and is SAP’s fastest-growing product ever. In Q1 2013 alone, SAP HANA accounted for 13 percent of the total software revenue and increased over 200 percent year-over-year when compared to Q1 2012. We have disrupted the database market.
Why is HANA important to SAP?
There are so many reasons why HANA is important to SAP. At the heart of it, HANA enables us to reach the end user in fundamentally new ways. With HANA, we are truly empowering the end user to interact with and understand data in ways that weren’t possible before.
From a product perspective, HANA is the core foundation for existing and future applications at SAP. It impacts every single part of SAP and every single product. To me, this is also still about the user. We are bringing breakthrough new innovation to users in every aspect of how they use SAP software today and in the future, and bringing it to them in a way that is nondisruptive.
From a business perspective, HANA has opened up new business models for SAP and has driven net-new growth for the company. If we look at the consumption, HANA has opened up new consumption and delivery models for SAP. It is available on the cloud or on-premise. There are pricing packages for different markets, from large to midsized, and there are a variety of delivery models available. We can deliver HANA in whatever way people want to use it.
If we look at licensing, with HANA, we go beyond the traditional licensing model and bring an affordable, pay-as-you-go model, which appeals to a large new audience for SAP. The HANA Cloud Platform, SAP HANA One, is available on Amazon at 99 cents an hour. You go to Amazon, put in your credit card, and in eight minutes or less you have your own working HANA system. No one could have imagined such a thing from SAP just a few years ago.
If we look at it from an education standpoint, we have also rethought and renewed how we do education. We are reaching entirely new audiences for SAP products through the SAP HANA Academy, which has 250 tutorials of five-minute videos. This speaks to a completely new group of people to SAP, namely developers used to working with free stuff who don’t have tons of money for education, classes and conferences.
From a partner standpoint, we look at partnerships with hardware partners like Intel and HP. With HANA, we have a clear, open ecosystem that enables each hardware provider to innovate in their own way. Innovation to HANA is happening all around us; it is not confined to the walls of SAP.
From a technology standpoint, within SAP, there has been a blistering pace of innovation around HANA. In just under two years, we have SAP BusinessObjects, SAP Business Warehouse, SAP Business One, SAP CRM, more than 30 new applications, 310 startups and now the SAP Business Suite, all powered by HANA. This provides a platform to renew the old and deliver new capabilities in a timeless way. Within this framework, we have been working closely with existing partners and have initiated the SAP HANA Startup Focus Program to bring in the passion and creativity of the startup community.
If we look across all of these areas, we can see that HANA has opened our minds and imagination to things that weren’t possible before. I believe HANA has brought incredible renewal to SAP and to the enterprise software industry.
SAP HANA: Powering Next-Generation Real-Time Analytics
Tell me about your “timeless software” philosophy and what you have done to integrate that into your innovation efforts?
Timeless systems live across the effects of change, whether the change comes from business, society or technology. A city is timeless, for example. A city like London or New York is new and old at the same time because they transcend the effects of business, society or technology change. They evolve, but they remain. So when you talk about timeless software, you are talking about a system that is designed to withstand technology and business shifts. You are protecting investments you made in the past while also enhancing as new things evolve.
One of the most important aspects of timeless software is the concept of content and containers. Think about ancient history, which was passed by generation to generation in oral form. Then it was written down on palm leaves, and then published in books and now in digital form. What happened was that the content itself has remained consistent, but the containers evolved. The content can seamlessly move between containers in the format preferred by the consumer. You don’t need an open-heart surgery every time there is a disruption in technology or an innovation. The flexibility to change is baked-in. Conversely, if you tie the content and container together very tightly, you lose the content when the container changes.
You may have heard me talk about “design thinking,” which is a key element in timeless software. Design thinking is the championing of the consumer point of view, and thinking about content from the perspective of the end user and how they want it. Companies have lost sight of what the end consumer wants. If you notice that consumers want the same content but on a different container, you can design systems to be timeless.
HANA is designed to be timeless. It will remain constant as the world around it evolves. For example, when Intel comes up with a faster processor, HANA becomes faster. Today Intel processing has eight threads; then, they’ll have 10, then 16, 32 then 64. HANA software doesn’t need to change; it’ll run that much faster on 64 threads when that is invented. I said right out of the gate that HANA will not have release numbers. It is a timeless product, which means that when you buy it, you don’t have to upgrade, ever.
Can you talk a little bit about overall innovation at SAP? What are some examples?
There are so many aspects to this within SAP. We are literally innovating in every corner of the company, with HANA as the foundation. As mentioned earlier, we are bringing innovation to our existing products and bringing innovation in entirely new products that weren’t even possible before. This comes to life in different ways, but the focus is always on empowering the user and on taking away layers and complexity that aren’t necessary.
Specifically, one of the most important interesting areas where I see innovation taking shape inside SAP is around what I call purposeful work or purposeful business. I believe strongly that technology can solve the biggest challenges of our time. This can only come through breakthrough innovation, that totally rethinks our existing assumptions about what is possible and what is not possible. It is our imperative as a software company and as leaders to drive innovation that positively impacts human life, that improves the human condition, that solves the most challenging things we face—things like extreme poverty, access to education and health care, eliminating diseases, improving the environment.
I will give an example. One of my main focuses is in the area of personalized medicine. We want to enable cancer patients to walk out of their initial diagnosis with a personalized treatment plan in 20 minutes based on a real-time DNA genome analysis run by HANA. This is possible today with HANA, and there are so many other aspects to personalized medicine that can be completely rethought. There is no reason why it should take days and weeks to analyze the details of a person’s illness, wasting critical time that could be used toward treatment.
Other examples are in our consumer applications space, things like the Recalls Plus app for parents to track recalls on their children’s products or Care Circles for families, caregivers and health professionals to do truly collaborative care or Charitra, which connects volunteers, nonprofit organizations and corporations to work together for social causes. These are just the beginning. There are so many more things we can do—direct to consumers and with our customers and partners.
SAP HANA: Powering Next-Generation Real-Time Analytics
Another example is in smart meter analytics powered by HANA, which lets consumers watch their energy consumption on a real-time basis. It used to be that they looked at a monthly bill. Now users can look at consumption in real time and switch off things from their iPhone if they want to. I have talked about this before, but we are working to take this to a much larger scale. We must think globally about things like energy consumption, and we are doing this with HANA.
Internally, I am challenging our developers to build the next generation of applications. This includes solving what we might call traditional business challenges—and solving them in new ways—but it also includes solving longstanding challenges we face across the world.
Where do you see HANA headed in the future?
I envisioned the HANA road map in three phases. First, it was all about real-time analytics. This is about an evolutionary product that can do in-memory calculations and really blazingly fast analytics. The use cases were in data warehousing and how fast you can get the data sources coming in and how fast you can get the associated analytics. Together with BI tools on the top, that was the first wave.
Next, we moved past analytics-only to combine analytics and transactions, and become the platform for doing business. If the first phase was real-time analytics, the second phase was real-time business. Everything you see around you today—the phones and computers we use, the clothes we are wearing, the car we drive—they are all built using a material requirement planning (MRP) process. This is how you source raw products, operate your factory, ship products, at what price and how people buy these things. That’s the entire MRP process. With the power of HANA coming in, MRP optimization which used to take hours and days can be done on the fly.
Imagine being able to do this to scale. SAP runs 70 percent of the world’s GDP. Every single product is made this way at the end of the day. Planning, manufacturing and shipping are currently run as batch processing. Imagine it all runs on HANA, and if you could do this planning instantaneously and not across hours and days. If you could run it all on HANA, you can turn the planning process into real time. This gives the world a much more productive, agile, connected-to-consumer-demand system rather than bottlenecks everywhere. It will drive eons of productivity for companies and get them closer to their consumers like never before. We are in this phase right now.
Then we have this coming phase about real-time business networks, where HANA becomes a real-time system that powers cloud-based applications and solutions. We merge the power of cloud simplicity with the real-time nature of HANA. The cloud is always connected, always on, and the users’ expectations are real time. So, now you can have real-time business networks enabling things like on-the-fly pricing and inventory. There is unlimited potential in what we can do with real-time business networks in the cloud, with HANA as a platform foundation.
If you look at the database market, it’s kind of ambled on for 30 years without much of a shift in approach. Big shifts come when you combine changes across multiple parts of a business or methodology. Multidisciplinary change creates a quantum leap. The excitement is not only in what we are innovating ourselves; it is also in the power this unleashes for an entire ecosystem of innovators.