SAP’s in-memory database is ready for the data centre

Following a period of early customer deployments, SAP AG (NYSE: SAP) made generally available Wednesday its in-memory database, HANA, which will for now co-exist alongside its existing in-memory offerings before an eventual transition into a single platform.

In a conference call from SAP TechEd in Bangalore, Vishal Sikka, executive board member overseeing technology and innovation at SAP, described the High-Performance Analytic Appliance as a “moment of great pride” for the Germany-based enterprise resource planning software vendor because in-memory technology is “a once-in-a-generation technological shift.”

The idea is that SAP’s business intelligence tools will run faster atop what is a combination of in-memory technology from SAP and Intel-based hardware from various partners including IBM, Fujitsu and Siemens. The company first announced HANA at its annual user conference, Sapphire, in May of this year.

Sikka said end users will be able to have raw data replicated in the HANA system whereupon they can analyze it directly with no aggregation nor transformation, “as is, as it comes in.”

Prior to general release, one early customer of HANA was Hilti Corp., a Liechtenstein-based provider of construction and building maintenance products (the company has a Canadian office in Mississauga, Ont.). Christian Ritter of Hilti global IT department said the company’s use of HANA was focused on its customer contact listing, which ultimately has become less time-consuming an endeavour.

“What took us before two or three hours or even more to extract was now down to two or three seconds,” said Ritter. “And this was really impressive.”

There was also “good interaction” between HANA and the Business Objects front-end, said Ritter. In particular, greater error tolerance allowed end users to more easily identify errors in report layouts and fix them.

Hilti will next apply HANA to order reporting, which involves more complex algorithms. But Ritter said the business value of HANA has already been proven for Hilti with the customer contact listing proof-of-concept.

“This is a clear way forward to replace all existing SAP queries,” said Ritter.

He went as far as to predict in-memory technology will change the data warehousing skill within IT departments as the tasks of data loading transformation and extraction will become redundant in the future.

Sikka said HANA will overtime transform SAP’s portfolio by being a platform upon which new types of in-memory apps can be built. The company demonstrated precisely that on Wednesday with the unveiling of a strategic workforce planning app built atop HANA.

“Over time, not only will we build these new products and solutions on top of this new platform but also that our ecosystem will build new solutions and will be able to help our customers with fundamentally new ways to rethink their business,” said Sikka.

But the fanfare surrounding HANA raises the question of what will happen to SAP’s existing in-memory applications such as Business Warehouse Accelerator and Business Objects Explorer. Sikka said the HANA technology is a “superset” of existing in-memory technologies and will over time replace functionality in those existing offerings. But SAP does recognize that customer deployments have undergone customization over the years and so this is “not going to be an overnight transformation, this is going to take a long time,” said Sikka.

Ray Wang, CEO and principal analyst with Constellation Research Inc., thinks HANA is a superior technology to SAP’s existing in-memory offerings, making the eventual move to a single in-memory platform a good one for SAP.

In the meantime, Wang said “there’s room for existing technologies and HANA to work side by side.” This peaceful co-existence, said Wang, will happen because of availability of integration technologies, the need for SAP to support heterogeneous environments, and that much of report customization will move to metadata in the future.

As for the influence of in-memory technology acquired from Sybase, which SAP bought earlier in 2010, Sikka said HANA includes replication capabilities from Sybase. And, in turn, HANA technology will “help advance and evolve the products of Sybase.”

HANA will be sold as a pre-packaged appliance installed and configured by hardware partners and delivered to customers.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau.

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