SAP's flagship Business Suite ERP (enterprise resource planning) software is now able to run on top of the vendor's HANA in-memory database, in a move that stands to open new frontiers of competition with the likes of Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft.
The announcement, which was made Thursday, had been expected for some time. Business Suite on HANA is currently in RTC (release to customers) mode, SAP's preferred term for a beta period. General availability should come toward the middle of this year, executive board member and technology chief Vishal Sikka said in an interview prior to the announcement.
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SAP has positioned HANA as an eventual convergence point for all its technologies, as well as a simpler yet more sophisticated alternative to existing architectures. A recent update to HANA added an application server that runs within the system, and SAP is also building out a set of PaaS (platform as a service) capabilities for the database.
But the Business Suite compatibility for HANA will give SAP an opportunity to take business away from rival database vendors, whose products SAP customers now use widely underneath the Suite.
All database platforms currently certified for the Suite will continue to be supported, however, according to SAP.
Still, it seems clear that SAP, which has resold other companies' databases for years, would rather have a larger share of the pie.
In the past, SAP's competitors "tried to portray HANA as an analytic database," Sikka said. With compatibility for transactional applications like the Business Suite, "we are disproving that in a big way," he added.
But with HANA, Business Suite customers will be able to run analytic and transactional workloads in the same platform, he added. Business Suite users will also enjoy a major gain in processing power, but it's not just speed for speed's sake, Sikka said. For example, an MRP (manufacturing resource planning) batch processing job that might take six hours today could run in seconds on HANA. "I imagine a world where [manufacturing planning] can be based on precise calculations of demand, on the fly," he said.
SAP will roll out a fixed-price Rapid Deployment Solution for Business Suite on HANA in the first quarter, which will enable customers to go live within six months.
In addition, SAP has tweaked the pricing model for Business Suite on HANA, basing the cost of HANA usage on a percentage of the customer's application maintenance fees.
However, HANA is sold as a specialized appliance on hardware from a number of vendors, so would-be Business Suite customers will also have to factor those acquisition costs into account.
SAP has sold HANA Enterprise Edition according to the amount of RAM in the appliance. The licensing model for the Suite on HANA was influenced by DSAG, the German-speaking SAP User Group, according to an announcement it released Thursday.
"SAP has adopted our proposals to setup the pricing model based on contract value and not on main memory usage," DSAG chairman Marco Lenck said in a statement. "Due to the conventionally focused pricing, existing customers now have easy access to innovations in the HANA environment.
SAP is "reinventing" the Business Suite thanks to the introduction of HANA support, SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner said during a news conference Thursday. "Im very happy that we see now a clear future for SAP for the next five to 10 years."
Motorized equipment manufacturer John Deere is one of a handful of initial customers taking advantage of HANA for the Business Suite. John Deere has been using HANA for other purposes for some time, and "had the good fortune to be involved some proof-of-concepts with SAP, including SAP on HANA,' said Derek Dyer, director of global SAP services, during the news conference.
HANA is going to help John Deere simplify its IT stack, deal with growing data volumes and improve its operations, Dyer said. "Real-time information means better decisions and crisper insights.
While Business Suite customers have written a "mind-boggling" amount of custom code to fit the software to their businesses, all of that will run fine on HANA, albeit perhaps not as quickly as core code that has been optimized for the platform, Plattner said.
A FAQ document (PDF) SAP released Thursday provides additional information.
For one thing, although SAP has certified HANA as well as the Business Suite to run on Amazon Web Services, right now they can't be used in conjunction on AWS, according to the document. That means customers looking for a cloud-based, HANA-powered Suite implementation will have to wait.
But then again, the Business Suite is used by the world's largest companies, most of which may be loath to put their core ERP operations in the cloud. SAP plans to court those on-premises customers with a new onboarding program that will provide extensive hands-on help from SAP.
SAP's announcement is "significant" for customers, said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research. "Speed is the difference between a five-day drug recall and a five-minute drug recall. Speed is the difference between a 30-day supply chain plan versus the ability to reroute two iPhones to your store in 30 seconds. The impact is huge if SAP does succeed."
While competitors like Workday have already done this for human resources software and finance, "for the entire SAP suite and given SAP's market share, this is a big deal," Wang added.
SAP has also positioned its Sybase ASE database as an option for running the Business Suite. Customers shouldn't worry about ASE's future now that HANA has gained Suite certification, Sikka said. "We have financial industry customers that run tens of thousands of ASE installations," he said. "This is an incredibly sticky product and they have long lifetimes."
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com