How much does it cost?
This one is complicated and could be subject to significant change. SAP has said HANA appliances will be available in "small, medium, and large" sizes. There's a standard bill of materials SAP has developed for HANA machines, according to Sikka. That should provide some parity across various hardware partners' products.
SAP's current approach to licensing HANA is based on the amount of data processed, but the company is looking at several other ways, Sikka said in the interview.
SAP is also planning to price HANA based on the amount of actual business value or cost savings it can provide customers.
"It's not the number of processors, that model. We want [customers] to use as many processors as possible," he said.
While this may seem to be a more nebulous way of arriving at a deal, SAP has practice at it through its Value Engineering program, Sikka and Plattner said.
"You basically have to predict what will happen [in terms of savings], and then you have to fulfill it," much like a service level agreement, Plattner said.
Overall, more information about pricing could emerge in June, when HANA is set for general availability.
What is the HANA AppCloud?
During his Sapphire keynote, Sikka gave a brief preview of the upcoming HANA AppCloud. This is "an application environment for native on-demand applications based on SAP's in-memory technology," and will allow customers to take advantage of in-memory technology along with the usual cloud-related benefits of scalability and flexible deployments, according to a spokeswoman.
SAP's Business Intelligence OnDemand, Carbon Impact and Sales & Operations Planning applications are among those that will be available.
The HANA AppCloud is now in "pre-beta" and goes into "ramp-up" release mode in October.
Other aspects of the platform still aren't public, such as whether end-user companies as well as ISVs (independent software vendors) will get to use it, and if so, whether they will be allowed to run applications in production form. Even if the answer to that is no, the AppCloud could give enterprise IT shops a chance to test-drive the technology before making a major investment in HANA.
What hardware platforms does it support?
A wide range of vendors have signed on to sell HANA appliances, including IBM, Fujitsu, Dell, Cisco, and Hewlett-Packard. Oracle is a notable exception, but not a surprising one, given the competition HANA appliances stand to give to its Exadata machine.
But in one sense, SAP has kept HANA hardware support constrained, by working closely with Intel to target only its x86 chips. This has given SAP HANA teams more agility and sped up development, since only one platform needs to be supported, Sikka and Plattner said.
The partnership is also helping SAP squeeze more power out of HANA thanks to Intel-specific optimization.
SAP had been running HANA on eight-core Nehalem chips from Intel, Sikka said. It recently tested Intel's new 10-core Westmere-EX processor with HANA and found that queries were 37 percent faster, he said. "Eight cores is only 25 percent less than 10 cores, so how could this be 37 percent? It's because of the optimizations that are Intel-specific."
While the x86-only plan could change down the road, it's in place for the foreseeable future.
"Our highest priority now is speed to market, to help customers develop much faster," Plattner said. "All of them say to me, 'We need this, we want this.' That's not saying other chips are not good. They could even be better. It's all about speed."
How often will HANA be upgraded?
Years can go by between a major release of a database. HANA will take a much different approach, one that is easier on customers, Plattner and Sikka said in the interview. There will be no version numbers, only service packs.
"We stopped this 'release thing.' We will ship additions and they have to be fully compatible," Plattner said. "Whether it's on-site or in the cloud, continuous improvement without disruption."
The updates may be small or large, but the focus on non-disruption will persist, he said. "Salesforce.com can do [this style of development], Facebook can do it, Google can do it, we can do it."
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com