SAP builds out HANA platform and ecosystem

SAP is shipping a raft of new features for the in-memory platform and letting partners in on its HANA Enterprise Cloud

Anyone remotely within the orbit of SAP lately knows that its number-one focus is the HANA in-memory database and development platform. At this week's Sapphire conference in Orlando, the vendor sought to show the progress it is making in both building out HANA's capabilities as well as attracting developers and partners to HANA.

"After four years of preaching HANA, I think we have reached a relative climax," SAP co-founder and Chairman Hasso Plattner said during a keynote address Thursday. "It's not about HANA anymore, it's about the applications on HANA."

[ Andrew C. Oliver answers the question on everyone's mind: Which freaking database should I use? | Keep up with the latest approaches to managing information overload and compliance in InfoWorld's Enterprise Data Explosion Digital Spotlight. ]

While walking the conference's show floor, Plattner saw evidence of "hundreds, probably thousands" of applications that are being built on HANA, he said.

SAP has also been updating HANA through a series of service packs, which it says provide new functionality without the pain and hassle of a traditional upgrade. Service pack number six is now generally available and with it brings a raft of features resulting in a "re-imagined" HANA, SAP said Thursday.

One major new feature is Smarter Data Access, which can examine a query and determine the most efficient way to federate it across a company's database landscape, whether to HANA or other systems, such as Oracle, Sybase, and Hadoop.

The pack also brings geospatial data capabilities to HANA, allowing for applications that combine business and location data in real time, SAP said. This could be of interest to companies with large amounts of expensive, geographically dispersed capital assets, such as a trucking company or energy utility, that wish to track and monitor those assets.

Other improvements in the pack cover natural language processing, application development tooling, and disaster recovery.

HANA now has 1,500 customers, SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe said during a keynote address this week at Sapphire. It is also "the fastest-growing product ever in business software," he claimed.

SAP expects the recently announced HANA Enterprise Cloud to significantly accelerate that adoption rate, Snabe said during a question-and-answer session with press and analysts.

HANA Enterprise Cloud is a managed service that customers can use to run their SAP Business Suite, CRM (customer relationship management) and Business Warehouse software on HANA.

The HANA Enterprise Cloud uses a bring-your-own-license model, wherein customers buy HANA licenses and then migrate them. After that, they pay an additional fee for managed services. While SAP is continuing its policy of no discounting on HANA licenses, it will be possible for customers to negotiate the cost of the managed services, said Steve Lucas , executive vice president of analytics, database and technology, in an interview.

Previously, SAP had made a limited version of HANA, called HANA One, available on Amazon Web Services. On Thursday, it announced a premium version of HANA One, which is bundled with new integration tools. SAP is also now giving HANA One customers the ability to tap a trial version of its data-visualization tool Lumira.

In addition, SAP has finished integrating HANA with the databases and related products it gained through the acquisition of Sybase, the company said.

HANA is now linked with Sybase PowerDesigner for data modeling as well as Sybase ESP, which processes streams of event data.

It's also now possible to use HANA in conjunction with Sybase IQ as a single logical database, SAP said. Data that a customer wants to work with most often would be held in RAM inside HANA, with Sybase IQ serving as "near-line storage," keeping less frequently needed but still important information at the ready.

SAP has also integrated the Sybase SQL Anywhere embedded database and Sybase Replication Server with HANA, according to a statement.

As it works internally to flesh out HANA's capabilities, SAP has made significant efforts to create a partner ecosystem for the platform, courting both the industry's larger players as well as startups.

Hosting providers Accenture, IBM, Savvis, and Virtustream, among others, are joining a new partner program for HANA Enterprise Cloud, SAP said. It's expected that the program will enable these companies to run a similar setup as HANA Enterprise Cloud, but in their own data centers.

The market for HANA consultants is also scaling up, with some 4,000 individuals having been trained on the platform as of the end of March, SAP said. Another 1,300 have received training on how to implement SAP Business Suite on HANA, according to the announcement.

SAP is also planning to significantly expand spending on a venture capital fund for HANA aimed at startups, from an initial $155 million last year to $405 million. Some 400 startups are now involved in the Startup Focus program, SAP said.

All told, SAP's announcements at Sapphire this week gave the impression of a company that remains committed to fully reorienting itself around HANA.

There was also some evidence backing up SAP's claims of rampant enthusiasm among customers and partners for HANA.

The room was packed for a user group session aimed at giving enterprise architects guidance on how to introduce HANA into their IT landscapes. "Everyone is going to be a HANA customer at some point, is my bet," presenter Martin Mysyk , president and director of consulting firm CompuCorp. "We need to know how to deal with that."

But Mysyk also cautioned attendees about the limitations of HANA in some use cases. For example, "Do not use HANA for seismic [data] processing," he said. "It might be fast but it does not compete with an [high-performance computing] cluster." However, HANA would do a good job of analyzing results put out by such a system, he added.

Other Sapphire attendees, including the large European home-improvement retailer Kingfisher, have made significant investments in HANA already.

Kingfisher has three separate HANA projects in the works, CTO Peter Yip said in an interview.

"It's new technology, it's had its teething problems," but none of them were "show-stoppers" for Kingfisher, Yip said of HANA.

However, Kingfisher had strong support from SAP on its projects, he said. It also used predominantly SAP consulting services when it first got going, and only now is using other companies, as well as developing in-house staffers to work with the technology, he said.

Six months ago, there just wasn't much highly qualified HANA talent in the SAP channel, he said. While the situation has improved, "it's in pockets, and it's about individuals," Yip added.

But now, Kingfisher is going to begin implementing the Business Suite on HANA, in one country at a time, Yip said. "We've built a level of confidence and knowledge in the platform so we have confidence going down that route."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

InfoWorld Technology of the Year Awards 2023. Now open for entries!