A Tool for the Digital Economy: Is SAP’s HANA the Right Solution for You?

When CFO Innovation spoke to German enterprise software giant SAP in 2012, it was getting ready to enable hosting of ERP in the in-memory machine HANA.

“HANA can store 100 terabytes, which is just a mindboggling amount of information,” said Andy Hirst, Vice President for Banking Solutions – in addition to improving query performance 100,000 times when the data is stored in-memory, not on hard disks.

Four years on, the ERP system S/4HANA has been installed in HANA machines by more than 3,700 customers worldwide, says Rohit Nagarajan, Vice President, Database and HANA Cloud Platform, at SAP. And “HANA can be your data platform or your advanced analytics platform,” he told CFO Innovation’s Cesar Bacani. Edited excerpts of the interview:

Because of the digital economy, organizations will have requirements around real-time processes, consumer-based user experience, and so on. That wasn’t being developed in the traditional database platform, so we came up with HANA from the ground up

Tell us about HANA.

Most databases are created to write or to read data. HANA can do both – and do it equally fast. It stores all of the data that you have in the organization in your DRAM, your random access memory, which means it is extremely fast.

And it’s not just a database. It’s a platform, because what it also has are a lot of engines like graphing engines and predictive engines, which act on the data in-memory.

That gives a lot of benefits to an organization around simplifying the IT landscape because all of the organization’s data can now be stored in-memory. You have one copy of the data, and you can perform all kinds of complex advance analytics on that data.

The reason we came up with HANA was very simple. We knew that the digital economy would require a next-generation data platform. Because of the digital economy, organizations will have requirements around real-time processes, consumer-based user experience, and so on.

That wasn’t being developed in the traditional database platform, so we came up with HANA from the ground up. HANA is now the world’s leading in-memory platform. It has over 10,000 customers.

Is HANA different from S/4HANA, or are these terms interchangeable?

S/4HANA is a next-generation application written specifically for HANA. S/4HANA runs only on HANA.

An analogy I’d give is: We first designed an extremely powerful engine, a new engine completely out of the ordinary, which could do things that no engine before it could do. Then we realized the power of this engine through a car designed specifically for that engine, which maximizes the capability of that engine.

We’ve rewritten our ERP suite to leverage the capability of HANA. The fact that all the data is in-memory meant we could simplify the data structures. We could give users access to extremely granular pieces of information in real time.

But I can run other applications on HANA, not just S/4HANA?

Yes. We have a lot of customers who use it for very innovative applications which are not S/4 related. So HANA can be your data platform or your advanced analytics platform for the custom application.

Say, for example, you’re a retailer or a telecommunications operator, and you want to do churn analysis on which subscribers might leave. You could write your own custom application, which leverages the power of the predictive engine within HANA, to write your own capability and deliver your own results.

SAP is a software company. Does it now manufacture hardware in the form of the HANA machine?

No. We have certified partners from HP to IBM to Dell to Cisco, Huawei and Lenovo – our customers procure certified HANA appliances [from them]. We also have the HANA Enterprise Cloud, which is the SAP HANA certified cloud service.

Many customers choose to deploy this HANA service. We also allow our customers to run HANA on AWS [Amazon Web Services]. Customers have a variety of deployment options.

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