SAP HANA: From Database to Platform

  • Source:
  • Written By: Jorge Garcia
  • Published: November 20 2012
At the end of 2009, SAP launched SAP HANA, an in-memory, column-row based database management system with capabilities within both OLTP and OLAP environments. In June of 2012, SAP announced that HANA had become the fastest growing technology in the company’s history. In this report, TEC Senior BI and Data Management Analyst Jorge García gives an overview of the history, functionality, and benefits and challenges of SAP HANA, and explores SAP’s strategy for the product and its place in the in-memory processing product space.

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A backgrounder on SAP database efforts

Known in the past as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) and business software company, SAP is a multinational company based in Waldorf, Germany. Founded in June of 1972, SAP has evolved since then both in regard to its ability to provide an extensive portfolio of enterprise applications as well with the incorporation and offering of software products that reach beyond the frontier of enterprise business software applications, including software for other areas of information technology (IT) and business infrastructure such as corporate mobility, and, of course, data management systems.

SAP’s increasing presence in the software market has positioned it as a direct partner or competitor of other software giants such as Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft, competing with these heavyweights in many fields of the software and IT industries.

One of the few areas where SAP traditionally had less presence was in the database space. Initially SAP pursued enterprise software products instead of focusing on database platforms as Oracle, IBM (DB2, Informix), Microsoft (SQLServer), and others were doing, but increasingly SAP also worked to introduce software and have more presence in the database and data management spaces, for example, with the launching of MaxDB, SAP’s in-house database technology, as well as SAP Netweaver Business Warehouse, the company's data warehouse solution. Another movement that brought more involvement for SAP into the database world came in May of 2010 with the acquisition of Sybase, a mobility and data management company with a global presence, giving SAP a direct presence in the data management space.

In 2008, Vishal Sikka, SAP’s chief technology officer (CTO), gave the world a hint of what SAP was working on by writing the following in his personal blog:

We are now taking this work a lot further; in looking at ways to bring processing and state close together elastically, and on the fly, and by looking at ways that the application design can be altered so that we can manage transactional state safely, and yet achieve real-time up-to-date analytics without expensive and time-consuming movement of data into data warehouses via ETL [extract, transform, and load] operations. SAP’s founder Hasso Plattner inspired me to do an experiment we dubbed Hana, for Hasso’s new architecture (and also a beautiful place in Hawaii), our teams working together with the Hasso-Plattner-Institut and Stanford demonstrated how an entirely new application architecture is possible, one that enables real-time complex analytics and aggregation, up-to-date with every transaction, in a way never thought possible in financial applications. By embedding language runtimes inside data management engines, we can elastically bring processing to the data, as well as vice-versa, depending on the nature of the application.
As Mr. Sikka revealed, SAP was working towards bringing operational and analytical layers of the business to a common dimension, looking to make it possible to combine versatile transactional systems with the ability to provide fast response analytics within the same infrastructure, avoiding the complexities and time-consuming burdens of moving data from an operational instance to an analytical one, and performing an analysis of high volumes of data with fast responses.

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