SAP's Sikka preaches HANA-led 'renewal'

In-memory computing will transform SAP's portfolio, according to executive board member Vishal Sikka

SAP is in the middle of a sweeping "renewal" of its software portfolio, powered by the HANA (High Performance Analytic Appliance) in-memory computing engine, executive board member and technology chief Vishal Sikka said during a keynote address Tuesday at the Tech Ed conference in San Francisco.

Sikka's talk took on an expansive, conceptual tone at times as he described how HANA, which places data in memory rather than on disk, providing a performance boost, will transform SAP's software without casting aside customers' existing investments.

"There is a timeless separation between content and containers," he said. "The most obvious example is books. Bookstores are disappearing, books are disappearing, but it's not as if we aren't reading anymore."

Content has to make its way into new containers for a "grand renewal" to occur, and the same goes for business information with respect to SAP's products, he added.

"We intend to replace the entire data-processing layer in all of our applications [with HANA]," he said, adding that HANA represents "one single modern infrastructure that is capable of delivering the essential content," whether new or old, he said.

That work will be done alongside SAP's ongoing rollout of specialized analytic applications that run on top of HANA, two more of which were announced Tuesday.

HANA was first announced at the Sapphire conference in May 2010 and went into general availability in June. It is sold in appliance form on hardware from a number of vendors. SAP has reported widespread early interest from its customer base, saying HANA has the fastest-growing "pipeline," or backlog of sales leads, in company history.

However, overall HANA represents only a tiny part of SAP's revenue, a fact underscored by the meager show of hands when the Tech Ed audience was asked whether their organizations were starting HANA projects.

The keynote did feature a recorded presentation describing the experience of Chinese bottled water distributor Nongfu Spring, which went live on HANA on Aug. 20. The HANA system's performance overwhelmingly bested an Oracle-based data mart the company has, CIO Patrick Hoo said in the presentation.

SAP is hoping to drum up more interest in HANA with a new community website where developers can share experiences working with the platform.

It has also begun to weave the technology throughout its product set. One significant effort, code-named Project Orange, will allow SAP's Business Warehouse to run on top of HANA.

There are some 16,000 active BW systems in the world, Sikka said. When Project Orange is delivered in November, customers will be able to replace the database currently running BW with HANA, he said.

SAP will also soon begin a beta program around its nascent PaaS (platform as a service), River, which will incorporate HANA, according to Sikka.

HANA support will also be added to SAP's Solution Manager framework for managing SAP software environments.

Sikka also referred to SAP's previously disclosed intentions to port its flagship Business Suite ERP (enterprise resource planning) software to HANA. That work will happen over time, without disruption to customers, he said.

SAP already has interest from "huge companies" that want to run the Business Suite on HANA, Sikka said during a question-and-answer session with press and analysts after the keynote.

Such a transition would no doubt face competitive resistance from Oracle, given how many SAP customers currently use that vendor's database.

"We have a solid partnership with Oracle. It's a multi-faceted relationship," as is the case with IBM and others, Sikka said during the session.

That said, HANA will compete effectively with Oracle and its Exadata data-processing machine, he said. Exadata was recently certified for the Business Suite.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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