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Looking into SAP HANA? Do your homework first

Todd Morrison

Companies considering SAP HANA and in-memory should understand what problem they’re trying to solve to determine whether SAP HANA is a good fit for them.

Most companies that need SAP HANA

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fall into three groups, according to Boris Evelson, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. The first group is companies that need faster business intelligence (BI) reporting with lots of ad hoc analysis and aren’t happy with the way their data warehouses are performing, he said.

“Let’s say they’ve gone through all kinds of exercises. They’ve tuned it. They’ve optimized it. They’ve updated it and they’ve bought more hardware, but their performance is just not fast enough. That could be a very quick hit for them to accelerate something by basically plugging HANA in, moving everything they have into [HANA].”

Companies looking to save disk space may also benefit from HANA, he said. Disk-based databases used for BI often require multiple components such as operational data stores, data warehouses, subject area data marts and analytical data cubes, Evelson said. “At some point that client could take a fresh look and ask themselves, ‘Why do I need a data warehouse, 10 data marts and 20 different cubes when I could load all of that into one HANA appliance and kind of be done with it?’ ” Evelson said.

The third category includes companies where business requirements change more often than traditional database technologies can keep up, according to Evelson. While in-memory databases like HANA still require logical data models (linking customers to purchase orders, for example), they require little or no physical data modeling like aggregates; therefore, changes and updates can be turned around faster.

However, many SAP customers looking at HANA are wondering if the benefits outweigh the costs, according to Rita Sallam, a BI analyst with Gartner Inc.

“Is being able to get real-time, operational reporting and data worth the cost of HANA? I think as we see service pack 2 being introduced, where BW (business warehouse) begins to be able be incorporated into HANA, we may see SAP introduce more analytics applications on the HANA platform,” Sallam said. “Then, I think we’re going to see more SAP customers answer the question, ‘Yes, this can deliver business value that justifies the cost.’ ”

Struggling with the ROI question

The question of whether HANA will be financially worth it isn’t lost on Kim Choate, a business information delivery program manager for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) in Atlanta.

IHG is using SAP BusinessObjects 2.0, with plans to move to 3.1 later this year, Choate said. After that, IHG will migrate to BusinessObjects 4.0, at which time they’ll be looking at HANA for revenue management and analytics, she said, one area of in-memory analytics that promises the greatest ROI for the hotel group.

“We’re looking at more predictive analytics as opposed to looking at past data,” Choate said. The goal would be to use HANA to predict trends in the hospitality industry, particularly around bookings and other factors that affect the group’s bottom line.

At the same time, IHG also uses analytics applications from vendors like SAS, which the company’s statisticians use to analyze various trends and how they might affect marketing trends. That means they’d need to look at any possible overlaps.

“We’ll look at what HANA has to offer and what SAS has to offer,” Choate said.

Underestimated challenges

While in-memory databases have been around for years, clients considering SAP HANA and in-memory technology should keep in mind that the technology is still very new at the large enterprise level. For that reason, it will take time for the bugs to be worked out and the enhancements to fall into place, Evelson said.

HANA is “theoretically” an open technology that can be integrated with a range of applications and BI tools. Even so, it remains to be seen how well they’ll support those non-SAP BI tools, although SAP says they will, he said.

“Do we think they will devote as much attention to fixing bugs between HANA and [other vendors] as they will with fixing bugs between HANA and BusinessObjects?” Evelson asked.


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