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How do the SAP HANA application development tools differ?

There are a growing number of cloud-based platforms and technologies for SAP developers wanting to build HANA applications, many of which have overlapping use cases. Consultant Ethan Jewett sorts through the options -- and the confusion.

SAP is counting on developers to help grow the numbers of SAP HANA applications, and as a result, is giving them...

new cloud-based options to develop those new technologies. Those tools include the River Rapid Development Environment (River RDE), HANA Cloud Platform (HCP), SAP HANA One, HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC) and Cloud Foundry. There are a huge number of options in play, often with overlapping use cases. As a result, it may not always be clear what tools developers should be using in a given situation.

When thinking about development tools, I usually try to divide them up in terms of layers and services, such as:

  • Hardware and operating system
  • Storage, database, message queue
  • Application platform, including services like object-relational mapping, login/identity and connectivity to on-premises apps

In many cases, a particular tool will span multiple layers, or negate the need to pay attention to layers further down the stack. Many platform as a service (PaaS) platforms like HCP, for example, try to ensure that the developer doesn't need to worry about the hardware or operating system they are running on.

For the purposes of application development, SAP HANA One and HEC are ways of getting access to HANA instances in the cloud. In the case of HANA One, these instances are spun up on Amazon Web Services (AWS). HEC provides HANA hosted on SAP's own infrastructure as well as options for other types of SAP systems based on Netweaver technology. In this sense, HANA One and HEC both correspond to the second layer above, giving access to HANA's storage and database capabilities. But HANA also provides some capabilities like XS Engine (JavaScript application runtime) and River RDE, which that are application platforms, so there is a mix of capabilities here.

SAP HCP currently offers services that address developer needs at all of the layers mentioned above. SAP labels services and the layers they correspond to as "Infrastructure Services," "Database Services" and "App Services," respectively. HCP's Database Services is essentially a HANA instance and license and provides all the capabilities of HANA One or HEC, mentioned above. Infrastructure Services is primarily a "bring your own" license version of Database Services. HCP's App Services provide additional capabilities like portal services, on-premises connectivity and document storage.

River RDE, meanwhile, is a development toolkit for building applications that can then be deployed on any supported HANA platform. In some sense it can be thought of like Web Dynpro ABAP or the Spring framework, though the River philosophy is much different than either, so it is an imperfect comparison. Notably, the River RDE is available on all of the above HANA platforms as well as on-premises HANA systems, and it should be possible to deploy River applications to any of these platforms.

Non-SAP cloud development is also an option, even for SAP shops. Cloud Foundry, for example, is a platform based on the concept of "service brokers" that offer both database and application services, which means that applications can be deployed in any Cloud Foundry compatible environment with the necessary service brokers. SAP has made some forays into making integration between these other platforms and SAP's products easier; for instance, by providing a HANA service broker for Cloud Foundry. But these efforts seem to have received less focus than the SAP-only cloud story. With SAP's recent sponsorship of Cloud Foundry and Open Stack, this may change.

In some sense, it would seem that the HANA database and application platform is becoming the lingua franca of SAP's cloud offerings. River RDE is one, quite new, way of writing applications for HANA. For developers working on SAP's cloud-based offerings, it's going to be important to be up to speed on these offerings.

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