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SAP HANA in-memory analytics appliance launches

After months of crowing about its benefits, SAP announces it has begun to ship HANA, its in-memory appliance it says can process huge amounts of analytical data at lightning speed.

Is “real, real-time” analytics really here for SAP customers?

After months of crowing about its benefits at previous conventions, SAP now says it has begun to ship HANA, the in-memory appliance it claims can crunch massive amounts of analytical data in a fraction of the time it usually takes.     

 “It’s a once-in-a-generation technological shift,” said SAP chief technological officer Vishal Sikka, speaking from the TechEd conference in Bangalore, India, where the formal announcement was made.  Sikka has said that the appliance would make “real, real-time” computing possible.

SAP said it has also introduced its first application designed to run in conjunction with the device, and more are on the way.

SAP HANA is just the latest -- and fastest -- version of the Business Warehouse Accelerator (BWA) appliance that SAP has had for a few years, according to Boris Evelson, principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.  The only difference, he said, is that while the BWA was mainly used to accelerate the analysis of SAP Business Warehouse (BW) data, HANA can process data from any source. 

It’s part of an overall trend to move analytical data from the computer’s disk into memory because it can be analyzed much more rapidly, according to Evelson.  Secondly, in-memory computing data can be modeled much faster than on disk, and the model can be changed faster as well.

“This allows for a much more flexible and agile analytical environment,” he said, adding that SAP is not alone in providing in-memory capabilities for customers.

Despite the fact that some customers have wondered about the need for that kind of computational power, SAP said the appliance is aimed at businesses of any size needing to tie together large amounts of analytic and transactional data.

While HANA doesn’t replace BW, the value of the appliance is that it allows SAP’s customers who may not have BW -- or may not want it -- a way to still perform high-speed analytics off of SAP modules, according to Rita Sallam, an analyst with Gartner Inc.

“I think it’s a good first step toward the vision,” Sallam said.  That “vision” entails moving toward an eventual version of HANA that does away with disk-based databases for both transactional processes and analytics, which SAP has indicated it is moving toward. 

“If they can deliver on that, it will be a game changer,” she said.

SAP would have to explain how it would move BW customers to HANA in the future, without undue cost or disruption, something SAP says will not be a problem. 

“The mid-term plan is to allow BW to leverage HANA as the successor to BWA and therefore there is no need for customers to change their current deployment of BW. Eventually, the longer term plan is that HANA will provide the ‘in-memory’ database and technology platform upon which BW systems will run,” SAP wrote in an email when asked about its plans.

Speaking with reporters and other industry watchers by phone on Wednesday, Sikka outlined the first software application to be coupled with HANA, a personnel application called SAP Business Objects Strategic Workforce Planning, which lets companies simulate organizational changes in real time, and then see how the changes will affect that business. At the same time, models and personnel executives would be able to use the software to see how their company’s acquisitions and entrance into new markets will affect the organizational structure.

SAP said it had created the application in conjunction with other companies, including the Hilti Corp., which manufactures electrical tools used in the construction industry.  

Using HANA, the company was able to run hundreds of customer contact lists in a matter of seconds, instead of hours like it had in the past, according to Christian Ritter, Hilti’s head of PCC HR, finance and reporting. While he said the technology may not be revolutionary, it would save roughly 700 hours a year in time running those reports, which he called “very impressive.” 

SAP would not publicly disclose the cost of either HANA, or the software now being coupled with the appliance. 

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