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SAP HANA, express edition makes HANA easier for non-SAP developers

Relaxed RAM and licensing requirements and the ability to run on local machines could help popularize the HANA in-memory platform with Java, JavaScript and .NET developers.

One of the biggest announcements at the SAP TechEd conference last September was the unveiling of SAP HANA, express...

edition for use by developers. In December, Version 2.0 was released, not long after the announcement of SAP HANA 2.0.

The new express edition may seem like just another version of HANA, but the approach it represents and the software itself are both more important for developers and development shops than they may seem. This is SAP's first real attempt to provide the HANA in-memory database platform in a form that is appropriate for modern development use.

What is SAP HANA, express edition?

SAP HANA , express edition (or HANA Express), is a slimmed-down version of HANA that can run on a workstation-class computer with 16 GB of RAM (though 24 GB is recommended). It can run either as a virtual machine or be installed directly on a system that has the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP operating system. Setup -- at least of the virtual machine-based version -- is quick and easy, with tutorial-style documentation that walks developers through the process. That's a good place to find information on HANA Express.

As part of the process of slimming down, some features were left out of the version of HANA that is delivered as HANA Express. SAP provides a feature scope document describing what is in and what is out. Some of these decisions make a lot of sense, such as leaving out the more advanced, data warehousing-focused features, including dynamic tiering and Smart Data Integration. Leaving out the fuzzy text search feature is a bit more suspect from a developer perspective, as search is a key component of many applications. But, overall, a surprising number of features are available for developers to use in this edition of HANA.

Notably, SAP HANA, express edition is capped at 32 GB of compressed data. If you want to go higher than this, you'll have to license HANA in a different way, but for application development, this should be plenty. After all, 32 GB ought to be enough for anyone -- right?

Talking the talk

SAP has talked a good game about its commitment to developers for a long time, but SAP's HANA and ABAP delivery strategies both have had serious problems in their appeal to non-SAP developers. They also had problems enabling SAP developers to take advantage of the improved development practices of the last decade, such as Agile and test-driven development, continuous integration and DevOps, and version control system advances.

One of the key tenets underlying most of these advances is that each developer can have a local development system that behaves similarly to test and production environments. Such a system must be private to each developer so that they can work without interfering with each other. The logistics of how this is managed are complicated to explain, but suffice it to say that, historically, in SAP environments, it has been nearly impossible to pull off due to issues of licensing and technical architecture. The design of HANA doubled down on this premise, delivering a system that requires huge amounts of RAM to run properly -- much more than the 16 GB maximum available on most developer laptops.

As a result, SAP's approach to trying to attract developers to HANA hinged on offering cloud-based instances. While cloud sounds cool, developers think of the cloud as a deployment target or testing platform, not as a day-to-day development platform. That's why you have local installations. As a result, SAP's approach to HANA development seemed foreign to non-SAP developers.

Walking the walk

With the introduction of SAP HANA, express edition, SAP is acknowledging that a local installation of software is a developer feature worth delivering, and they are putting effort into making HANA slim and modular enough that it can run on a local machine. This is good for developers, but it's also going to be good for HANA, SAP and customers. There is no good reason for a database and app platform to require 20 or 30 GB of RAM to run even when it is storing no data. A slimmer footprint will mean more memory for data and faster, cheaper HANA systems.

The licensing of SAP HANA, express edition is also a nice change for developers. Previous versions of both HANA in the cloud and the ABAP platform (both in the cloud and installable) have had problematic licensing terms for intellectual property, and have often been licensed as time-limited trials rather than for use in developing working software. You may consult a lawyer -- I'm not one -- but the SAP HANA, express edition license looks much improved to my eyes.

Finally, this seems to me an indication that SAP's on-premises software groups, or at least the HANA group, are finally taking the needs and expectations of non-SAP developers seriously. SAP is big, but not compared to the legions of Java, JavaScript and .NET developers. The ecosystems around these languages and runtimes weren't built by insisting that developers adapt to the needs of vendors.

Likewise, SAP is not going to succeed by insisting that developers adopt a foreign centralized development paradigm rooted in SAP's mainframe-based origins. If SAP wants to lead the in-memory religion, it's going to have to go to the mountain and meet developers where they are. After years of sitting tight and waiting for developers to come to it, it looks like SAP might be taking some real steps in the right direction.

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