Enterprise software giant SAP has today announced that its broadly adopted Business Suite applications will now be able to run in-memory on its HANA database, in a bid to enable businesses to carry out real-time analytics of transactional operations.
SAP has touted this launch as ‘significant for the world economy’, as it claims it will allow businesses to identify new opportunities in real-time in tough economic climates, whilst also simplifying the IT estate due to the removal of writing data to disk.
Jim Hagemann Snabe, Co-CEO of SAP, announced the product today in Frankfurt at an exclusive press pre-briefing, which was attended by Computerworld UK.
“We are proud to launch Business Suite, which are our flagship business applications that runs businesses of all sizes in 24 different industries across the world, to run on SAP HANA, our revolutionary in-memory database technology,” said Snabe.
“Why is this so important? We now operate in a world where product cycles have dramatically shortened and we need to re-invent real-time and business, based on increased frequency. It is about becoming a much more proactive business, a business that is able to sense and respond to what is going on in the market and to react quickly.”
He added: “An environment where companies can no longer make a monthly plan or an annual plan, and then execute that plan. They need to re-plan all the time.”
Three years in the making
Snabe explained that the move has been in development for three years with the first itterations of HANA launched in 2011. Today's move is the third piece in the HANA puzzle. He described HANA as the initial accelerator, which allowed businesses to keep the business software that they have and put a HANA box next to it, with little disruption. This allowed companies, according to Snabe, to accelerate certain functions in the software.
The second step was SAP’s announcement that HANA would run Business Warehouse, which allowed companies to run analytics at speeds that were a fraction of what had been previously possible. Snabe said: “For the first time we didn’t add a piece, we replaced the traditional database. We replaced the relational database and took away the disk from one of the most important systems in a business.”
Half of SAP’s HANA customers now run Business Warehouse on the in-memory product.
Finally, the third step, which was announced today, was to put full transactional applications in-memory. Snabe continued: “The third phase of this journey was the vision that one day it was not just about in-memory analytics, it was the combination of in-memory analytics and the transactional world. Both at the same time.
“Bringing the transactional world together with the analytical world, all into one infrastructure, for the first time. That is where we are today.”
It was revealed today that SAP has between 30 and 50 customers in the pipeline for Business Suite on HANA, and SAP expects this to ‘accelerate’ after launch. The product is available from today.
He provided a real-life example of where an insurance company could potentially catch fraudulent activity as it happens, as opposed to the end of the month when it may typically runs an analysis. Or a consumer products company being able to identify new campaigns in real-time based on a sudden trend in the market, which would create the ability to sell products to the right people, at the right price, at the right location.
SAP is making Business Suite on HANA available as an enhancement pack for companies that are already using the in-memory database technology, which means that there will be no additional cost. However, Business Suite customers that are interested in putting their applications in-memory, but do not have a HANA database, will have to license for one.
Snabe also insisted that SAP will continue to ‘remain open’, in that it will not only continue to support Business Suite on non-SAP databases, but it will also continue to optimise the code for them.
An Opportunity for Business and IT
SAP believes that Business Suite on HANA creates opportunities both for business and for IT – largely due to having to rely less on writing to disk. Snabe said: “With this we are starting a new era. It is an era that combines two value propositions – one for business, and one for IT.”
For business, Snabe argues that HANA and Business Suite together can harness genuine business outcome improvements. “When you re-invent business processes based on the assumption that everything is in real-time, it provides an opportunity to empower the frontline workers to do constant optimisation – to realise the profitability of doing an interaction with a customer instantly,” said Snabe.
“It is the opportunity for the business to constantly optimise and re-plan based on a sense of what is going on in the market, so that businesses can react to new information faster than the competition. Even in tough times you can create a market opportunity.”
But what about IT? SAP argues that the ever increasing complexity seen in today’s’ enterprise IT landscape is largely down to the slow response times of writing to disk. With this removed it provides huge opportunities for simplification, according to Snabe.
“For many years we have been adding complexity because we want to solve more and more complex business problems. Why did we have data stored many, many times in modern systems today? Because if you don’t pre-aggregate answers to potential questions from your users, then the system isn’t fast enough to respond to those questions,” he said.
“A lot of the complexity we created was to compensate for the slowness of the disk, to get a reasonable response time to the user. The disk, as the slowest moving part of the infrastructure, created those slow response times.”
He added: “The moment you take this limitation away, you can start simplifying. Now we can read billions of records in sub-seconds in HANA, why would you still have aggregates of data? We looked at one of our customer’s CRM systems and found that 50 percent of the data was indexes to find other data. If you can read all of the data in less than a second, you can take all those indexes out.”
Snabe concluded by saying that “for the first time in history we have an opportunity to drive a massive simplification of IT”.
This isn’t the end for Business Warehouse
However, what does this mean for Business Warehouse? Will companies now analyse all of their data out of Business Suite, making the data warehouse redundant? SAP’s executive vice president for applications, Bernd Leukert, argues that this isn’t the case.
Leukert said that the decision on how to use Business Warehouse going forward depends on two different business scenarios. One where it should stay in use, and the other where businesses should consider just using Business Suite in HANA.
“The first category is easy, it’s the pure operational part where the constraints of the architecture and the slowness of the disk resulted in the outsourcing of operational reporting into a Business Information Warehouse. This isn’t necessary anymore,” said Leukert.
“We don’t need to extract data from an online transactional processing system and move it into a separate information warehouse. There are huge opportunities for efficiencies and simplification of your landscape [by putting the applications in HANA].”
However, Leukert does believe that there will be the need for a Business Warehouse as a point of consolidation for external stakeholder data.
“There are several reasons why a Business Information Warehouse in a company makes complete sense – for the purpose of consolidating data across different systems within your landscape, but also for a lot of external data. Data from suppliers and customers for example,” he said.
“In this case the Business Information Warehouse serves as a consolidation point and I envision will stay in the future.”