Earlier this year marked the tenth anniversary of the release of SAP HANA, the software company’s database management system. SAP HANA has been vital to the innovations of SAP software over the past decade, and instrumental to a lot of the software company’s success.
ASUG recently sat down with Dan Lahl, global vice president of product marketing at SAP, to talk about the legacy of SAP HANA. The conversation also focused on what made the platform a success, and how it’s still evolving.
Jim: SAP HANA just celebrated its tenth birthday. What were some of the highlights from SAP HANA’s first decade?
Dan: What SAP HANA has been able to accomplish is amazing. SAP HANA has the ability to establish in-memory column databases that provide the unique ability to do transactions and analytics in the same instance and at the same time. Historically, you would capture transactions in one database and then extract that information out of the database into a data warehouse. Then, you had to reorganize that information into a data warehousing storage format before analyzing it. For stock trading, dynamic telecommunications network management, or fast-moving stock items across thousands of retail point-of-sale devices—this is just not feasible to optimally run your business. This is ultimately too slow and too complex for most enterprises.
What SAP HANA has proven through in-memory data management is that you can do analytics at the same time as your transactions without moving the data to achieve better business decisions and outcomes. Now, that trading company can identify stock trends immediately, that telecom company can dynamically allocate cell capacity to its users, and that retail company can reorder immediately the products its customers need.
The notion that you could do analytics and capture transactions at the same time was a radical concept 10 years ago. But now SAP HANA, coupled with the SAP S/4HANA application suite, is providing better business outcomes for more than 14,000 SAP customers. In terms of the cloud, SAP HANA is a fully managed database service that runs on all of the major public cloud providers with the ability to scale up and down as the customer’s application needs determine. Coupled with applications like S/4HANA Cloud, SAP HANA provides all of the business benefits—and SAP manages the SAP HANA instance for the customer. Customers can even choose a licensing model with SAP S/4HANA Cloud that is based on the customer’s specific usage of SAP HANA.
Jim: What do you think has made SAP HANA successful?
Dan: The key business differentiator that SAP HANA has brought to the market is the transactional and analytical processes happening at the same time to help IT optimally serve the needs of the business. You don’t know how much work the IT group had to do to allow a Line of Business employee—in the purchasing department on the phone with a customer for example—to be able to understand when a specific critical order would be delivered to the customer. Because SAP HANA can easily answer that customer’s order delivery question in real time without IT having to move and restructure the data, this provides much better customer service to the order department—and ultimately to the customer who is checking on their order. I personally get so frustrated when I have called to check on an order and am told that I need to call back the next day to get the delivery status. With SAP HANA, that never has to happen, as the customer service department can answer the status of every order for every customer in real-time. That is a business game changer!
Over time and with the help of more than 53,000 direct and indirect customers, SAP has also engineered SAP HANA to be robust enough to handle all our customers’ needs, from the smallest to the largest organizations. For example, we have companies like Cisco that are running their worldwide sales pipeline and order entry system on an SAP HANA system. I think that’s where the SAP HANA system has matured the most over the last decade: its robustness and ability to optimally serve many different types of business applications.
Jim: Tell me about SAP HANA 2.0 SPS05 and what it will do for customers.
Dan: I am excited about this release for two reasons. First, we are providing long-term support for this version of SAP HANA. SAP has released updates to SAP HANA every six months to a year, and our support model is if customers are two releases behind, they do not receive support for that version anymore. But this specific release, HANA 2.0 SPS05, is a release that will have long term support—so customers can stay on this version of HANA for several years. It will be stable, and SAP will continue to support it and make fixes to this version of HANA for our customers who are using it far into the future.
The second reason, which I think is even more important, is the fact that on SAP HANA Cloud, customers will now have the ability to move and transparently share data between on-premise applications and applications running in the cloud. For instance, if a customer has an SAP HANA-based application running in the cloud, but also is running that same application on-premise, the customer can share that application data between the cloud and the on-premise systems. For example, a customer might have some of their SAP S/4HANA application running on-premise and some running in the cloud. Yet to the Line of Business user, it looks like one system, thanks to the data sharing capabilities of SAP HANA.
A finance person running an SAP S/4HANA predictive analysis model on future sales, costs, and margins does not care about where the data is coming from. They just want the answer to their analysis. SAP HANA provides this seamlessly and transparently. This is a huge help to customers because there’s no longer a wall separating on-premise and cloud application systems. With SAP HANA, it’s one piece of the same cloth now. This feature helps customers transition at own their pace over time as they move data and applications to the cloud. I think it’s a great strategy for not only virtualizing data across cloud and on-premise systems, but more importantly, making business applications more flexible to meet the changing needs of the enterprise.
Jim: As we see more and more companies migrating to the cloud, how do you think SAP HANA has helped facilitate this move?
Dan: Two years ago, one could paint a picture that the cloud is just on the continuum of cost reduction. In the not too distant past, just about everybody ran all of their applications on-premise. And then, customers began to outsource the management of data centers. From there, people realized that the cloud would be cheaper, so they began cloud migration with the help of hyperscalers.
But this line of thought is not the case anymore. Since then, the cloud has been proven to provide the capability to conduct much more rapid development and delivery of new business application functionality. We see this time and time again with our customers. Some would call this a try and fail fast mentality, but at SAP, we call it cloud application flexibility and agility. The fact that SAP HANA is an in-memory system and SAP HANA Cloud is a fully managed data management system allows customers to quickly use an instance of SAP HANA. Plus, the development tooling required to solve a business problem for an application area is in weeks, not months or years. This is the real promise of the cloud.
A great example of this is when the German Foreign Ministry came to SAP at the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak. At this time, the German government needed to get approximately 120,000 German citizens who were abroad back home safely. In about 24 hours, SAP developers helped create a tool, the “Rückholprogramm” app, built on SAP Cloud Platform, to register citizens and set up fast travel arrangements. We could not have done this if it were on-premise.
SAP quickly formed a team and interviewed the German government about what data the app needed to capture. We then figured out the right security model, how to capture the data and transfer it to the German government, and scaled the solution to support tens of thousands of users. We used SAP HANA as the data capture system and SAP Cloud Platform as the application system to build the entry registration. On the front end, we used SAP Fiori. We built the app in 24 hours and could not have done this if it wasn’t in the cloud. Before we knew it, we had more than 132,000 German citizens using the solution. Today, this solution is no longer in use, as the citizen retrieval operation has been completed.
Jim: I’d love to hear you talk a little about how SAP HANA fits into the SAP Business Technology Platform.
Dan: The Business Technology Platform is the portfolio of products that includes database and data management, data warehousing, analytics, integration, extension, and intelligent technologies. Right at the center of that—in the database component—is SAP HANA. That is our core data management offering in the Business Technology Platform. On top of that, you have SAP Data Warehouse Cloud, which builds on top of SAP HANA. On top of that, you have SAP Analytics Cloud that uses SAP HANA data for reporting, dashboards, and predictive planning. From a data, data warehouse, and analytics perspective, SAP HANA is at the core.
As I mentioned earlier, if you start a report request in SAP Analytics Cloud, it will virtualize the data. And the executive has no idea that the information they’re getting is coming via online systems. Every day I personally use an application in our Business Technology Platform that looks at our targets for the year, and it uses a set of SAP HANA databases. But the information comes to me in just one report, even though I know we have data coming from about eight or nine different sources.
Integration and extension functionalities are part of the SAP Cloud Platform capabilities. With SAP applications, for example, we can integrate SAP HANA to SAP C/4HANA, or SAP HANA over to SAP Fieldglass or SAP SuccessFactors. All of our assets are integrated through our integration suite. We can connect up to 160 other external applications as well, including Oracle and Salesforce. We provide tight content integrations between Salesforce and SAP S/4HANA.
As for extensions, these are the tools we provide to help developers extend existing applications. For example, there many tax extensions for country-specific tax codes, reporting requirements, and invoicing requirements. A lot of times there are different invoicing requirements between countries, especially in Latin America. You might have a Latin American company doing business in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela. Each one of those has different nuances to their invoicing. Customers, in this case, can use our SAP Cloud Platform Extension Suite to open up that business process, make those specific changes, and then apply them directly to their workflow. Now your company has customized invoicing across each one of those countries.
SAP Business Technology Platform truly is the platform and portfolio from which SAP will build our next generation of applications—and bring together SAP and non-SAP applications for maximum business benefit.
Don’t miss your opportunity to hear about how SAP customers across industries are benefiting from using SAP HANA at our virtual experience ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Industries in September 2020.