SAP's HANA and "the Overall Confusion"

I threw together a very long response to a very long question on the SCN forums, regarding SAP's HANA application and its impact on business intelligence and datawarehousing activities. The original thread is here and I'm sure it will continue to grow. But since my response was pretty thorough and contains a ton of relevant links, I thought I would reformat it and post it here as well. In order to get a good overview of the HANA situation, I strongly recommend that anyone interested check out the following blogs and articles by several people, myself included:

Some of these blogs are using out of date terminology, which is hard to avoid since SAP seems to change its product names every 6 months. But hopefully if you read them they will give you some insight into the overall situation unfolding around HANA. With regards to DW/BI and HANA, these blogs address many of those issues as well. Now, to try answering the questions:

1. Does SAP HANA replace BI?

It's worth noting that HANA is actually a bundle of a few technologies on a specific hardware platform. It includes ETL (Sybase Replication Server and BusinessObject Data Services), Database and database-level modeling tools (ICE, or whatever it's called today), and reporting interfaces (SQL, MDX, and possibly bundled BusinessObjects BI reporting tools). So, in the sense that your question is "does anything change as far as needing to do ETL, modeling, and reporting work to develop BI solutions?", then the answer is no. If you are asking about SAP's overall strategy regarding BW, then this is open to change and I think the blogs above will give you some answers. The short answer is that I see SAP supporting both the scenario of using BW as a DW toolkit (running on top of BWA or HANA) as well as the scenario of using loosely coupled tools (HANA alone, or the database of your choice with BusinessObjects tools) for the foreseeable future. At least I hope this is the case, as I think it would be a mistake to do otherwise.

2. Will SAP continue 5-10 years down the road to support "Traditional BI"?

I hope so. If you read my last blog listed above you will see that HANA actually solves none of the traditional BI problems, and addresses only a few of them. So we still need "traditional" (read "good old hard work") approaches to address these problems.

3. What does this mean for our RDBMS, meaning Oracle?

Very interesting question. For a long time, SAP has supported competitive products to Oracle offerings. In my view, this was to give SAP and its customers options other than the major database vendors, and to give itself an out in the event that contract negotiations with a major vendor went south. So in a sense, HANA can be seen as maintaining this alternative offering. Of course, SAP says HANA is more than that, and I think they are right. Analytic DBMSes have been relatively slow catching on and as SAP's business slants more and more towards BI, the fact is that the continued use of traditional RDBMSes in BI and DW contexts has done a lot of damage by making it difficult to achieve good performance. It's a lot easier to sell fast reports than slow reports :-) So that is another driver. Personally, I don't agree with SAP's rhetoric about HANA being revolutionary or changing the industry. The technologies and approaches used in the ICE are not new, as far as I have seen. As far as changing the industry from a performance or TCO perspective, I'm reserving judgement on that until SAP releases some repeatable benchmarks against competing products. I doubt that HANA will significantly outperform competitive columnar in-memory databases like Exasol and ParAccel. If you are Oracle, you have a rejuvenated, and perhaps slightly more frightening competitor. I don't think anyone really thought that MaxDB was a danger to Oracle, but HANA holds more potential as a competitor to Exadata. Licensing discussions could get interesting.

4. Is HANA going to be adopted and implemented more quickly on the ECC side than BI side first?

Everything I have seen has indicated that SAP will be driving adoption in BI/Analytic scenarios first and then in the ECC/Business Suite scenario once everyone is satisfied with the stability of the solution. Keep in mind, the first version of HANA is still in ramp-up. SAP is usually very conservative in certifying databases to run Business Suite applications.