When HANA meets Hadoop

Amid a lot of discussion around long-term product roadmaps and strategy at its Influencer Summit in Boston this week, SAP made mention of one initiative that may prove critical: tying its in-memory database HANA more closely to Hadoop, the software platform that supports data-intensive distributed applications under a free licence.

It was Sanjay Poonen, president and corporate officer of SAP Global Solutions, who mentioned in his keynote that HANA, which made its debut last year, would be moving beyond its roots in analytics to become a bigger part of the German software giant’s product set.

“We’re almost at that point of seeing innovation vectors of in-memory, mobility and cloud. (Customers) can see what HANA could do, but they also see (how it ties into) CRM,” he told a crowd of analysts and media. “You’ll be seeing more about SAP HANA and big data. We’ll be offering HANA for Business Warehouse, as well as Hadoop support.”

Hadoop, a project from the Apache Foundation, has been gaining interest from companies that use it to examine social media content, blogs and other clickstream data because it can handle petabytes of information that are normally challenging to handle on traditional databases. HANA, meanwhile, has become a prized possession at SAP because it stores data in RAM rather than at the disk level, offering a significant performance boost.

Based on what executives outlined at the Influencer Summit, SAP plans to let customers use Hadoop as a cheap storage mechanism for data that HANA can analyze at high speeds. David Menninger, vice-president and research director with Ventana Research in Pleasanton, Calif., suggested bringing the two technologies together could also encourage broader adoption of HANA among database administrators and IT departments.

“Hadoop has become a market – there’s an ecosystem, vendors and skill sets that are being developed. All of that is leverageable,” he said. “The HANA skill sets are specific to SAP. There’s no broader independent community.”

That’s not to say HANA isn’t getting traction on its own. In an interview with CIO Canada Steve Lucas, global general manager and senior executive, business analytics and technology, said the database is opening up doors in every area of SAP’s business.

“HANA drives a conversation,” he said. “Companies are trying to ask themselves, ‘Do I really need a data part in every single department?’ ‘Do I need someone making an OLAP cube for this?’ Or could they have a single technology like in-memory computing handling all of that? It’s getting them to rethink the potential of what’s possible.”

CIOs at Canadian companies, including Maple Leaf Foods, have already committed to deploying HANA in the near future. At the Influencer Summit, SAP put several other customers on stage who are at various stages of implementation. Martin Flegenheimer, CIO Middle and Eastern Europe at Italian confectionary firm Ferrero, said his company is already seeing the benefits.

“We are indirectly reducing the lead time on old business processes,” he said. However, “the product is young. You need support by SAP specialists.”

To encourage companies to develop more applications for HANA, SAP has also begun introducing a series of “accelerators” that optimize specific functions within existing SAP software programs. Flegenheimer said Ferrero has begun using the accelerators as part of its pilot projects.

SAP’s database portfolio also includes IQ from Sybase, which SAP acquired last year. Executives acknowledged some overlap between the two platforms, but Mennnger said that’s not a big issue.

“All they need to do is make a statement of what the long-term story is. In the long term, you need both,” he said, adding that he’s been surprised and impressed on how far HANA has come in terms of features and functionality.  

“HANA is becoming the core theme of a lot of what SAP is doing,” Menniger observed. “On analytics side and over a long term on application side. I think that’s borne itself out in what they’ve talked about.”

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