Not everything demands in-memory performance, so SAP is bundling a conventional database for customers licensing SAP BusinessSuite to run on Hana.
Almost all the talk at last week's SAP Business Suite Powered By Hana announcement was about "reinventing enterprise systems." It's SAP's vision that companies will drop conventional databases from the likes of Oracle, IBM or Microsoft and switch to its Hana in-memory database in order to dramatically improve the performance of critical systems like ERP. But SAP has also quietly acknowledged, both at the event and in a follow-up interview, that its execs know that not everything will move to Hana right away.
The most obvious sign of this admission is a dual-database deal whereby SAP is including the Sybase ASE transactional database -- meaning it's a free add-on -- when customers license SAP Business Suite Powered by Hana. SAP executives explained the offer in a follow-up interview with InformationWeek last week.
"Customers could choose to deploy ASE or Hana in whatever mix of configurations they want," explained Prakash Darji, SAP's global VP for data warehouse solutions & SAP Hana platform. SAP customers could use Hana to accelerate certain Business Suite processes while leaving other processes on ASE.
There are two reasons why this move to bundle Sybase ASE along with Hana makes sense.
First, not all Business Suite applications are capable of running on Hana as yet. Major ones including ERP, CRM and supply chain management are, but some apps, like supplier relationship management, are not. Thus, customers will obviously continue to need a conventional relational database. Including ASE -- which SAP touts as an alternative to Oracle, IBM DB2 or Microsoft SQL Server for transactional (OLTP) workloads -- is a lure (or a consolation, depending on your perspective) to companies that would otherwise balk at having to license two databases -- meaning Hana, plus whatever they're currently using.
Second, even if SAP reaches its goal of moving all of its software onto Hana fairly quickly, customers may still be selective about which applications they choose to accelerate or reinvent by moving them onto Hana.
Hana's appeal is extreme in-memory performance whereby transactional and analytic applications can run far faster than on conventional databases. In some cases the performance is such that entirely new applications are envisioned, ones that were never attempted because they would simply take too long. At last week's announcement, for example, BusinessSuite on Hana beta customer John Deere said it's testing financial close and manufacturing resource planning applications that will execute within minutes on Hana, where they used to take many hours or days running on conventional databases.
But in other cases customers either don't see value in dramatically speeding up an application, or they just aren't ready to move it over to Hana. In those cases, they can license only selected apps to run on Hana.
"We would love to see every customer consolidate everything on Hana and not go to a hybrid deployment model, but the reason we've included ASE is that some customers are saying, 'Do I really need an in-memory database for, say, a portal?'" Darji said.
[Editor's note: In a follow-up interview, SAP execs said there are compelling reasons to support real-time personalized dashboards on portals using Hana, and that a payroll app would be a better example of a not-so-critical application where in-memory performance is concerned.]
Why not run everything on Hana? For one thing, there is a price for performance. Hana runs on different, memory-intensive hardware than conventional databases, and the database itself is also licensed based on the volumes of data managed. Hardware prices have come down, but memory is still more expensive than spinning disks. Despite all SAP's promises of being able to deliver "innovation without disruption," its ASE giveaway policy seems like a realistic recognition that it may only be in mission-critical spots -- at least initially -- where companies will want to innovate with Hana.
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