In the wake of Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems and the subsequent launch the all-Oracle, optimized-stack strategy, SAP executives have focused on customer freedom of choice as a differentiator.
Of course, in their heart of hearts, they would dearly love customers to choose anything but Oracle database.
At last week's Sapphire event, SAP formally introduced two alternatives to Oracle database. Everybody knew it was coming, but SAP announced that Hana, the in-memory, columnar database packaged as an appliance, will be generally available in June. SAP also announced that is has certified its Sybase unit's ASE database to run SAP apps. More on these and other alternatives in a moment, but first a bit of context.
Some 60% of SAP customers run their applications on Oracle database, by Gartner's estimates. It's a pairing that dates back to well before Oracle introduced its own enterprise applications in the late 1980s. Relations between the two companies only deteriorated as Oracle acquired SAP rivals PeopleSoft and JD Edwards in 2004 and Siebel in 2005. The acquisitions of Hyperion (2007), BEA (2008), and Sun (2009) didn't help, either.
The nadir was surely November's $1.3 billion jury award to Oracle in its lawsuit against SAP concerning actions by its now-shuttered TomorrowNow third-party services business. And it appears the latest tussle between Oracle and SAP revolves around the use of Hana with Oracle databases running SAP apps (and, surely no coincidence, the use of Oracle Exadata with SAP apps).
To sum up, let's just say that SAP has incentives to give customers -- particularly customers using Oracle database -- plenty of options.
The Hana Option
Hana isn't so much an effort to get into the database business as it is a move to take advantage of transformative computer processing power, set SAP apart and win new customers. Hana is aimed at analytic workloads, and it has helped a score of pilot customers cut hours-long analyses of products, customers, and profitability down to seconds.
More importantly, Hana can do this with up-to-the-second transactional data copied right out of application databases. And it can do it without resorting to data aggregation or summarization, so you can drill down to the detail on individual products and customers.
SAP's long-term ambition with its in-memory technology is for it to serve as both the transactional database and the analytic database, cutting out layers of hardware, related management software and cost while also improving performance. That will cut out Oracle (as well as IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, and Sybase ASE) as the database that runs SAP apps as well as app-related analytics.
That's the vision, anyway. In the here and now, Hana is an analytic appliance, and by the end of this year it will also be configurable to serve as the underlying database for the SAP Business Warehouse (BW).