SAP's Plattner: How S/4Hana Simplifies ERP - InformationWeek

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2/4/2015
03:27 PM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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SAP's Plattner: How S/4Hana Simplifies ERP

SAP chairman Hasso Plattner explains what's possible with S/4Hana. Analysts and customers comment on the evolutionary vs. revolutionary debate.

Cloud ERP: 9 Emerging Options
Cloud ERP: 9 Emerging Options
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SAP customers have been hearing the company's "Hana offers dramatic simplification" yarn for more than four years. So what exactly changed with Tuesday's launch of Business Suite 4 SAP Hana, dubbed S/4Hana for short?

In a one-on-one interview with InformationWeek, SAP chairman and co-founder Hasso Plattner explained that all the advantages of Hana in-memory computing could not be realized with the SAP Business Suite of old. While the technical and performance improvements are compelling, the real questions for users center on the sub-applications of ERP (CRM, supply chain management, HR, project lifecycle, and management) that SAP will bring into S/4Hana, how soon the change will happen, and what industry-specialized capabilities it will offer.

To answer those questions, we have to first look at what's changed, and why the previous iterations of SAP Business Suite could not take full advantage of Hana's in-memory capabilities.

S/4Hana apps run without aggregates, indexes, materialized views, and multiple copies of data. The old SAP Business Suite required all that because it was designed to run on conventional databases that store all those interim views to spinning disks. Third-party databases including Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle have gained in-memory appendages, but they still maintain the aggregates and indexes of the past, creating yet more versions of the same data.

"The full benefits have not been there because the full data models [of the legacy apps] were still in the system," Plattner told InformationWeek. "Our own CFO had never worked on a system that operated without aggregates, so the idea of doing every single report and every P&L statement running through 250 million lines of data in memory scared him. S/4 Hana does this in less than two seconds."

[ Want more on this news? Read SAP S/4Hana: Big Bet On 'Simplified' ERP. ]

In getting rid of all of those copies of data, all of which required storage capacity and processing cycles to keep all those spinning plates running in sync, SAP was able to simplify and shrink the underlying data model of the ERP suite.

So, what does this mean for users seeking simplification of their ERP systems? Yesterday we reported one version of that roadmap from Wieland Schreiner, executive VP of S/4Hana. But SAP clearly didn't do a good job of presenting a clear, consistent, and comprehensive roadmap, because comments and questions remain.

Hasso Plattner's explanation of the simplification possible with S/4Hana's finance app: 593 GB reduced to 42 GB, with only 8.4 GB being dynamic, current-year data requiring high availability and backups.

Hasso Plattner's explanation of the simplification possible with S/4Hana's finance app: 593 GB reduced to 42 GB, with only 8.4 GB being dynamic, current-year data requiring high availability and backups.

"S/4Hana finally brings a native solution that can demonstrate in-memory computing's business value," wrote financial analyst Jason Maynard of Wells Fargo Securities in a research note. "That said, we still think a coherent application rewrite across the entire application portfolio is needed to truly usher in a modern cloud suite."

Maynard's assessment seems to allude to one big question as to whether acquired cloud apps, such as SuccessFactors and Ariba, will move into S/4Hana or whether those functions will be rewrites of Business Suite apps. Which app you use to run and account for HR expenses, for example, is obviously a big deal.

Some executives waffled on this question and told us SAP could have it both ways, using virtual views to carry forward legacy apps. Schreiner told InformationWeek that SAP will favor the cloud-based apps over redeveloping legacy Business Suite apps that handle the same functions. If Schreiner's

Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of ... View Full Bio
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soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
3/5/2015 | 8:11:59 PM
Re: Run your enterprise on a cell phone?
And if you want to get into dashboard-viewing metrics, the dashboard software would have to be responsive design to view it on a phone. Which they might be, I don't know all the technology behind dashboards. But I would think that would cause serious eye strain!
AS71
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AS71,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/5/2015 | 7:46:25 PM
Re: Run your enterprise on a cell phone?
It still doesn't make a lot of sense though. If you are running order management, for instance, on SAP and you are taking in hundreds or thousands of orders a day, what company is going to want to let all of that data sit in-memory? If the server crashes or the data corrupts or whatever, that data is lost forever if you have not written it to disk or Flash... some persistent media. No large company is going to want to take the risk that they may lose a month or a week or a day of "hot" data. SAP could say, "so write it to disk out of HANA", but then you are only moving as fast as the underlying storage system... which was the entire reason you implemented HANA in the first place.
AS71
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AS71,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2015 | 7:12:55 PM
Re: Run your enterprise on a cell phone?
Unrelated to the HANA piece. Did anyone discuss what is happening with their acquired cloud apps, like SuccessFactors, Ariba, Concur? I saw a bubble chart where they had core business suite and then a ring outside that which was HANA and then a ring outside of that which is cloud apps. Does that means that all of those cloud apps are going to remain standalone? Meaning they will have SAP HR as part of the core suite and then a somewhat competitive, or at least unconnected, SuccessFactors out there by itself. They haven't been very clear on what is going on with these acquired companies. Are they part of S/4?
AS71
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AS71,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2015 | 6:55:38 PM
Re: Run your enterprise on a cell phone?
Getting rid of indexes and aggregates to reduce the data capacity has been part of the DW provider story, Netezza, Teradata, etc, for a long time. Makes sense for OLAP to run columnar but traditionally there has been a query performance penalty on large OLTP DBs. That's why IBM has Netezza for OLAP and DB2 for OLTP. It is possible that they have solved all of this, but I don't see where. Even if they did, the large bite in cost isn't in the data capacities, it is in the need to relicense on HANA when you already have Oracle or DB2 licenses.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
2/8/2015 | 4:10:41 PM
Re: Run your enterprise on a cell phone?
SAP/Plattner was not seriously suggesting running the enterprise on the phone. He was making the point that when you get rid of of the redundant copies of data -- aggregates, indexes, etc. -- and no longer need to have copies upon copies along with a complicated data model with much to keep in sync, the total footprint of the system is dramatically reduced such that it's comparatively easy to manage it as well to back it up and have it maintained in a highly available state. A financial system that required nearly 600 GB using Business Suite and a conventional data was was reduced to 42 GB using S/4Hana on in-memory technology, according to SAP. The dynamic data -- open orders and current-year data -- amounted to 8 GB. That's small enough, technically, to run on a phone -- the point being that the in-memory server required need not be all that big or expensive. 
AS71
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AS71,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/8/2015 | 3:58:00 PM
Re: Run your enterprise on a cell phone?
SAP made a big marketing splash with the 'entirely in memory' database message, but then walked it back when asked specific questions. How do you ensure that data isn't lost forever when a server crashes? Well, we write it to persistent state storage at a very short interval... so, then, you're still only moving as fast as the storage system..... Isn't it going to be really expensive to store all of the legacy data, which is most of the DB, in memory? Well, you can archive to disk.... again, maybe not a problem, but not really in memory. What you get when you dig into it is that you will be storing read only in memory, which is not new. On the 'run your enterprise from your phone' message. Why would a CFO want to dig through the transactional GL data on their phone? They just need the dashboard view.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
2/5/2015 | 3:29:12 PM
Run your enterprise on a cell phone?
That 8.4 GB figure in the diagram above represents the dynamic data in the enterprise -- open orders, current-year transactions and anything related to current-fiscal-year results. That amount is small enough to run on a smartphone, Plattner pointed out. It's not that you actually would do that, but the idea is that you don't need much of a server and storage footprint, with in-memory technology, as compared to conventional apps, with their many copies of data.


That's the theory anyway, but it's notable what SAP last year added a store-to-disk option for "warm" and archival data, as opposed to the hot data that's managed in memory.
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