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SAP Builds Ecosystem To Boost Hana

SAP forges closer ties with Intel, IBM, analytics vendors, and systems integrators to jump start its in-memory database.

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If SAP's Hana in-memory database is to succeed, SAP will need more than just a product to win over customers. That's why the company highlighted a bevy of partnerships at this week's SAPPHIRE event in Orlando, Fla., including closer ties with hardware, software, and services firms.

On the hardware front, SAP announced on Wednesday that it has taken its 15-year-old partnership with Intel a level deeper with jointly developed support and optimization for scale-out, multi-node deployments of Hana on Intel servers. Scale-out architecture will enable customers to handle multi-terabyte data sets by adding more servers.

SAP and Intel announced that they themselves have brought the architecture to the extreme with a 100-terabyte system running on Intel Xeon E7 servers that will serve as the foundation of what they described as a petabyte-scale cloud platform.

"With a farm of such systems around the world, we believe that we can run every single ERP system that we have today," said SAP CTO Vishal Sikka during his keynote presentation on Wednesday.

[ How do SAP Hana and Oracle Exalytics compare? Read SAP's Hype Versus Oracle's FUD. ]

If customers want to keep their deployments on-premises but run them on Hana, they'll need new hardware, specifically Intel X86-based servers. Sikka noted that Hana-certified servers are now offered by more than half of the server manufacturers that use Intel processors, including Cisco, Fujitsu, HP, and IBM. Sikka and SAP chairman Hasso Plattner singled out IBM, in particular, for close cooperation in offering Hana-ready hardware--perhaps easing the pain of DB2 licenses displaced by SAP's new database.

The option to scale out opens the door to big-data analytic processing, and on that front SAP also announced the released Service Pack 4 for Hana, which introduces text searching on unstructured and structured data, interoperability with the R open-source statistical language, and in-database predictive and statistical-analysis functions.

The Service Pack 4 announcement might satisfy critics such as Wells Fargo software analyst Jason Maynard, who wrote in an April research note that "SAP should be targeting new areas where Hana's in-memory technology has a real advantage, rather than trying to replace existing relational database workloads."

Wells Fargo downgraded SAP's stock to "market perform" from "outperform" late last month in part because Maynard doesn't see infrastructure (meaning databases) as SAP's strength. He wants to see more big-data apps built on Hana.

Opera Solutions, one of many software vendors partnering with SAP on Hana, announced this week that it's now running its Signal Hub analytic applications on Hana. Signal Hubs tap into large and varied data sets to perform predictive analyses and support decisions on areas such as marketing, spend management, and credit risk. During his keynote, Sikka said Morgan Stanley is a joint customer where Opera has been delivering predictive investment advice using its machine-learning techniques.

"This process used to run on traditional infrastructure, but with Hana it will become dramatically more real-time while also integrating historical trading information," Sikka said.

SAP is turning to systems integrators for help in selling and implementing Hana, and on that front the vendor announced that Accenture is expanding its SAP practice to promote SAP's database offerings and particularly Hana. Accenture has committed to adding 1,000 new employees skilled in SAP databases and related applications by the end of 2012, and it also will develop a dedicated research and development capability around Hana.

"We're seeing the uptake [of Hana] with customers, so we're doubling down on our investment and we already have a development factory for SAP BW on Hana up and running in our India delivery center," Mark Willford, global managing director of SAP Business at Accenture, told InformationWeek.

On the development front, Sikka got a hearty round of applause during his keynote when he announced that SAP is making Hana developer licenses available for free. The company also is opening up access to the platform by making developer instances of Hana available on Amazon Web Services. Enterprise applications and SAP expert Dennis Howlett wrote that the moves "put all developers large, small and anywhere in between onto a level playing field."

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