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6/2/2010
05:41 PM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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SAP, Oracle and 'Real' Real-Time Apps

SAP and Oracle are now saying their customers can expect next-generation applications and systems that will combine better embedded business intelligence with access to real-time transactional information. Where the two companies part ways is in the grandeur of their visions.

SAP and Oracle -- as well as Epicor and other enterprise application vendors -- are now saying customers can expect next-generation applications and systems that will combine better embedded business intelligence with access to real-time transactional information. Where the two companies part ways is in the grandeur of their visions.

While SAP is making big promises about access to complete data without aggregation or materialized views, Oracle is towing a much more conservative line. What's more, SAP is promising that someday -- though it is vague about exactly when the day will come -- you'll be able to tap historical data and real-time information without separate transactional databases and data warehouses.If you attended last month's Sapphire event, you heard all the promises -- 'real' real-time without risk and a "New DB" capable of replacing the data warehouse layer while also serving up detail down to the individual transaction. As I wrote in this analysis, these are pretty bold promises. SAP is to be lauded for its vision, but as I also wrote, there are plenty of details yet to be answered -- concerning the cost of the technology, the performance and data capacity relative to that cost, and the timetable whereby the technology switches from being a turbo charger for existing systems to being the combined OLTP and OLAP engine running the entire environment.

With its planned release of Oracle Fusion applications, still said to be on track for 2010, Oracle is also promising smart applications blending historical and real-time analysis. On the back end, however, we'll see the same old bifurcation of OLTP and OLAP environments. "The analytics accessible from [application] task flow screens in some cases will be pulled from warehouses and sometimes directly from the transactional system, but that will be seamless to the end user," said Chris Leone, Group Vice President of Fusion Application Development, who I interviewed for my research on this article.

When I asked Leone about the old concern about transaction queries impacting OLTP performance, Leone said, "We've made some decisions about when we aggregate and when we go directly against the transactional systems. That's why we'll continue to support a warehouse for information trending over longer periods of time... If you're looking for daily, hourly or up-to-the-minute information, we're more likely to tap that on the transactional side and then move it into the warehouse."

Metrics from the historical perspective will be less granular (meaning aggregated and not to the individual transaction level), Leone said. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that this Oracle executive also didn't say a thing about consolidating databases or eliminating the data warehouse layer.

In contrast, SAP seemed to be promising the world -- history, granularity and performance without limits, all thanks to SAP's combination of in-memory analysis and column-oriented database technology. CTO Sikka and Chairman Hasso Plattner talked about compressing application data by a factor of 10 and upping performance by orders or magnitude.

Forgive me for being skeptical, but I've been asking myself these last few weeks why a database vendor hasn't come up with something along the lines of what SAP now says it will deliver. In-memory and column-oriented technologies have been around for years, and vendors like Sybase and Vertica have been talking about 10X to 100X data compression for nearly as long. Did it really take an application vendor to think outside the box of the database market as we know it? Has it really been beyond outfits as talented and well-funded as IBM and Teradata to tackle these problems? Or have the database vendors been protecting the status quo and certain revenue streams? It seems even Oracle's OLTP- and OLAP-capable Exadata doesn't aspire to replace the data warehouse layer as we know it.

My suspicion is that the reality of what will be practical and affordable within the next, say, five years, lies somewhere between SAP grand vision and Oracle's more conservative stance. I don't doubt that what SAP is talking about is theoretically possible, but it may be unaffordable anytime soon. By the time performance, cost and capacity stats all fall in line for a single, all-capable, high-performance and highly capacious database (granting the boost capable through compression), all of us will have forgotten about Sapphire 2010. By that time, Oracle will presumably have more ambitious aspirations and promises as well.

In the meantime, SAP deserves credit for raising our sights and getting us all thinking about exciting new possibilities. Grand ambition is where innovation starts.SAP and Oracle are now saying their customers can expect next-generation applications and systems that will combine better embedded business intelligence with access to real-time transactional information. Where the two companies part ways is in the grandeur of their visions.

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