SAP Delivers Promised Analytic Appliance

HANA is the application vendor's first step in a multi-year plan to reinvent enterprise IT with in-memory computing.
HANA uses a data replication server from SAP's recently acquired Sybase unit to copy data from any source system into HANA. The latency of that data movement is as low as milliseconds, according to Sikka.

SAP declined to detail specific configurations or pricing of appliances. In fact, it said it will not publically release the pricing of its software, disclosing terms only to customers participating in early deployments.

One such customer is Hilti, a manufacturer that participated in early tests of HANA. A Hilti executive said the company has successfully piloted a customer reporting application involving some nine million customer records. The report previously took two to three hours and involved multiple query steps, but in HANA it's a one-step query that takes just two to three seconds, according to Christi Ritter of Hilti's global IT organization.

"HANA will have a deep impact and will be the starting point for a transformation not only in IT, but in our ability to provide information to the people who are directly involved in transactional operations," Ritter said. He noted that end users could ask questions and gain insights instantly rather than having to wait for ETL batch processes involving IT.

Hilti's next step will be to move open-order and customer-view reports into HANA. If results are consistent with the initial pilot, the company could save as much as one full-time-equivalent in each of 70 global marketing groups, Ritter said.

HANA is decidedly not a big-data appliance in that RAM remains as much as 20 times more expensive than comparable disk-based storage capacity, according to Gartner analyst Donald Feinberg. That said, Feinberg predicts SAP's rivals will also move toward in-memory database structures as hardware vendors turn out blades with more processing cores and memory at ever-lower cost.

"If HP, IBM and Dell can create these boards, there's no reason [Oracle] Sun can't," Feinberg said, adding "Larry Ellison has commented that Oracle will have an in-memory, column-store database by next year."

Whether Oracle and others will also propose taking layers out of the IT stack, as SAP has, remains to be seen. For now, HANA is an add-on to existing environments, so it has to justify a payback without the promise of cutting cost from existing deployments.

"If you can save $50 million on a $2 million investment, there isn't a company that wouldn't do that," Feinberg said. "But you have to have a high-value application to rationalize the investment."

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