HANA in action: big bang or slow burner?

2011 has been the year of HANA for SAP. As worldwide sales surpass US$100 million, it is clear that the appliance is starting to get traction in the market. For such a “game-changer”, why has the take-up been relatively slow, and what are some of the factors affecting its adoption? Freya Purnell reports. 

SAP HANA was announced with much fanfare 18 months ago, and SAP has taken every opportunity to tout its benefits since then. While this has generated enormous interest across all regions and industries, sales and implementations have lagged behind the level of enthusiasm.

Based in Germany, Keith Murray is IBM’s global product manager for SAP in-memory computing and lead SAP solutions architect, business analytics, and has been closely involved with many of the SAP HANA ‘early adopter’ program customers globally.  Murray says that while the adoption had probably taken longer than was initially thought, the fourth quarter of 2011 has seen customers begin to engage partners to get HANA installations in place.  “The dam has now burst,” he says.

But why has it taken so long to take off?  “It’s not a solution that I would call plug and play – it does require some support from a consultant group to help customers to actually design and build a solution based on the technology from SAP. Everybody involved –customers, partners and consulting companies, and SAP – had to build up that knowledge, and that simply took time,” Murray says.

While the hype around HANA may have put some customers off, many are now actually recognising it does have the potential to benefit their business, and have worked through the internal processes to determine where it will deliver the greatest value. With the momentum building, Murray expects to see a lot of customer activity on HANA moving into 2012.  He says Australia has certainly been ahead of the curve, with more implementations underway than might have been expected, given its share of the global SAP market.
However, it’s not just customers getting their heads around where HANA would work best in their business that has hampered adoption. For partners and consultants, getting to grips with the solution, especially as it evolved quickly, was a challenge.  As HANA is sold as an appliance, combining SAP software with infrastructure from various partners, Murray says the IBM team developed a workload optimised solution in collaboration with the SAP development team.

“We’ve got specific components that we put into these configurations to meet the requirements of the typical workload. That was the process that took time, because SAP was developing the solution as we were going, so it was a constant moving target. From an application point of view, there is a lot of new technology that’s part of this solution,” Murray says.
In the year since HANA’s release, it has been through a significant number of versions.

“We’ve been seeing updates every other week coming out as that code was modified, matured and stabilised.  For anybody that was initially working with a solution, it was bleeding edge, so there were a lot of issues,” Murray says. “But we’re seeing customers now going live with the solutions, and it has reached a level of stability where there are no issues in the production environment.”

Adding value with HANA
To date, there are three main market segments where HANA is being adopted, according to Murray.  The simplest scenarios, and where two-third of the HANA projects are focused, are where SAP has made applications available to work natively on the database – the SAP Cost and Profitability Analysis (COPA) Accelerator, and smart metering in the utilities sector.  Adoption in the latter area could be driven further by new laws.
“All the European countries have adopted legislation for smart metering as of March 2012. Accordingly, the suppliers, the brokers, the vendors that are engaged in that business are grasping with the challenge of working with all this information. It’s a potential differentiator for them, so that’s automatically going to create demand,” Murray says.  “That is a very focused use case and business scenario.  The remaining third of projects is very mixed – from sales-driven analysis through financials, logistics, and campaign planning,” Murray says.

Obviously in this category, where solutions must be custom built, the time to be up and running is much slower.

Future growth and applications
Over the next 12 to 18 months, Murray expects to see many customers building their own solutions, as well as SAP and its partners beginning to make more applications available natively against the database.  “I don’t think SAP would be able to do that on their own, as there is only so much resource capability available. It will probably start to work with some customers initially but turn it into an industry best practice template. So as those projects mature, I think we’ll see those coming out,” Murray says.  In addition to utilities, which has the ‘big data’ to make a HANA installation worthwhile, retail is another area he sees as a natural fit, given the amount of data on a very wide range of products.

Although the initial target for HANA is large organisations, this may change in the future, if mediumsized companies can see the value in using the appliance to solve major problems.

“If a mid-size company is faced with a challenge that the solution could really help them with, they’ll be able to find the business case to justify the investment,” Murray says.

“In general we observe the majority of customers are looking for a return on investment of between 12 to 18 months.”

In the brave new world of HANA, some have questioned the role of Business Warehouse Accelerator (BWA) in the future roadmap. But there are some key differences between the solutions which may mean that they can happily coexist, according to Murray.  “BWA is designed mainly to improve the performance of reporting and queries in SAP BW. It is an easy to implement solution with a ‘plug and play’ type design, fully compatible with all the tools that customers are already using in their SAP BW environment. It is possible to load data from other data sources into BWA but in this case customers are restricted to the use of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer to access and work with the data, and BWA does not help customers to improve the time it takes to load the data into SAP BW,” Murray says.

“The design of HANA is more open. It is possible to load data from any data source and access and work with the data through any end user tool that supports SQL or MDX. In addition, by supporting the ‘near to instantaneous’ replication of data from an SAP Business Suite instance, information can be made available for reporting and analysis much quicker than with BWA.” And despite the focus on HANA, Murray says customers are continuing to adopt and invest in BWA, specifically because it is the best solution for their particular issue.

“If the major challenge is the ability to improve the response times of queries and reporting on data which is already available in an SAP Business Warehouse, then BWA provides a much more attractive solution today and in the foreseeable future,” he says. “If, however, customers also want to reduce the time required before information is available for queries and reporting, this is addressed by the real time replication of the HANA solution.

“Although the solution can make data available immediately, you’ve got to build the interactive layer to the user in order to work with that data. So it’s swings and roundabouts.”


This article was first published in Inside SAP December 2011.

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