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When SAP unveiled its Hana in-memory database in 2010, Hasso Plattner, co-founder of the German software giant, envisioned all operational data in SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to be held in the flagship database.
And by storing data on faster, albeit more expensive, memory chips rather than disk-based storage, Hana would serve as the backbone for enterprises to run real-time data analytics and, more recently, artificial intelligence-infused applications for quicker decision-making.
SAP claims to have sold more than 50,000 Hana licences to businesses, including Asia-Pacific organisations such as Asahi Beverage, which has been keeping its stores stocked with the right assortment of beverage products and responding more quickly to market trends.
Asahi’s use of Hana has also made sales and operations data more accessible within seconds of it being generated, strengthening Asahi’s relationships with retailers and consumers.
Steve van Wyk, senior vice-president for platform and technologies at SAP Asia, declined to reveal the size of Hana’s customer base in Asia, noting that it contributes a significant portion of SAP’s business in the region.
“Ultimately, every conversation we have with a customer has to start with the platform,” van Wyk told Computer Weekly, referring to the SAP Digital Platform, which is underpinned by Hana and delivers data management, intelligence, analytics and application services capabilities.
“That’s because you can’t innovate on silos of technology – you’ve got to have a data management strategy, and you need to have the foundation and platform,” he said.
Today, Hana is top of the agenda at the highest levels of SAP’s leadership, with every innovation and business conversation being buttressed by the database. But many of these conversations have been about managing and harnessing data held in SAP ERP systems.
That changed at SAP Sapphire 2019. Pointing to the global data volume. which grew from 2,000 exabytes in 2010 to 40,000 exabytes today, of which just 0.07 exabytes are used in SAP applications before data compression, Plattner declared SAP’s plans to extend Hana’s reach beyond its own applications.
“We have to digest much more data inside a Hana system if Hana is to become a database outside the ERP space,” he said, adding that SAP has embarked on a development path to ensure Hana can address the challenges associated with the growing heaps of data. “Hana is too good a database to lock inside SAP enterprise applications.”
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To support more and new types of data being generated by new cloud services and devices in the internet of things, SAP has introduced Hana Cloud Services, a cloud-based data fabric and gateway that it claims will provide access to any data.
More than just a data virtualisation layer, Hana Cloud Services also speeds up database queries by caching data as it is being accessed. On top of that, there are native storage extensions, a data catalogue and a data lake based on SAP IQ, along with a single set of application programming interfaces.
Van Wyk said Hana Cloud Services will broaden access to the in-memory database at a lower cost, noting that businesses can pay for the amount of data they are accessing, or the length of time they are connected to the data.
“For example, if you have a development project and you need additional development but don’t have the space to do it on site, you can do it on the cloud service,” he said. “Once you’ve used it, you can transfer the data and log off.
“We’re now making Hana available to customers without getting into a contractual obligation over an extended period of time. That lends itself to the innovation discussion for customers who are looking for flexibility, agility and affordability.”
Nigel Lim, a regional IT manager who works at a company that runs SAP software, told Computer Weekly that although he welcomes SAP’s move to make Hana more accessible, at the end of the day it will boil down to cost.
“The benefits of Hana Cloud Services are clear, but it should not cost a lot more than what we are currently paying for,” he said.