SAP unveils HANA Enterprise Cloud service

Customers will be able to run their applications on the HANA-powered cloud

SAP is set to offer customers the option of running their applications on top of a cloud-based version of its HANA in-memory database technology.

The SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud service, which was announced Tuesday, will be offered by SAP through its own data centers. Eventually, hosting partners will also be able to run the service, according to the announcement.

While HANA was initially aimed at analytic workloads, it has also been ported to transactional applications such as SAP's Business Suite ERP (enterprise resource planning) software.

With the service, SAP is tearing down the assumption "that on the cloud you can only have simple applications," said SAP executive board member and technology chief Vishal Sikka in an interview prior to the announcement. Such a notion is "nonsense," he added.

HANA Enterprise Cloud's capabilities "take care of a lot of the really important but more mundane tasks" such as provisioning hardware and disaster recovery, he said. Customers can also scale up resources as needed.

The HANA instances will be run on bare metal for top performance, and SAP is "doing a lot of work" building out utilities and administrative tooling for its cloud, Sikka said.

To this end, during a press conference Tuesday, SAP demonstrated an application called Cloud Frame Monitor, which is used to quickly provision HANA instances, add and remove nodes, and perform other tasks through a graphical interface that also displayed a 3-D rendering of the actual server rack inside SAP's data center.

SAP has stitched together servers in "cell configurations," each containing hundreds of terabytes of RAM, with high-speed, low-latency networking built in. Customers will get dedicated storage, networking and compute power, not virtual machines.

In order to use the service, customers would first need to obtain licenses for HANA, as well as applications such as the Business Suite and Business Warehouse, according to the announcement.

They would then consult with SAP services staffers, who would determine which of their applications would benefit the most from the HANA cloud deployment option.

SAP services would then assist in migrating the workloads to the HANA cloud, whereupon customers would pay a monthly subscription for the managed cloud services, with the cost tied to "the size, scale of data and applications," according to the announcement.

Customers who are interested can get started right away, according to an SAP spokeswoman.

Sugar producer Florida Crystals is the first pilot customer to go live on the HANA Enterprise Cloud service, according to a prepared statement from company CIO Don Whittington. The company completed "the app migration and cloud on-boarding" for its SAP ERP and Business Warehouse software in two months, Whittington said.

About 60 customers in total are working with SAP on HANA Enterprise Cloud projects now, Sikka said during the press conference.

The cloud deployment option will help propel HANA sales on a "hockey stick"-shaped growth curve, SAP co-founder and chairman Hasso Plattner said during the conference.

One reason for that is the fact that its rapid-provisioning capabilities eliminate the weeks-long wait for dedicated HANA appliances used in on-premises deployments, he said. Now, "the physical starting point of a project collapses from weeks to hours."

SAP had already offered a limited version of HANA on Amazon Web Services that is intended more for development and testing purposes.

It has also launched a cloud-based, HANA-powered platform aimed at application developers and is courting startup companies, encouraging them to build their applications with HANA.

Eventually, all of SAP's SaaS (software as a service) applications will run on the HANA Enterprise Cloud, Sikka said during the press conference.

Forrester Research analyst Stefan Ried gave SAP's announcement a mixed review.

"Since HANA [became] available, I talked to many service providers and CIOs who wanted to operate HANA in a shared way for many customers, tenants or business divisions," Ried wrote in a blog post on Tuesday. "Unfortunately HANA was until today, basically bound to a physical hardware. Virtualization concepts or shared resource pools of memory did not really work." With HANA Enterprise Cloud, "SAP seems to address this with an advanced management layer on top of the existing HANA software stack," he added.

But SAP's "bring your own license" model for the HANA cloud service is problematic, in Ried's view. "While this is great for customers that have already a HANA license and [would] like to re-locate it into the cloud, it is useless for customers that might have largely fluctuating data volumes or user numbers and might specifically use a cloud because of its elastic business model."

SAP is expected to discuss the HANA Enterprise Cloud announcement further at the Sapphire conference in Orlando next week.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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