SAP's HANA in-memory database will gain ability to run ERP this year

The move could accelerate SAP's plans to migrate its applications customers away from Oracle's database

SAP plans to roll out support for the ERP module within its flagship Business Suite product family on the HANA in-memory database platform in the fourth quarter of this year, executive board member and technology chief Vishal Sikka said in an interview Wednesday.

The vendor had previously stated its intention to support Business Suite on HANA, a move that would pave the way for SAP application-customer defections from rival Oracle's database, but until now no specific date had been made public.

"It's a bold statement to say they can do this by Q4," said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research. "If they can do this, it means they've solved a lot of the technical issues with HANA. This means they have the beginning of a next-gen platform for their apps."

Other modules in the Business Suite will also be ported to HANA, but no road map has been set as of yet, Sikka said. But starting with ERP (enterprise resource planning), which includes financials, human resources and operations functionality, is a significant step since it is the most complex and central component of the suite, he added.

During its fourth-quarter and year-end earnings announcement Wednesday, SAP said HANA revenue stood at more than a!160 million (US$208 million) for the year, exceeding initial projections. That figure is even more impressive considering that HANA only entered general availability in June, Sikka said.

HANA is now "in every customer conversation," he added.

SAP's Sybase division recently ported its ASE database to the Business Suite, providing another avenue away from competing database platforms. Customers eager to migrate off their current systems might choose to run a combination of ASE and HANA, "or move straight away to HANA," Sikka said. SAP will also over time "bring all the benefits of HANA" to Sybase's database products, he added.

Later this year, SAP plans to issue clearer guidance on what customers should do depending on their situation, Sikka said.

HANA, which is available in appliance form from a number of hardware vendors, is designed to simplify life for IT shops and is therefore superior overall to Oracle's strategy, which includes the Exadata database machine, Exalogic application server box and the Exalytics analytics platform, which also incorporates in-memory technology, Sikka said.

He also responded to Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's recent claim that Exadata outperformed HANA. "We have customers that are running HANA 10,000 times faster than Oracle," Sikka said.

HANA customer T-Mobile is getting significant results from its system, which was installed last year, according to Jeff Wiggin, vice president of the carrier's enterprise systems development.

T-Mobile's business is subscription-based, and competition with other carriers has heated up tremendously in recent years, he said. "We're fighting to poach [their customers] and keep the ones we have."

In response, T-Mobile has seriously ramped up its targeted marketing efforts. The HANA system is helping T-Mobile's campaign-management employees understand the effectiveness of those campaigns much more rapidly, Wiggin said. It took hours to generate reports with another system, but now query times are down to seconds, he said.

As a result, workers have been able to be much more interactive with the data, Wiggin added. "They do a lot more back-and-forth analysis."

T-Mobile is satisfied with its investment in HANA, but SAP has more work to do, he said.

For one, there needs to be a greater supply of IT service providers with good knowledge of the HANA technology, he said. "As for the platform itself, we think there's room to go in performance improvement," he said. While T-Mobile got good results, "we had to work through a lot of performance tuning issues to get there."

HANA also remains "an expensive proposition," he said. However, "if we can impact that [customer] churn number, it pays for itself quite rapidly," Wiggin added.

T-Mobile is also running SAP ERP software. HANA's processing power could make a difference in some resource-intensive areas of ERP, such as profitability analysis, he said. However, it could be tougher to justify the cost, he added.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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