What's the difference between SAP HANA, S/4HANA and HANA Cloud Platform

When SAP announced its next generation enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution S/4HANA in 2015 it was hailed by CEO Bill McDermott as its "biggest launch in 23 years, if not in the entire history of the company".

Two years on the technology is starting to see the sort of adoption the German software maker expected to see, but customer confusion over what S/4HANA and its underlying in-memory HANA data store were meant the road to widespread adoption has been a winding one.

Simply put, HANA is a new type of database, S/4HANA is a suite of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software run on top of that in-memory database. Then, either or both of these solutions can be run on SAP's managed private cloud platform, in the public cloud with AWS, Azure or Google Cloud, or a customer's own on-premise data centre.

It is important to note that SAP's HANA data store -- which was first release in 2010 -- is a fundamentally different architecture to your classic relational database. It runs in-memory, meaning data is stored in columns instead of rows, allowing for faster, near to real-time analytics and compute capabilities.

SAP has had trouble in the past getting across what HANA is, and why customers should shift their precious enterprise data to this new data store.

Speaking to Computerworld UK back in 2015, during the SAP Insider tour in Nice, SAP's cross platform product marketing vice president Matthias Haendly admitted that "there is confusion over HANA, and we can always do more to explain what exactly each one can do for you."

Then at the UK and Ireland SAP User Group conference in 2016 the then chairman Philip Adams admitted that 12 percent of the user group had never heard of S/4HANA. “That confused me and I am sure that has created a certain amount of head scratching amongst SAP marketing teams," he said at the time.

Now, according to SAP's July 2017 Q2 results, adoption of S4/HANA was up 70 percent year-on-year for customer numbers, standing at more than 6,000 and including big names like Google and energy giant Centrica.

SAP Cloud Platform

SAP customers can deploy HANA and S/4HANA in their own data centre, but SAP has been clear about the fact that they would rather customers run it on the SAP Cloud Platform.

Co-founder and chairman of the SAP advisory board Dr Hasso Plattner has admitted that “in the cloud is our version to aim for” when it comes to getting customers onto S/4HANA.

Read next: How SAP stopped worrying and learned to love the cloud

SAP has slowly come around to the idea that cloud deployments of HANA and S/4HANA are the future.

Franck Cohen, SAP president for Europe, Middle East and Africa told Computerworld UK: “I am a firm believer that the future is public cloud. It is not public cloud for some companies, it is public cloud for everybody, and it is a matter of time.”

“I have no doubt that the cloud will surpass the on-prem revenue very soon. If you look at the growth rate and the curve for the cloud revenue vs the on-prem you can already predict when it is going to happen, it is very simple. It is clear for me that the cloud will surpass the on-prem in the next few years.”

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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