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What Is SAP HANA, Anyway?

September 9, 2015 by Andreas Schmitz 644

What is SAP HANA? Initially a database, then a platform, and now the basis for SAP Business Suite 4 SAP HANA (SAP S/4HANA), SAP HANA represents both the current and future state of the art when it comes to in-memory technology.

2011: SAP HANA Debuts in Database Form

In the beginning, it was merely a four-letter promise: “HANA.” Just as its full name implies, the High-Performance Analytic Appliance is designed to support analytics applications at unprecedented speeds. Its ability to handle large amounts of information at the same time also makes it ideally equipped to take on a key challenge: big data. The in-memory technology at its core has been available on the market in the SAP HANA database since 2011. Storing all of the data at hand in a system’s main memory is what enables SAP HANA to fulfill its initial potential for high-performance analytics. SAP Business Warehouse – an application traditionally tailored to reporting and analysis – was the first product optimized for SAP HANA. SAP BW powered by SAP HANA was released in 2012.

2013: SAP HANA Evolves into a Platform

The next idea involved transplanting the classic algorithms from the world of ABAP – that is, calculations written in SAP’s own programming language – into the SAP HANA database. Here, the chance to remove conventional relational databases from the equation was more than just a side benefit; most of these databases were provided by SAP’s competitors, after all. Their traditional architecture is also not optimized for the digital revolution, which is about real-time operations, big data, and the Internet of Things.

As the key to a new generation of IT infrastructure, in-memory technology is ushering in a paradigm shift in information technology at large.  The best example of this is SAP Business Suite, the core software that covers everything from finance and logistics to customer processes in companies’ most crucial areas. The information logic at the heart of this suite was preserved during its transition into the realm of SAP HANA. This resulted in SAP Business Suite powered by SAP HANA, which was already establishing itself as a platform for the development of a growing number of business applications.

SAP HANA Offers an Array of Additional Functions

While other platforms currently have to integrate specialized software after the fact, the SAP HANA platform comes standard with functions customers often need. Along with text analysis, these include tools for predictive analysis, data mining, and location-based information for certain services through its geospatial engine. In other words, those looking to build a solution for the Internet can also go live with it without delay.

Premium automotive tuning company Mercedes-AMG, for example, can now evaluate the data provided by five different engine test stands in real time thanks to SAP HANA. This makes ad hoc analyses and simulations – which can also factor in historical data – possible at any time. If any aberrations occur, the system reports the corresponding patterns, enabling AMG to immediately abort expensive test runs.

Or take the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, which now filters myriad unstructured data sources down to medical reports thanks to SAP HANA’s ability to “learn” the language of medicine.

“It’s possible to extract the content and make it searchable,” explains Holger Seubert, an SAP HANA expert at SAP, regarding the advantages of integrated text analysis.

2015: SAP S/4HANA Premieres as First Comprehensive Suite Based on SAP HANA

The first SAP product to be enhanced by the SAP HANA platform natively, rather than “merely” retroactively, was SAP S/4HANA. This software not only integrates the information logic from the world of ABAP, but simplifies the associated data model, as well. Put another way, SAP is concentrating on its core data structures while revitalizing and streamlining its existing applications.

“The platform is growing to accommodate the applications, and vice versa,” Seubert reveals. SAP S/4HANA is the first complete suite that SAP has developed based on and optimized for the SAP HANA platform.

Now More Than 70 Specific, Standalone Applications for SAP HANA

SAP HANA is an open platform. This means it supports the creation of further applications that offer particular functions and provide solutions for highly specific challenges. The following presents a few examples from the current catalog, which contains some 70 specialized applications.

As its name suggests, SAP Fraud Management was developed to identify cases of fraud. If a user accesses a system from two computers at the same time, for instance, its fraud detection feature sounds the alarm in real time. The app is also capable of recognizing patterns that fall outside the spectrum of typical use.

The SAP Smart Business cockpit is a reporting and analytics tool that can provide employees in the field with a current overview of a customer’s open invoices (among other information).

SAP Customer Activity Repository supports retailers by enabling them to access customers’ purchase histories at any time in order to present them with tailored offers. It also provides for complete transparency when it comes to product availability, which helps prevent empty shelves.

Custom Functions Possible Based on SAP HANA Cloud Platform

Through SAP HANA Cloud Platform, customers have the option of incorporating additional applications into a largely standardized core system, such as from SAP S/4HANA. It is also possible to make customer-specific enhancements to out-of-the-box applications or develop standalone solutions based on SAP HANA. Meanwhile, SAP operates SAP HANA Cloud Platform at its own data center on behalf of its customers. The company’s corresponding platform-as-a-service offering covers Java applications, solutions developed for tablets and smartphones, and the on-site integration of cloud applications into existing on-premise landscapes.

Unique Selling Point: Simultaneous Processing of Transactional and Analytical Data

As the competition’s related add-ons continue to rely on copies of data for in-memory processing, SAP forgoes this workaround entirely. The advantage? When users post payments, for example, they immediately appear in analyses performed by those in controlling; the transactional and analytical data comes from the same source. “Our method of presenting data facilitates in-depth analysis – all the way down to the document level, if necessary,” Seubert points out.

Making the transition to the digital economy requires an IT infrastructure that is open, agile, secure, and absolutely reliable. With this next-generation database at its foundation, the SAP HANA platform is ideally suited to helping companies stay on the cutting edge.

Read more about the development and significance of in-memory technology in the book The In-Memory Revolution by Hasso Plattner and Bernd Leukert.

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