Oracle Exadata and SAP HANA compared

This last week, Bob Evans from SAP wrote a blog entitled The Top 10 Reasons SAP HANA Is Disrupting Larry Ellison’s Grand Plans. I think it’s a great conversation to be had, but in the end (despite having some good content), Bob’s article comes over as Oracle-style willy waving and in my opinion loses credibility.

I was considering writing a response on my corporate blog, but I’m not enough of an expert in Exadata yet to put my company’s name to it. So, here are my musings on the subject.

What I will say is that one thing that Bob has right is that SAP and Oracle have the same long-term goal – to dominate the database market – or perhaps more accurately to reframe the database market into something new. Their approach is similar in only one way though – they are starting with an appliance to meet Data Warehouse needs.

How are Oracle Exadata and SAP HANA similar?

First, they are both are appliances – bundles of hardware and software and services that give you something that will run out the box. This means that the 3 elements: hardware, software and tuning – are highly optimised to work together.

Second, they are both initially optimised for Data Warehousing scenarios. This is partially because they are new technology and SAP and Oracle want to focus on getting it right for those workloads, and partially because Enterprise Data Warehouses often perform badly, so there is a simple business case for fast EDWs.

Third, both scale more or less linearly for large datasets. Performance with large data volumes just isn’t a problem with these technologies. Performance on the other hand is a problem for complex analytics where there is a lot of number crunching and neither Exadata nor HANA have really fixed that yet.

How are Oracle Exadata and SAP HANA fundementally different?

Oracle Exadata is a cell based Oracle appliance. This means that an Exadata Appliance is made up of multiple Oracle Exadata Storage Servers, each of which handles a workload, and part of a response set. So you ask a question of Exadata and the central node chunks stuff up and the Storage Servers crunch out responses. The node compiles those responses into an overall response.

SAP HANA is an in-Memory Appliance. It does break up responses if you have multiple nodes just like Exadata, but that’s not really the point. The point is that even with a single HANA node, you can get blistering performance from a reporting query, because it performs the calculation in main memory.

In addition, HANA has an application layer that sits with the In-Memory Database. This is the killer blow because the first native app is a calculation engine. This means it can do complex calculations without an application layer, which massively improves application performance.

So the key here is that whilst Exadata remains a database, SAP are pushing HANA as an application platform – and with good reason.

What does this mean in terms of what’s available right now?

This is where Oracle are doing well right now. They have over 1000 Exadata clusters out there and expect 3000 by the end of the year and I believe Larry Ellison on that. This is because if you have an Oracle Data Warehouse, you can reasonably expect to move it to Exadata right now, and expect dramatic performance improvements. It’s build on the existing Oracle 11g database and therefore isn’t a dramatic shift – just a bunch of existing components put together with some new plumbing.

SAP on the other hand have a number of Proof of Concept customers and a small number of customers who claim to be already getting some value. Their product just went live last week so that’s to be expected, but equally you can’t just take a SAP Data Warehouse yet and shift it into HANA. You have to do a lot of work (for now) building a new semantic layer for the information you want to produce.

What about the pipeline figures?

It’s worth a moment on those. Larry Ellison told the market that they had a $2bn pipeline and has since stopped talking about numbers. Bill McDermott from SAP has stated an existing $100m pipeline which they expect to increase to $1bn by the end of 2011. Oracle are certainly ahead in the game for now in this respect and the reflects the product maturity which Exadata already has.

What do the big 3 hardware vendors think of all this?

Well I can’t speak for HP, but it must be pretty pissed that Oracle are now building Exadata appliances on the Sun Microsystems hardware that it acquired, rather than the HP hardware that HP spent a load of money coinnovating on.

On the other hand, SAP HANA will run on any certified hardware, and the big 3 – IBM, HP and Dell, have certified hardware already and have built business development teams for SAP HANA. I think you can guess where they are going to be putting their marketing dollars, and it won’t be on Exadata!

To answer Bala Prabahar and George Matthew’s questions around DB2 – I think the Economist’s centenary article on IBM “IBM – 1100100 and counting” nails it – published a few weeks back. Look at the split of hardware, software and services. IBM is used to re-inventing itself and if it becomes more successful in SAP & Oracle Services due to a decline in DB2, it won’t care. Bear in mind we are looking at the macro-level here – HANA will take 5-10 years to change the market.

What about the future?

This is where it gets really interesting for me. What Oracle Exadata does is to substantially improve Oracle Data Warehouse workloads. But, I’m not sure that the parallel approach will work so well for OLTP workloads like the SAP Business Suite or Oracle Financials. But more to the point it’s just a means to make Oracle parallel. I’m not sure that it furthers the market that much, but it does make Oracle a very serious adversory to Teradata.

On the other hand, SAP HANA is only just getting started. HANA 1.0 SP02, which was released last week, is a basic analytics appliance. HANA 1.0 SP03, which will go into beta (SAP call it Ramp-Up) in Q4, will compete more directly with Exadata and allow SAP NetWeaver BW Data Warehouse customers to move their systems in-Memory.

And that’s where it gets interesting, because we get the second HANA native app: planning and what-if analysis. And that’s just the start – SAP are building out analytic apps for HANA for things like Trade Performance Effectiveness and will allow the Buiness Suite and its cloud based ERP offering, byDesign to run on HANA.

At that point, SAP customers won’t need Oracle at all, and can run everythign on HANA, or whatever they call it by then.

Final words

Taking this a step forward, there is the elephant in the room that SAP aren’t really talking about yet, because it’s premature. Forget about the tens of thousands of SAP customers that are its existing install base. HANA has a much wider appeal if it is a SQL compliant in-Memory database. It could be used for any workload and any app. And that, Bob, is why Larry Ellison should be scared.

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23 Responses to Oracle Exadata and SAP HANA compared

  1. Well thought out piece

    In scientific, tech transfer, and more recently VC circles, new kinds of databases have been tossed around for quite a few years, most of which of course had either big technical challenges and/or unacceptably high risk in attempting to pierce what has become a monopoly-like market, particularly since the Sun acquisition. Indeed the trajectory of technical innovation may be one reason among many consultants to regulators apparently gave the green light to the deal– another being lots of government agencies that were hoping to find support for their servers and software, and still another– well, let’s stop here.

    It also pissed off a lot of very smart people, a few of which have the intellectual and financial assets to react– SAP is one of several that I would place in that category.

    Three issues come to mind

    1) Since the two ecosystems are quite similar from an economic overhead perspective, it isn’t clear to me that customers would necessarily be better off in a database duopoly than a monopoly, although clearly in such a scenario SAP would be in an improved position, and I suppose customers might get lucky if corp egos resulted in a price war– highly unlikely given the history of the industry and all of the players (well beyond the two mentioned here).

    2) I do have some intel that suggests that powerful customers to include governments and very large corporations might prefer to see more competition in enterprise software, and might strongly prefer a third party manage the data distribution function. Sun did provide an important function in the market, even if not financially sustainable in that model.

    3) The technical issue surrounding databases has several potential evolutionary paths that are currently being aggressively pursued, and may be resolved in a different manner altogether. Many other companies–both incumbents and emergent, should not be so easily abandoned in the realm of possibilities on this topic.

    thanks for sharing– MM

  2. @MM – re: point 2: I can confirm that re more competition. The situation at Oracle is regarded by some to be unhealthy.

  3. Vijay says:

    Well, the one flaw in SAP’s argument IMO is something that I held on to fiercely as a kid- “few years from now, daddy and I will be the same age” 🙂

    Oracle has a headstart with footprint now. Lot of people hate Larry Ellison, but that doesn’t make oracle products any less effective. And oracle will do everything they can to make sure they stay on top.

    For Hana to scale, I have a feeling that SAP will have to go back from “stacks are bad” philosophy. Ibm, hp and oracle will compete with their own hw – why would sap stay out? End of the day – it is a trade off between lock-in vs cost of integration. Every CIO out there makes this decision routinely and one side does not beat the other regularly.

    I should give sap more credit than oracle on messaging. Now, we just need to sit back and wait a year to see impact on top line in one year and bottom line in 2 years or 3 for both these companies. Customers always vote with wallets.

  4. Vijay,
    Good points. Sugar-coated well. The message is very clear and obvious. Oracle is 2+ years ahead as you implied. This no way guarantees they would remain ahead for ever. Informix Corp was 2+ years ahead in technology when Oracle hired Informix programmers and released Oracle 8i in 1998. In 97, Informix was doing extremely well. After Oracle 8i – released 3 years after Informix Online Engine with Partitioning/PDQ features -, Oracle was able to kill Informix (Oracle 8i was not any better than Informix at that time). Will Oracle become Informix of 21st century? Let us wait and see. Based on Informix example, may be SAP is right: Not only (in Software) daddy and son could be the same age(in terms of maturity) in a few years from now but in some cases son may act older and better than Daddy. The result depends on both Daddy and Son.


  5. John,

    I’m by no means an Exadata expert, but I was just with Oracle pre-sales guy a couple of days ago and this whole subject came up. I was a little surprised about your last comment about Exadata not being SQL compliant. I’d very hard pressed to find that this would be the case, so did some quick digging and I’m pretty sure it is SQL compliant:

  6. Pingback: Evaluating analytic appliances « The Manticore blog

  7. efstathiou_e says:

    Don’t forget, that Oracle Still has TimesTen in the pipe and that could be the game changer. Oracle Could Easily build a “Analytics Accelerator” for Exadata based on TimesTen to get the peformance they need …

    • yukonkid says:

      Yes, thats correct . Oracle TimesTen is the in-memory layer that can speed up any Oracle 11g DB. I see the advantage now more in fast OLTP DBs (booking, finance)- but sure it can be used for DWH as well.

      With Exadata you have the massive-parallel and columnar hybrid compression that is competing with SAPs HANA and its compressed column-based indexes on parallel blades.
      Wonder what calculating applications in ABAP will make of that when you have to deal with few terabyte tables (updates, deletes etc.). Sure its SQL at the end (but see how diffeernt the DB vendors implement i.e locking and recover strategies with ACID rules).

      • John Appleby says:

        Not sure what you mean – TimesTen will provide the ability to move data in-memory which is good – but SAP HANA has its BW ABAP calculation engine actually rewritten inside HANA in-memory. So SAP HANA will not suffer from a calculation problem, and it handles ACID by using delta stores.

        If you implement SAP BW on top of Exadata you still have to transfer between DB and App Server which is expensive for EDW scenarios like exception aggregation. TimesTen won’t make that any better, it will just make the data reads faster.

    • John Appleby says:

      TimesTen is definitely interesting – will see where Oracle look to converge it. Will they look to put Oracle entirely in-memory? We will see.

  8. Darkway says:

    Oracle is in for a big hurt here and their habit of pissing off their partners is now coming back to haunt them. SAP has allied itself with HP, IBM, and pretty much every big industry name to circle around Oracle and produce the HANA solution.

    Exadata has no chance here, and SAP is removing the 3-tier architecture completely by placing the business logic into the appliance for ridiculously fast speeds.

    When you combine the synergy of Sybase’s columnar technology and their best in industry mobile solutions, and on top of that, the Business Objects end user interfaces, Oracle looks like like a kid with its pants down trying to play catch up. – 3 day reports are now produced in a matter of seconds and piped out to ANY endpoint.

    Sorry but they don’t have a comprehensive solution even close to HANA and SAP’s customers are standing in line and willing to pay a premium for the technology.

    On top of this, SAP’s vision is to move their ENTIRE technology portfolio into HANA.

    This isn’t just about BW, it’s about a disruptive technology that is radically altering the landscape. SAP is providing a vision, landscape, and a business strategy, whereas Exadata is .com-era thinking that is limited in scope to cobbling together hardware and software.

    They aren’t even in the same league. One could feel sorry for Oracle, but I sure as hell don’t, they did it to themselves with their high school Bro arrogance approach.

    • Martin says:

      Don’t feel sorry for Oracle. You can be sure that Oracle is not going anywhere; thirteen years ago or so doomsayers were pointing at Oracle for not aligning with the imminent predominance of Java and keeping PL/SQL as its main programming language for in database programming units. Five years later Oracle successfully adopted Java as a key component of its technologies. In my 20+ years of career I have worked for Oracle and competed against them, and it is impressive to me how Oracle has demonstrated once and again that is capable to “catch up” with those technologies that will have an impact in the market.

      Back to the subject at hand… Hana. People betting on pure “in-memory databases” for Data Warehousing forget that Data Warehouses are built to contain huge volumes of data. The time of loading and the cost to place this kind of volume in RAM makes this idea (at least for now) not a very attractive one.

      Also, as you can see, partnering with hardware vendors to deliver appliances has been so far unsuccessful for the likes of Aster, Vertica, Paraccel etc. Most of them were acquired by companies that could produce their own hardware because most customers want appliances that are customized out of the box.

  9. Mike says:

    With Oracle announcing systems like :Big Data Appliances, Distributed NoSQL shared nothing, BI Appliance ,HANA-like in-memory appliance, and many new engineered systems. Oracle is pushing the market with these systems and the integrators need to focus on more mission/program focus as the TCO is unmatched.

  10. Roopesh Nair says:

    Good article, but what about Oracle’s Exalogic? where does it fit in?

  11. chrizb65Christian says:

    I am nut sure if technologists are not stuck here of discussing Databases and performance. Is the key not in breaking the need for capital investment? If I could share my applications processes, analytics, master data management and erp processes in one in memory database in a software as a service model (so without a large capital investment up front) then surely I stop worrying about database, and focus instead on SLAs. Isn’t SAP simply enabeling savings and bringing what works for medium size businesses already to large companies? SAP is releasing MDM on demand based on Hana at the end of 2011. I think we are starting to see a play for integrated on demand realtime services that might change the game for CIOs in a bi way. Lets watch and see 🙂

    • John Appleby says:

      I think you have a point here – but the technology isn’t quite there to support this yet. However this is purely a procurement model – that’s the difference between Cloud and on-Premise solutions. Different organisations will want to buy in different ways – if you are cash rich for example then buying a subscription service may not be useful.

      The bigger problem with on-Premise is agility – the ability to provision new business needs quickly. And this is what is driving us towards Cloud-based solutions more than anything. I suppose this is what will drive people towards a public- or private-virtual Cloud of in-Memory technology.

  12. Cengiz Kaya says:

    I read the article and the comments and I am pretty surprised.

    SAP HANA is an appliance (like an application server), Exadata is a database machine.

    How can you compare an application server with a database server. Database server should be :
    1. secure
    2. stable
    3. high performance
    4. consistent
    5. scalable

    You can discuss every items here for Exadata but what about HANA.

    It is an application server that can run modeled queries (which is replicating the particular tables).
    So, in some future when HANA is to behave like a database server, then we can compare.


    • John Appleby says:

      I think you’ve got some misconceptions here.

      SAP HANA is very much a database. It supports ANSI SQL, has persistence and ACID properties, is secure and scalable and super fast. In addition, SAP HANA allows the consolidation of the Application and Database tiers – which leads to a simpler landscape and better performance compared to an Oracle application server stack. Both HANA and Exadata are only available in appliance form – the difference being that HANA supports open hardware standards and can be procured from any of a number of vendors.

      But definitely we should be focussing on comparing Exadata and HANA on Oracle’s terms – it is a completely fair comparison!

  13. Yocy says:

    Hello everyone,
    In our organization we have been working, for many years, with Oracle DB. In the last decade, we are working with SAP Components over Oracle DB: SAP ERP environment and SAP BW. I am one of the responsible for examining & decide upon the meaning of transitioning to HANA. I have a most significant questions that were not discussed between all the experts in the above discussion. It is clear to me that when & if HANA will be able to serve as a basis for both ERP and BW, it should be a good idea to examine the product. However, at present, HANA suppose to supply a solution to the BI world, that seems to give answer to the Performance problems of queries …. But:
    1. We shall still be forced to extract data from the ERP – Will the performance get better?
    2. The organization will have to:
    • Work with two different Databases for a long time (How long?)
    • Preserve knowledge and acquire new knowledge
    • Maintain processes and build new processes
    • and more….
    What would be the significance and the cost?
    3. Would I be correct, at the current time, to implement the solution to HANA-BI or wait and see if HANA Data Base will prove itself as stable, consistent and ensures data integrity?

    I would appreciate any answer to my questions.
    Thank You

    • anonymous says:


      You can simply use HANA as a storage for readonly requests. E.g. you can setup the replication to copy some tables from ERP to HANA, and read the data from HANA only.
      Performance will be better, but the question is – how much better?! Because SQL queries are really different. You can order the service to check which profit you get if you apply HANA.

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