SAP HANA vs Oracle Exalytics – the game is on

So Oracle announced Exalytics yesterday and I’ve spent much of today thinking about it in the back of my mind whilst I did my day job. It’s about the most interesting announcement of the tech world this year and it’s worth discussing why.

What is Oracle Exalytics?

Well it’s a bit like SAP HANA. It’s a big (relatively) commodity piece of hardware with 40 Intel cores and 1TB of main memory. It can store a claimed 5-10TB of compressed analytics data, but beware of false compression claims. On this, you can perform high-speed analytics on medium-size datasets.

Exalytics is a technology mashup of its TimesTen in-memory database technology, BI stack and Essbase OLAP engine. This means that it’s not anything new, but rather existing technology repackaged into an appliance. Not necessarily a bad thing, because it means it should just work.

How does it compare to SAP HANA?

Compared to SAP HANA 1.0 SP02, Oracle Exalytics is almost exactly the same. It is a combination of Hardware and Software packaged into an appliance. The major difference is that Oracle build the whole stack so you can buy an Exalytics appliance directly from Oracle.

However it is only available in one size: 1TB, which is a strength and a weakness. First, SAP can sell anything from a 64GB license (with a minimum 128GB appliance), which at list price is less than €200,000 – all the way up to a monster 4TB appliance in partnership with IBM (and probably other hardware partners, later in the year).

Oracle validate SAP’s in-memory strategy

That’s what’s interesting here: Oracle is validating that SAP has got it right. Larry Ellison usually goes his own way and it is a very interesting concession to SAP’s strategy that Oracle are following suit.

Does SAP have first mover advantage?

In the analytics game – not really. SAP HANA and Oracle Exalytics are likely to be roughly as mature as each other and Oracle has a simpler sales-cycle because it is a one-stop-shop. This means that the 6 months early mover advantage that SAP has is not that relevant in terms of analytics.

However that’s not the point, because SAP HANA may be an analytics appliance today in its SAP HANA 1.0 SP02 guise – but it becomes so much more when SAP release SAP HANA 1.0 SP03 to market, which is purported to be in early November 2011. When this happens, HANA is no longer just a bolt-on analytics appliance, but also a full RDBMS for SAP NetWeaver BW systems.

Conclusions

For my money, Oracle Exalytics is just the second move of a chess game. Black Pawn to 2.d5. What comes next is what will be really interesting. Because SAP HANA has a fantastic roadmap that could position it as the RDBMS of choice for Enterprise IT – for SAP’s Business Suite software but also for so much more.

The question is, what does Oracle have up its sleeve to turn its RDBMS strategy into something that can compete with SAP? A collection of technologies will not be enough in years to come – it will have to be put into a cohesive strategy for both on-premise and cloud solutions. Currently SAP appears to have the upper hand in terms of long-term strategy, but Oracle should not be underestimated.

Updates

I’ve been reading some more and it looks nebulously like Exalytics can do both failover and scale-out – but the details in the solution brief are nebulous. Oracle also talks about Apps, which suggests it is trying to compete with SAP, perhaps with a future range of Oracle Exalytics Apps.

It’s also worth noting that Exadata and Exalytics appliances use an Infiniband 40GB/sec connection to connect each other, which may resolve some of the problems SAP is having around performance of scale-out solutions.

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5 Responses to SAP HANA vs Oracle Exalytics – the game is on

  1. Very interesting and balanced view, thanks for that.
    I’m pretty curious to further understand the position of Essbase in this Appliance. In my opinion, Essbase will be key to the success of this appliance.
    On the paper, it should give to Oracle a bridge to a mature and widely deployed technology (similar to the integration between SAP BW and Hana that many SAP customer are waiting for), and even apply to use cases that SAP cannot deliver before a couple of months for planning scenarios (which requires write back).
    But a questions remain : Essbase is not known for its compression capabilities, it rather creates data redanduncies, a thing that conflicts with in-memory principles IMO. Transforming Essbase into an efficient and cost effective in memory could be a challenge for Oracle.
    Also, my understanding is that Exalytics runs a redesigned columnar TimeTen database. So apparently not exactly the TimesTen database that is considered as mature.

    • John Appleby says:

      All good questions, and my blog was a reaction to the announcement – no doubt missing some content and context at this stage. This discussion is a good one!

      If we think of Essbase as purely an OLAP engine, I think it should do a pretty good job on top of a columnar database for a pure analytics play like SAP BO BI4 does. The problem is that you really need to get the OLAP runtime in-memory. I’m thinking right now that Essbase probably runs on the same stack as TimesTen but isn’t integrated into the same runtime engine. This means that from a calculation perspective it just won’t be as optimised as HANA. Also I hear SAP plan with BI 4.1 to take the OLAP runtime of BI 4.1 back into HANA. That would be pretty awesome.

      Now as a writeback engine both BW on HANA and Essbase on Exalytics suffer from the same problem: writes cause fragmented data sets. BW handles this pretty efficiently, provided you compress the cubes on a nightly basis. Since Exalytics doesn’t have the mature planning engine that BW has, I fail to see how Essbase on Exalytics can do this right now from a planning perspective.

      Good catch on the columnar TimesTen database and its maturity. TREX was a columnar database from the start so it has some maturity. Although Oracle does have some experience making databases sing.

  2. Thanks.
    I blogged about your previous comparison of HANA and Exadata (http://manticoreblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/evaluating-analytic-appliances/)
    It would still be interesting for me to see a comparison of SAP, Oracle and the other data appliances out there which might be more applicable if you are not a Fortune 500 company.

    • John Appleby says:

      I think it’s an interesting point but I think the market is still very immature even for Large Enterprises and even less clear for SME.

      It seems that the trend in SME (<$1bn revenue) is going to be towards the cloud – renting a piece of a large in-memory cloud appliance. It's just impractical to spend $200k-$1m on an analytics appliance for many of those organisations – today.

      SAP are planning an in-memory version of Business One which might also make sense for on-premise and would solve some key Business One performance bottlenecks around financial reporting. It seems likely that they will therefore have to license SAP HANA at less than the current price and also for smaller memory sizes – considering an average Business One customer would fit into an average $10k 48GB server. Guessing they will just take the license revenue that Oracle/MS would have had.

      SAP are likely to make their first foray into in-memory for SME either with B1, or alternatively with their byDesign cloud platform. The smart option for SAP around byDesign would be to flatten the supply chain layers – data center, hardware, RDBMS and platform into just SAP. Then SAP could use the VAR network to resell byDesign directly, and the VARs could make enough margin to make it work.

      In any case, I'm not clear how a shootout of Oracle, SAP, Teradata and IBM would be relevant to SMEs – do you think otherwise? Interested to hear your views.

  3. Pingback: SAO HANA vs Oracle Exalytics « Sapusers – SAP, Business Objects, IT and ……..

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