I’ve been meaning to pen an update to this FAQ for nearly 2 years, with this being the primary listed reference on Wikipedia, but somehow never found the time. So here it is, a complete rewrite!

What is SAP HANA?

SAP HANA is a reinvention of the database, based on 30 years of technology improvements, research and development. It allows the build of applications that are not possible on traditional RDBMS like Oracle, and the renewal of existing applications like the SAP Business Suite.

So SAP HANA is an in-memory database, which is for many operations 10-1000x faster than a regular database like Oracle on the same hardware. This allows simplification of design and operations, and real-time business applications.

Why did SAP build a database?

Chairman Hasso Plattner believed that if a database could be built with a zero response time, that business applications would be written fundamentally differently. The research institution at the Hasso Plattner Institution in Potsdam theorized that with modern computers and software design, this would be very nearly possible.

SAP makes business applications and since it was clear that none of the incumbent software vendors like Oracle would write such a database, they needed to build their own. In addition, this would be the springboard for a complete renewal of SAP’s applications to take them through the next 20 years. R/4, if you like.

Where does SAP HANA come from?

SAP built SAP HANA from the ground up, including research from the Hasso Plattner Institute in Pottsdam, the acquisition of the p*Time database, the TREX search engine, BWA in-memory appliance and MaxDB relational database. It has been extended with intellectual property from the Business Objects and Sybase acquisitions, under the leadership of Vishal Sikka until June 2014.

What makes SAP HANA fundamentally different?

SAP HANA is different by design. It stores all data in-memory, in columnar format and compressed. Because HANA is so fast, sums, indexes and aggregates are not required, and this can reduce the database footprint by 95%. Everything is calculated on-demand, in main memory.

On top of this SAP built solutions to all the problems of columnar databases, like concurrency (HANA uses MVCC) and row-level insert and update performance (HANA uses various mechanisms like a delta store). There is also a row store for various specialist requirements like queues and configuration data where the overhead of a column store doesn’t make sense.

If this wasn’t enough SAP added a bunch of engines inside HANA to provide virtual OLAP functionality, data virtualization, text analysis, search, geospatial, graph and web. It supports open standards like REST, JSON, ODBO, MDX, ODBC and JDBC. There is as much functionality in there as a whole Oracle or IBM software stack, in one database.

Does SAP HANA support all types of business applications?

Yes. The first HANA deployments were all analytical use cases like Data Warehouses because the benefits are there right out the box. EDWs like SAP BW run like lightening with a simple database swap.

With a transactional application like Finance or Supply Chain, most things run a little better (SAP claim 50% faster for their own core finance), and the real benefits come from simplification of the app (SAP are building a simplified version of their Business Suite), or from ancillary benefits like real-time operational reporting, real-time supply chain management or real-time offer management.

What’s the business case for SAP HANA?

We’ve built business cases for HANA deployments of all sizes and whilst they vary, there at a few common themes:

– TCO Reduction. In many cases HANA has a lower TCO. It reduces hardware renewal costs, frees up valuable enterprise storage and mainframes and requires much less maintenance
– Differentiation. HANA’s performance and simplicity often mean a business process can be changed to be differentiating compared to competitors. Customer scenarios like loyalty management and anything where speed is differentiating are all candidates.
– Risk Mitigation. Many customers know that in-memory technologies are changing the world and so want to put an application like SAP BW on HANA as a first step, so they can react quickly for future business demands.

How is HANA licensed?

SAP licensing is notoriously fiddly, though they tried to keep it simple with HANA. Here’s the basics, check with your account rep for more details:

– Test and Demo, to get you started at low cost.
– By the 64GB unit, minimum of 2 units. Available in Enterprise (no limits), Platform (no real-time replication or bulk loading), Runtime (for BW or other apps). Pricing is tiered 1-10, 11-20 units and accretive, so 20 is cheaper than 19.
– For 15% of your application value or SAV. This can be great for use cases like BPC, where you pay 15% of the BPC license cost. If you do this for your whole SAP estate then it will include use of Sybase ASE for anything you don’t want to run on HANA.
– For 8% of SAV, for BW. Sometimes SAP run a promotion on this, like 6%, or 20% for BW and ERP. It varies.

All are subject to a 22% annual Enterprise Support levy. If you buy HANA in the cloud then none of this applies – you just pay a monthly cost.

It’s often asked if HANA will come down in price, and it hasn’t in 3 years, though SAP hasn’t put the price up with inflation so it has become effectively cheaper, especially considering the huge increase in functionality. What’s more HANA keeps getting better at compression and data temperature control so you get better value from your license over time.

However new license options became available like the SAV and Cloud licenses and these are likely to continue to be tweaked. SAP will be sure to remain competitive here with IBM and Oracle, who both charge 15% of SAV for their database and include BW.

How big can a SAP HANA database be? Does it scale?

With current hardware, SAP HANA can scale up to 6TB for a single system, and can scale out to 112TB in a cluster, or more. There is no hard limit to the size of a HANA cluster.

By the end of 2014 we expect to see 24TB single HANA systems.

At Bluefin, we regularly work with 2-10TB of memory in a single HANA DB, and this is where we find most business cases make sense. Remember that a 10TB HANA appliance can store a vast amount of data, like all the credit card transactions for a top 10 bank for 10 years or more.

Is SAP HANA Enterprise Ready?

Yes, is the short version.

SAP HANA always stores a copy of data on disk, so if the power goes out, it will load data back into memory when power is restored (generally on-demand, but this is configurable). It stores logs so a very low Recovery Point Objective is possible.

In a cluster, you can have High Availability and in any configuration you can have a cluster for Disaster Recovery and Fault Tolerance for business continuity. There are now a bunch of different ways this can be implemented, depending on needs and budget.

SAP HANA also has interfaces for 3rd party backup and monitoring, like TSM or NetBackup. Solution Manager is supported if you’re a SAP shop.

How does SAP HANA compare to Oracle or IBM?

All three of the major RDBMS vendors have released in-memory add-ins to their databases in the last year. All of them support taking an additional copy of data in an in-memory cache, or in IBM’s case columnar tables. All of them provide good performance for custom data-marts.

Their solutions are similar to the GM and Ford response to hybrid cars – take their existing technology and bolt new technology to it. SAP HANA is more akin to Tesla, who rebuilt the car from the ground up based on a new paradigm.

And so HANA’s capabilities from a business application perspective are 3 years ahead in technology from what others have.

What does SAP HANA run on?

From a platform perspective it runs on SUSE or RedHat Linux, on Intel x86 or IBM POWER processors. HANA appliances must be certified and come either as pre-build appliances from your vendor of choice, or as a custom build using your storage and networks “Tailored Datacenter Integration” or TDI. Either way, with an in-memory database, you need to know that it’s built right.

In addition you can buy HANA in the cloud from Amazon, SAP and various other outsource partners like T-Systems or EMC. In this case, you can pay a monthly fee including license.

What happens if I run out of memory? Can I control data temperature?

Remember that HANA always stores data on disk, so the data that was used least recently will be dropped out of memory if you run out. In practice this means the database can usually bigger than you thought possible.

In addition, the Smart Data Access data virtualization layer allows you to store cold data in any other database, like Sybase IQ or even Oracle and transparently access it like any other data in HANA. This helps improve the TCO of HANA.

It’s worth noting that HANA and Hadoop are great friends – you can store documents and web logs in Hadoop and then store aggregated information in HANA for super-fast analysis. Need to add a new measure? Run a batch job in Hadoop from HANA to populate it.

Notes and sources

Some of this information came from meetings and interviews with the key HANA friends at SAp – Hasso Plattner, Vishal Sikka, Steve Lucas, Franz Färber, Mike Eacrett and many others.

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