SAP's in-memory database software, SAP HANA, came to market in the UK just over two years ago. Since then, it has built a strong customer base thanks to its Big Data capabilities and real-time reporting. Claire Vanner spoke to Adrian Simpson, chief innovation officer for SAP UK and Ireland, who covers analytics, cloud, mobile and database and technology.
SAP's conception was based on reviewing the original format of database software to reinvent the wheel using modern technology. Simpson says: "What we were trying to do with it is if you went back to the drawing board on database design, what would you do today based on modern technology rather than based on the tech available 30/40 years ago."
SAP HANA was a result of work between SAP and the Haso Plattner Institute who approached the design of a new database from the point of view of PhD students creating a piece of software from scratch.
"That lead to a number of requirements on the way technology can enable things today that weren't available when initial databases were put together," said Simpson.
"The key part of that, was the move from disc-based data based to in-memory database: using the power that current chips and servers provide rather than relying on spinning disc. That then lead to various improvements in the performance and data management layout to really speed up what a database can do."
Simpson spoke to CBR about the direction SAP has taken with HANA since reinventing the wheel for database software. "What we've done since then is approach it from the angle of: you can do past reporting, but where is the business value in doing that? So we're starting to look at the values that can be supported through starting to get real-time data access.
"We are also looking at it from the point of view that we run applications. SAP delivers best practice business processes across 25 industries and deep knowledge within industry solutions, as well as line of business solutions, such as HR and finance.
"So we looked at accelerators, which is then saying there are some high transactions and high volume processes that people run, what if we could speed those up with SAP HANA as well, as an accelerator model," he said.
SAP gives customers the option of replacing the database layer completely with a HANA layer instead, so that core applications now run purely on HANA rather than on a traditional disc space. This means that apps can be developed on the platform from scratch, and tailor software to a particular customer or industry because of the full scalability and full calculating processes available with the technology that HANA brings.
Simpson explains: "A lot of what we're trying to do now at SAP is deliver functionality to cloud-based infrastructures so we can put this structure on the cloud and make it available to people."
SAP has two offerings: HANA Enterprise Cloud, which runs apps on HANA on a cloud-based infrastructure so enterprises can run their applications as cheaply as possible and can be up and running as quickly as possible. The second is HANA on the Cloud. This gives customers the ability to develop their own applications, using integration and innovation tools and making that available on the cloud.
As cloud becomes more and more viable and necessary, SAP HANA has really taken off/
"There has been a very positive response," says Simpson. "We have tapped into people being more responsive and cloud allows you to do that. The cloud now has a level of maturity and people are cusping at its availability for the required areas the business may have.
"The security is taken care of with the appropriate use of data centres, the appropriate use of model of cloud deployment whether that's using a public, private or hybrid model. Customers are seeing this as a quick way to prove this technology and the fact it is delivered by cloud is almost by-the-by: that's just an added benefit for not having to wait for hardware to be available. They can try things out much quicker than they would do if they had to match the hardware to the software and their own data centres and all the work that comes with that as well."
Simpson is also confident that SAP is still strides ahead of the competition.
"SAP always had a competitive advantage because we were first to market in this space," he said. "What we are seeing now is that some of our competitors are catching up and realising SAP was on to something here.
"Where we're still different though is a lot of competitors are looking at it purely from an analytics point of view and while this is one of the uses, it's not the only one. It's about speeding up the applications, not just the analytics, bringing new applications to market, linking all this information to how things are delivered on a mobile device, how social media is linked into it: we are still looking at that differently to any of our competitors.
SAP are tackling social media integrations by linking its apps run on HANA and linking social sites to HANA as a data store for the information. This means that SAP deals with social media with sentiment analysis and as a Big Data store.
Sentiment analysis is a trawling exercise, looking across all the social media platforms to pick out sentiments related to certain aspects. That in itself is a Big Data problem, so HANA can be a data store for that kind of information.
HANA can also predict behaviours because SAP is building predictive capabilities into the platform to be able to allow people to take the Big Data and apply different circumstances to the data and see how it relates to an interaction that comes through a social media channel.
SAP is looking to continue pursuing this avenue of social media and applications to integrate modern software in with HANA. "The road map for us is to continue developing the platform for applications, it's also to continue linking all these things together, says Simpson.
"How we link mobile, running on the cloud, social media, existing apps and analytics use cases. So that ability to be able to seriously pull that information together from multiple places is how we see HANA bringing real value and also bringing more solutions that are cloud based on the HANA platform."