Happy birthday HANA
Last year SAP HANA celebrated its 10th birthday. There is a nice infographic showing the achievements conquered over the last 10 years. Started 2010, in 2011 customers and partners in general were introduced to it as SAP put it in main focus at their events. Over the next months it became clear that SAP is taking HANA seriously. Started as a database, it turned into a platform and a strategy. Exciting times, new announcement coming from all areas all the time. New products promising to solve problems thanks to in-memory and unbelievable speed. Each day new marketing content promising a bright future.
I admit, HANA attracted my interest at that time. I thought if I should focus my career on it. I am not a database consultant, so when SAP added the platform part to it, the idea to focus on HANA was tempting. (tl;dr: I am happy I did not). 11 years later, HANA is established. It found its sweet spot: as the database for SAP products. Here we can already see the underlying problem: besides when put into a strategic position by SAP, like as the database for S/4HANA, you rarely can find a use case. If it were not for SAP deciding to put a product on HANA, who else did? The bright future where startups, customers or partners are investing and bring life to HANA, having powerful apps that benefit from the wide feature range of HANA: just a vision. Money was provided, programs initiated, motivation too. Yet, tangible results, where are they? From the startups that started around 10 years ago and that made it (for instance Uber, Airbnb, Instagram, Zoom), which one based their product on HANA? How many companies have great success because of HANA? You can find them, but those are part of the wider SAP ecosystem.
Looking back at the announcements at that time, somehow, I am tempted to see a high number of success cases. The momentum was there. Cloud was rising, companies were investing (again) after the financial crisis, online markets made it possible to reach new customers. Being able to write cloud native apps inside HANA, what’s not great about this? Well, turned out, reality. HANA XS, XSC, XSA, the CF foundation included, memory requirements. This may look nice on paper except in reality it’s just 80s approach to technology applied to 2010s. Rumor has that even SAP architects called XS architecture fubar. The world moved on to cloud native. The architecture of HANA makes it hard to compete in the cloud. I am not sure if having a database for the cloud was on the planning board for HANA. The closest thing we get today is the HANA Cloud offering, which is database in the cloud, without platform components.
Another database that is now 10 years old is … Azure CosmosDB. Started in 2010 as Project Florence Microsoft designed it with cloud in mind. Just look at the consistency levels available. You choose the level you need. Eventual consistency is what you can use in loosely coupled apps (e.g. mobile), but not for transactional ERP data. Being part of Azure portfolio, it is the database of choice for Azure apps. Easy enough to learn, gets the job done, globally available and cheap. And: instantly available when you start developing your app. It offers enough features to grow with your app, and when you need heavy SQL functionality, you can migrate to SQL Server. With a Turing Award winner is involved, what else to expect? You get database offerings from AWS too, like DynamoDB or RDS. Another DB that is a game change is Elastic. Looking at what Elastic did on the last decade for search, logging and data insights is mind blowing. These have in common that they are designed with cloud in mind. One user or millions, small or large app, side project or mission critical. They grow with your business need.
During the last 10 years technology world moved to cloud and adopted a new way of developing and delivering apps. Common expectation is to be able to ship new features daily. Innovation is happening 24/7, developers need to have the tools that supports them in offering the innovations required by the business. At the same time, SAP focused to make HANA more and more enterprise ready to run SAP’s core solutions: ERP and BW. As someone told me: it seems that SAP’s backlog for HANA is to get all the features Oracle DB or DB2 have implemented. That’s OK, but then you also get a database focused on what was great from 1980 – 2010 and not what is needed for 2020+. This can explain why SAP struggled so long to offer a competitive HANA cloud offering. It is hard to run a database made for on premise scenarios (terabytes of RAM, SSD, …) cost efficiently in the cloud. Starting 2020, we have an offering, and it seems that it is more cloud optimized than previous attempts (“It is based on a cloud-specific codeline”). Won’t be enough to compete with the other database offerings. Yet: what does SAP want for HANA, be it on premise or cloud?
Where is HANA currently standing? I hope that having HANA “just” as the database for S/4HANA was not the initial scope. Seeing HANA only for SAP centric scenarios should not be the target too. Yet, what are the alternatives? In its current state, HANA is not really cloud ready. It is too heavy, too expensive, and many times too late to the game. I am not even sure if SAP still wants to have HANA outside the narrow scope they can control that is powering their own portfolio. I do not see many announcements from SAP outside the sweet spot that is S/4HANA and the intelligent suite. 11 years after being shown to the public, the hype of the first years is over. It turned into a stable product that runs enterprise critical apps. We have now reached the crossroad where the future of HANA is decided. Looking at the next 10 years, what kind of HANA do we want from SAP? SAP must make some decisions on where to go with HANA.
- Is it going to be a platform or a database?
- Is the main usage to run SAP solutions like S/4HANA or also for non-SAP solutions?
- Is it for SAP centric business solutions or for general usage?
- Big iron and fat cloud or is HANA going compete for low usage, low cost scenarios and attracting millions of users / customers?
In 2030, when we look back at the last 10 years, what kind of HANA transformation will we see? My impression is that most of the innovative energy is gone, daily work routine has taken over. HANA will continue to be transformed into a busy worker bee to run SAP workloads for the intelligent suite. To quote SAP marketing: “HANA is the answer”. As in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, we know the answer, but what is the question? Maybe we should ask the mice, the dolphins? Build a new planet and let Slartibartfast create some beautiful fjords?