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SAP HANA makes big 'data analytics more accessible'

Moving beyond self service business intelligence

SAP's new high performance analytics appliance (HANA) allows IT departments to spend less time on the plumbing and more time on tasks that will provide tangible business benefits, according to Timo Elliott, Business Intelligence evangelist at SAP.

Speaking to Techworld at the SAP User Group event in Birmingham, Elliott said that HANA removes the redundant step of having IT workers do all the processing.

"When I started in this industry it was all about self-service BI," explained Elliott. "The solution now is to use something like HANA that allows people to upload their own data sets to do data cleansing, to merge it and combine it with the trusted corporate data. It's not just self-service reporting but really self-service data storage and access data warehousing."

Launched in December 2010, HANA is reportedly one of the fastest adopted SAP products of all time. It employs an in-memory computing engine, wherein data to be processed is held in RAM instead of being read from disks or flash storage, providing a performance boost.

A demonstration at the SAP User Group event saw HANA software processing millions of data records in less than half a second, and visualising the data in charts and tables, making it easy to interpret. While the speed is impressive, however, Elliott said that the real benefit of HANA is that it cuts out the middle man.

"HANA is similar to digital photography," said Elliott. "Before you had to take your film to a specialist to be developed, but with digital photography you can do it yourself. It just gets rid of that redundant step of having other people do all the processing.

"And yes, digital photography is much faster than real photography, but that's not really the point of it. The point is you don't need the experts any more, and because it's instant you can do it iteratively," he added.

When asked about analytics in the cloud, Elliott said that the applications are thriving, but that the technology is still ahead of the culture in this area.

"When it comes to the cloud there's a couple of things that hold people back," he explained. "One is data governance - there are legal restrictions on what you can and can't do with data. If you're in the nuclear industry, for example, you're probably not going to put your data in the cloud anytime soon. For other people it's more a question of culture."

Meanwhile, SAP is also working to develop in-memory database technology based on Sybase's IQ database, following its acquisition of the company in 2010. Earlier this year, the company announced that its ERP application would be the first SAP Business Suite application to run on Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE).

While the decision to have two in-memory database products running side by side may seem excessive, Constellation Research analyst Ray Wang said that the Sybase product is a tactical move to challenge Oracle in China.

"HANA is the future for the core of SAP's applications, whereas Sybase is a has-been database," said Wang. "However, Sybase has made its way into China as the standard to counter Oracle, and the Chinese government was quick to adopt that.

"I think the benefit to SAP long term is that Sybase gives SAP a chance to sell to Red Chip companies," he added. "SAP is the Gucci of software. Chinese want the status of being an SAP company. While the street looks at the Sybase acquisition as mobile, it's more about China."

SAP has already shown its commitment to expansion in China, announcing a $2 billion investment in the region at its Sapphire conference earlier this month. According to SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott, the investment will help to "drive sustainable growth through informatisation".


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