Tuesday, May 29, 2012

SAP Throws Manna (HANA) From Heaven

Occasionally a new technology comes along that is so radical that it forces changes in behavior seemingly overnight.  Some are revolutionary and make a big splash on the world scene: the car replaced the horse, the rifle replaced the sword,  the jet engine replaced the propeller, cell phones replaced payphones, etc.  Others are just as magnificent but generate much less of a "splash".  For example, the washing machine/dryer replaced the tub and clothesline, Google replaced (almost everything), fuel injected engines replaced the carburetor, HDTV replaced CRTs, arthroscopy  replaced scalpel surgeries.

In all cases, the newer technologies were marvelous, but some appeared with great fanfare while others just...appeared.  Few people can point to the exact time that they ditched their analog phone for a "smart" model but they can tell you when the Wright Brothers made their first sustained flight (11/9/1904 in Kitty Hawk, NC).

Over the past 25 years the modern world has been run on the ever-evolving relational database (RDBS).  The king of the RDBS has been Oracle Corporation, which has been so dominant and profitable that their product is on all seven continents and runs most of the world's businesses.  It also made Larry Ellison, one of its founders, a multi-billionairre.  While the RDBS technology was revolutionary for its time, it could now be described as a little "long in the tooth".  In other words, the technology is getting pretty old.

The whole concept of RDMS is simple.  A command originates with a person (user), which is then processed by a server and the result is stored on the database and sometimes is displayed on the screen as well.  This system works well but is heavily dependent of what is called "I/O", or input/output.  Even operating in microseconds, the data must travel across a network and be written to or recalled from a disk drive.  When dealing with millions of records the time needed to satisfy the user can reach into minutes if not hours.

One of the biggest running jokes in IT circles for 20 years is that, while SAP and Oracle are both bitter competitors, SAP is the world's largest reseller of Oracle RDMS products.  Why, you might ask?  It's because SAP makes really good application software but has never developed its own marketable database.  So, while SAP and Oracle compete for market share in the application space, when Oracle loses out to SAP it usually wins anyway.  That's because SAP has been forced to sell Oracle's database as the platform on which its software will run.  At least until recently.

In late 2010, SAP made a massive leap forward in technology.  In one fell swoop, using its new "HANA" product, SAP eliminated the network, database, and storage device from the equation.  Imagine now a large instance of SAP that runs completely "in-memory".  In other words, the SAP application software and all the data reside within active memory on one piece of hardware.  No more storage, no more disk drives, fewer networks, and now NO ORACLE RDMS.  To date, the performance results have been amazing.  In addition to processes taking seconds instead of hours, the need for a whole host of things has been reduced.  No storage, server banks, or databases have greatly reduced the load on the data center.

It seems that SAP has not just improved the game but changed the entire landscape.  You can quote me that in 10 years or less, disk drives will be artifacts of the past.  And if Oracle is not forthcoming soon with a viable competitor, they might get relegated to past as well.

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