Good news for SAP HANA developers: free is a four letter word

Good news for SAP HANA developers: free is a four letter word

Summary: SAP has made its HANA developer license free to all comers. This is important at multiple levels, not least because it opens the door to extreme applications.


On the last keynote of the last day of SAPPHIRE Now, executive board member Vishal Sikka took to the stage talking HANA, partners and extreme applications. Having been privy to the possibility of a developer related announcement it seemed to take forever before Sikka uttered the magic words: "HANA developer licenses are now free for everyone."

Regular readers will know I have long criticised SAP for seeking vintage champagne pricing for anything to which it can attach an IP sticker. HANA is definitely in that camp. When the company does offer something that's free they expect its community to smile and applaud such magnanimous gestures. On this occasion, SAP deserves credit for not only making the developer license free to use but also available on Amazon Web Services - albeit users will need to pay for their AWS usage. That's a fair trade off given that HANA on AWS removes the need to acquire hardware that runs upwards of $50,000 but more typically in the $250K range. It means that for the first time, SAP is putting all developers large, small and anywhere in between onto a level playing field.

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In the Q&A that followed, Hasso Plattner, co-founder and supervisory board member SAP said that startup developers he ran into are telling him that HANA is easy to develop upon. "Developers can bring what they already know and apply it in the HANA environment," he said. That must be a relief to a company that is wondering whether it can turn its ecosystem of two million SCN members into HANA advocates.

SAP can discount 99.5% of those two million. They're rooted in the ABAP world of SAP R/3 and the Business Suite and will be for years to come. According to Plattner, the company is finding it challenging to get its internal army of ABAP developers to make the switch. "They ask, why should we change when things work just fine and are stable in ABAP?" says Plattner. It is a reasonable position given that enterprise applications and especially ERP are considered business critical. But that misses the point of HANA.

Of itself, HANA is nothing more than a container into which you put 'stuff' and then execute at high speed. The speed at which you can execute depends on many factors but in analytical applications, it is not uncommon to see orders of magnitude process time improvement. Once early adopters got over the speed shock, they quickly settled into 'so what?' mode. SAP is now at an inflection point where it has to figure out what to do with HANA beyond speeds and feeds. The obvious target is extreme applications but where do those come from?

I asked Plattner whether he sees HANA and its implications as reflective of the early start up days of SAP. The surprising (to me) answer was 'no.' "HANA requires discipline and order so no, it cannot be like those days." But then he revealed something which provides important insight into the reasoning behind the free dev license.

In the very early days of R/2, SAP was inside the companies it served. It acquired tremendous domain knowledge over a period of some 20 years. With the release of R/3 in the 1992/93 time frame, the emphasis shifted to one where SAP developed independently of its customers. Over time, that domain knowledge was lost. That explains why, even though SAP serves 23 industries, its R/3-Business Suite footprint is relatively small - maybe 30% of all requirements. By making HANA developer licensing free, SAP opens up the spigot to building domain specific applications that in many cases will only have a small number of customers.

In those cases where it is possible to generalise, the company will win handsomely, either because it has found a blockbuster or its partners have developed a blockbuster against which SAP can sell HANA deployment licenses. A great example is the working capital dashboard from IBM. SAP may even win in those cases where it co-innovates with customers in the building of extreme applications where the customer is prepared to put versions of its own build into the market. It's a bit like Honda selling engines to many auto makers.

Outside of generic databases, enterprise companies like SAP offered almost nothing for developers looking to build great apps that could be monetized. Apple got all the attention and rightly so. By unlocking the developer license, SAP is one more step towards becoming a developer ecosystem gravity center. There is much still to do, but as Aiaz Kazi head of SAP platform marketing said to me:  "Free is a four letter word for HANA developers...come one, come all."

Topic: Software Development

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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  • Interesting

    I intend to have a close look at HANA.

    It's still very unclear to me whether it is a read only DBMS or is suitable for productive work too. If the latter then I don't see its role as being domain specific at all.
    • To Jorwell

      Just go to to find answers to your questions, including hands-on.
  • Reinforcing Free!

    Just want to add that the applause from the developers and SAP Mentors in the audience was telling when Vishal announced the free developer licenses at SAPPHIRE NOW on Wed in Orlando. And I wanted to make doubly sure people got what I said - the four letter word that will make developers happy is FREE - implying free dev licenses and that our aim is to drive adoption and to get ALL types of developers building applications on the HANA platform.
    Aiaz Kazi
    • This won't attract new developers

      Developers could care less about free licenses unless they already work with the SAP ecosystem. Developers and the businesses they work for care about inexpensive production databases. Why bother with SAP Hana when there are free open source systems out there that businesses can take advantage of that are similar enough? If SAP really wants to attract a large core of new developers, they need to provide a free tier for production and then start charging when the business actually gets to levels that it can afford it.
  • Important to scale economically

    Good move. But independent software vendors and developers look for more than just free developer licenses. The solution needs to scale economically. In addition, the options and competition from open source (Volt DB, Pentaho, Couch DB, mongoDB, Cassandra, memcached) Amazon (Dynamo) and Google (Big Table and Big Query), the Hadoop ecosystem (Hbase) will make it difficult for commercial software, especially DB software from (Oracle, IBM, SAP and Microsoft) to get any real traction in the ISV and web ecosystem. As an independent/web developer, the only chance I will give SAP is if they provide a full fledged development and deployment environment like Google App Engine/Cloud Foundry/Heroku at competitive prices. I think SAP is better off selling this enterprises as opposed to ISV/web ecosystems.
    • SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft have one important advantage

      They offer relational (or at least SQL) products.

      I cannot see the current crop of so called "big data" DBMSs having much of a long term future. Too technical, too programming intensive, too low level and not up to representing complex data models.

      The present is relational, the future will be too, because in the future more and more development will be based directly on logic, rather than on low-level constructs like sequence and iteration.
  • Development Licences for 'traditional' Netweaver still both suck and blow

    Hi Dennis,
    Obviously everyone (including myself) was happy about the good news, but my second thought was about the On Premise licences, and especially about making the licences 'AWS aware'; With 90% plus of ongoing SAP development still on ABAP/ Netweaver on premise, changing the current ABAP Development licence to allow people to "code for money" (as the new HANA on AWS one does) would be a lot more useful. The non lawyer version of the Netweaver development licence is here Note the License Rights row....

    Mark Finnern got a chance to ask Hasso and Vishal about this for me during the mentors meetup. It appears that there are trickier legal hoops to jump through for the traditional Netweaver systems. Hasso seemed to suggest that it didn't matter what we did with them, but Vishal was a LOT more circumspect - I'd suggest that Vishal's approach is more like the offical one !!

    It will be interesting to see what approach SAP have to development licencing of Netweaver / ABAP on HANA when this is released. It would be nice to for the 'traditional' ABAP developers to have a much simpler licence than they already have.

  • Interesting development!

    I believe this could be one of the factors to generate interest amongst vendors.. which would help them do R&D before pitching in to their clients...

    do check ... for some latest news on Hana