HANA at 1 year old: a movie and KIC

SAP HANA will be one year old on Thursday if you count the date of going into general availability rather than start of development. Celebrations have already started but are they working?
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor on

Earlier today, Vishal Sikka, executive board member SAP started the celebrations for SAP HANA's first year in general availability. We were treated to a movie and a new TLA SAP didn't know it had invented.

Now, before the critical crowd jump up and down, I'll state it: Hasso Plattner, co-founder SAP came to Sikka in 2006 with the HANA vision although some think it was even earlier. We've been hearing about it at every TechEd since then. SAP has hyped the crap out of this technology so saying it is a year old is kind of bending things a bit. Qualifying it as one year in GA is OK though. And just to be 100% on this, HANA will be one year old on Thursday, not today. Another one for the critics to pernickety parse as 'announcing early?'

SAP is in the quiet period leading to the end of the second quarter of 2012. That doesn't stop Sikka from attempting to let a few cats out of the bag. He stepped perilously close to the line when hinting about HANA sales but then you'd have to be a churlish chump to tut tut at his infectious enthusiasm for what has been achieved over the last year. I was modestly impressed to hear that since HANA AWS developer licensing was announced the company is provisioning at the rate of 12 instances per day. At that rate, the company could easily surpass 4,000 instances over the next year. Of course that opens lots of doors to questions about final deployments but let's leave those for another day.

What struck me was a manifestation of something I've know about Sikka for a long time. He doesn't really care about the commercials in the same way that CEOs who present the company's best image to Wall Street. To him commercial success is almost secondary to making a difference in the world. If that sounds reminiscent of Steve Jobs asking John Sculley if he wanted to continue selling sugar water or come change the world then you wouldn't be far wrong. That came across in the way Sikka talked about using HANA in medical environments, or in servicing the unbanked in India that only use mobile devices.

But it was in the canned interviews with SAP employees that those sentiments came across most strongly. What I got from those snippets (even though some were obviously scripted) is that the way HANA is being built changes everything for SAP. These are not just hollow words. It goes from the style of development, through to the working environment, to the layering of an almost start-up culture inside the organisation. Get that percolating throughout the whole of SAP and we will see a very different company from what we see today. But I digress into wishful thinking.

The seven minute animated movie 'As We May Work' left me scratching my head.

First off, I applaud the team for attempting to come up with a very different way of explaining where work might go and using animation as the medium through which to express it. Unfortunately and sight unseen prior to today, it didn't work for me.

In back channels, colleagues all asked broadly the same question: anyone know what the heck is going on? I didn't. The plot about some fast acting virus and how vaccine development/delivery issues could be overcome through technology used by a young girl was book ended by references to dead people and what I assume was the waking up from some dream sequence. I get the fact the producers were trying hard not to make some schmaltzy piece of pap or laughable science fiction but net-net it didn't hang together.

The assembled audiences in both Palo Alto and Newtown Square seemed to struggle. When the movie ended and there was a call for questions there was an uneasy and uncomfortable silence.

Even a 30 minute explanation immediately following the showing from those involved didn't help that much. I did get the lathering of inside references to Plattner, Sikka and HANA but the way it was explained almost left me wondering if this was a movie with a competition attached to it. Discover all the SAP related 'easter eggs' and you get a prize.

Marketing or not (that was the eventual explanation) it looked to me like a dismal remake in animé of Contagion but with too many blatant and poorly executed insider references. To give you an idea of how disconnected the themes were, I didn't get the fact that the virtual 'helper' to HANA (or was it Hannah?) was meant to be a pseudo reincarnation of the girl's dead mother. I needed that to be explained because the opening sequence wasn't clear enough in what it was trying to convey which was supposed to be a car crash that kills the girl's mother.

I had to go back and re-watch the movie, complete with the 30 minute explanation in mind to start 'getting it.' If that's meant to be a marketing effort then it won't fly except for those steeped in HANA. Which, according to Sikka, is 358 customers and 1,800+ engineers. On a Rotten Tomatoes scale, I give it 42%. I'm hoping the sequel, if there is one, will be significantly better.

However, during the closing, Sikka came out with three really good words that describe what HANA and more broadly SAP development is founded upon: Knowledge, Imagination and Conviction. That translates into an instant three letter acronym the company should absolutely adopt: KIC. I'd add the rider ...ass as it has a fun feel to it, something else that interviewed developers expressed. Why do I like this? For once, I didn't have to hear the other 'i' word which has become so over used: innovation.

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