HANA: How SAP's in-memory push gave the software giant a shot in the arm

From human genetics to RDL, SAP's Israel R&D labs are among the facilities working on the next generation of HANA products.
Written by David Shamah, Contributor

SAP's HANA in-memory database and data management platform is has already made a difference to the company's bottom line, and, according to Chaim Bendelac, VP of SAP Labs Israel, it's boosting innovation in the company too.

HANA has energised SAP, Bendelac said, with the technology "driving SAP into new markets and new engagements with existing customers".

Bendelac was speaking at an event sponsored by the Israel Advanced Technologies Industry (IATI) group, a tech industry umbrella group that fosters communications between tech companies and lobbies for the industry. Over 250 multinational tech companies have R&D centres in Israel and, according to IATA CEO Karin Rubinstein are responsible for half of the high-tech jobs in Israel.

Israel's HANA centers

SAP Israel has about 750 employees working in two R&D facilities, in the center and north of the country; many of those employees are veterans of the seven Israeli companies SAP has acquired since 1998. And those two R&D centres are among the facilities around the world that are working on what Bendelac calls SAP's "HANA revolution".

HANA does its analysis and processing in-memory instead of constantly reading and writing to disk, speeding up existing database functions and making others possible. "When we realized the speed advantage... we realized we could build applications that would manipulate the data in ways that just weren't possible before, doing big data analysis in seconds or minutes, instead of the long, drawn-out process usually needed," Bendelac said.

For example, game platform companies can use this to generate upsales, in the heat of the action.

"Apps can take the raw data generated by players regarding actions, interactions, patterns of behavior, and other factors, and match them up with historical data and analyze what products – an extra sword, for example – a player would need and would be likely to buy while playing." Other HANA uses could include on-the-fly event processing, like micro-managing smart metering applications that could analyze data for maximum efficiency.

The biggest of big data?

Several teams at SAP Israel are working on high-end, data-intensive HANA apps, Bendelac said. "For example, we have a team working on genetic data analysis."

As big data goes, DNA analysis is about as big as you can get, and has traditionally required days, if not weeks, of computer analysis time to get answers. "With HANA-based apps, we will be able to cut the processing time significantly, performing analyses in a matter of minutes or even seconds. This will slash the cost of genome analysis sharply."

Local teams are also working on other technologies, especially surrounding the cloud. One important project Israeli teams are working on involves the development of SAP's 'Timeless Software' system, an set of principles for architecting enterprise software systems that aims to help futureproof them. Timeless Software is intended to simplify IT, while still leaving room for new and evolving technologies to be integrated into existing structures.

SAP Israel teams are also responsible for the development of SAP's RDL (River Definition Language), which is supposed to complement HANA by providing an easy-to-use programming language to build enterprise apps for an application server working in conjunction with an in-memory HANA database.

SAP sees a new mission for itself with the development of HANA, RDL, and the other products it plans to unveil in the coming months – a reinvention of what SAP's databases are all about. "This is part of the vision that has reenergized the company," he said. "Databases have been around for 30 years, and for the past 15 years there has been a consolidation in the market, leaving us and just a few competitors. Until HANA, the paradigm for all database companies was the same"

"We are not the first ones to come up with the idea of in-memory data analysis, but we are the first to be able to do it successfully on a large scale," Bendelac added. With SAP notching up €400m of HANA revenue last year, there's no doubt rivals will increasingly step up their own in-memory efforts. "But we have a big head start on them," added Bendelac.

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