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Author's profile photo Ethan Jewett

Thoughts and questions about the HANA announcement

The HANA announcement conference call that followed Vishal Sikka’s keynote at SAP TechEd Bangalore was fairly interesting, though it didn’t pack a large amount of technical content. The detailed technical content was not really expected, but I’m always hopeful. What was provided was a short overview and directional talk by Vishal, as well as a talk by a reference customer that was very positive on the solution. The presentations were relatively short and the demo was skipped in order to provide plenty of time for Q&A. I came away with a lot of thoughts and questions, and I want to outline some of the more prominent ones. 

Messaging and marketing vs. the technical reality

My  The specified item was not found. on this topic was motivated primarily by my perception of a gap between SAP’s marketing around their “in-memory” solutions and the actual technical solutions that are provided. Why are these solutions (BIA, BWA, and now HANA) are so much faster than traditional reporting solutions? The answer is only partly that these solutions run in RAM, or memory. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a lot more disciplined message around the fact that columnar data structures and inverted indices, compression, and massively parallel processing of queries are all enabling technologies along with RAM-based storage and cache-aware algorithms.

I think being clear about the underlying technologies is going to pay dividends as customer technologists are better able to strategize about good scenarios for deploying SAP’s HANA product. This should result in more satisfied customers and fewer situations where the benefit is not as great as expected.

ETL, and Vishal Sikka putting the smack-down on yours truly

I (and hopefully a few of my Twitter followers) had a moment of surprised laughter as one of my tweets was picked up by the conference call moderator and  read aloud to the call as a question. Based on what followed, I’m not sure whether I should be annoyed or relieved that my name was not mentioned, but I’ll take responsibility for it here 🙂 In any case the tweet was:

 

Sounds to me like #hana has huge potential, but in this release it is a datamart solution for use with a single ERP system. True? False?

 

http://twitter.com/#!/esjewett/status/9988313851105280

 

To which Vishal quickly responded, “That is FALSE.” I’m pretty sure he used all caps. He seems to have a special tone of voice for that! He went on to remind the attendees that the reference customer on the call had 70 source systems feeding into HANA.

Now, I know now that the statement is technically false, but I think it is still important to ask this question. The idea is to get people thinking about the ETL area and the relationship between source systems and HANA tables. My impression is that HANA is a data store at heart – specifically the ICE or IMCE or whatever it is called today. Along with the database engine, HANA delivers several reporting integration services as well as data acquisition services (Sybase Replication Server and BusinessObjects Data Integrator).

I don’t know much about Sybase Replication Server, but my understanding is that it clones a database table and then keeps the clone in sync with the original in almost real-time. This is the tool the reference customer was using to populate the HANA system with data from the 70 ERP countries. What was not made clear on the call is whether you can use Replication Server to write all of your data from your 70 source systems into one big HANA table, or if you write it into 70 tables and then can join it in HANA using SQL if you want to. I’m betting it is the later, but I am basing this on nothing more than a suspicion. If someone who knows can weigh it, that would be great, but otherwise I guess we’ll all find out when the documentation is released.

The point is this: As far as I can tell, HANA does not solve your ETL problems for you. If you replicate 70 source system database tables into HANA that all have different semantics or structures, you are going to end up with 70 different data stores – one datamart per ERP. I do not envy the query developer that is asked to build a query consolidating all of those views. It sounded on the call like the reference customer was mostly concerned with executing queries locally in the source systems, so perhaps they weren’t particularly worried about querying across all of the data. It also sounded like the data from the 70 source systems was pretty well aligned, at least with regards to table structure (a minor miracle in the analytic reporting business), so this customer probably didn’t suffer much ETL-related pain. But if you do have an ETL or semantic integration problem, and I find these are two of the biggest problem areas in BI, I suspect that HANA is not going to help you fix it, though you could certainly use the tools delivered with HANA to build your own solution to the problem.

I would love to see more information on this topic so that we can determine if what is written above is accurate!

Query speed improvement

This reference customer was a very good candidate for an amazing speedup using HANA for one particular reason: they were doing analytical queries on a relational ERP (read “de-normalized”) database. This is, pretty universally, a bad idea. This is not to say that it is rare. A huge number of reports of an analytic nature are run off of ERP databases. The promise that HANA with Replication Server makes it easy to move these reports to an engine optimized for analytics is probably this version of HANA’s biggest selling point. This is the use case the reference customer was there to tell us about.

But as it is, a customer who is already running these types of reports out of a BI or data warehousing tool should not see the same massive 2000x speedup in query execution (5 seconds in HANA vs. 3 hours on the ERP system). The speedup should be big, but it probably won’t be this big. Something more like 100x would be realistic in these situations, with some queries and datasets getting significantly better boosts while others see much less improvement.

Conclusion

So that’s it. Those are my thoughts, or the bigger ones at least. I’m becoming more and more positive on HANA as more information on the product comes out. Hopefully this blog will stimulate conversation, corrections if necessary (all caps, please), and the sharing of more information about this product. We need it in order to make good decisions about this new (dare I say “innovative”?) technology from SAP.

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      9 Comments
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      Author's profile photo Martin English
      Martin English
      I'm curious as to what I can use HANA for, and what the technical limitations are. Is it limited to the reporting examples used in the various demos, or can I integrate it with other SAP systems. For example, I can see a case for using a HANA system as the filestore for a TP system (minimise IO, therefore minimise response).

      Of course, I need a system to prototype on, got one spare ?

      Author's profile photo Witalij Rudnicki
      Witalij Rudnicki
      > Of course, I need a system to prototype on, got one spare?
      Martin, HANA went into Ramp-up, so you can order one 😀
      Author's profile photo Ethan Jewett
      Ethan Jewett
      Blog Post Author
      But SAP won't tell you how much it will cost, so it's a bit of a gamble. 🙂

      More seriously, it would be really nice if there was a structured way to gain access to a demo system to try it out or prototype.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      I like your idea of a demo system to try it out.  Would be nice to have something similiar to explorer.sap.com which would let people use the system(via the front-end tools) before they entered the ramp-up.
      But I can see SAP's point of view as well, without a valid use case, hardware budget, IT resources and a ramp-up coach to give feedback to development then how can you really understand what you are trying to do.

      HANA 1.0 has great potential in some areas and less great potential in others(scenarios already modeled with complex ETL in BW with BWA to address performance).
      I am very hopeful that the ramp-up will spawn more fact based discussions.

      Author's profile photo Witalij Rudnicki
      Witalij Rudnicki
      Hi Ethan. From the title of the blog I expected really long list of questions 🙂 I still have 3 pages of questions about HANA and ICE :))
      I was frankly disappointed with the Press and Analysts call after HANA announcement - I expected some really good questions from participants, which I haven't heard. As well my question if data presented were from POC -or- if Hilti (the reference customer) went live with the in-memory solution, was left unanswered.
      Technical answer to your "Sounds to me like #hana has huge potential, but in this release it is a datamart solution for use with a single ERP system. True? False?" is False if we take the rule that True (HANA is datamart solution) and False (for use with a single ERP) gives False 🙂 The second part is False, because:
      1/ You can connect to HANA any SAP Business Suite application, not only ERP
      2/ You can connect many source systems to HANA 1.0 using BO DataServices (for batch loads with ETL), although only one using Sybase Replication Server (for near real-time replication). The latter restriction should go away in the future, but I do not know when exactly.
      For transformation of replicated data there are "analytic views" and "calculation views" to be build directly in ICE using IC Studio.
      Author's profile photo Ethan Jewett
      Ethan Jewett
      Blog Post Author
      Hmmm, you're right! I forgot to ask my questions and then just left it in the title 🙂 I guess I'll have to write another blog with those.

      The questions I have are really pretty basic, and I think they would mostly be answered by the technical documentation, but unfortunately you only get access to that if you are in the Ramp-Up program. There has got to be a better way to get information out to analysts, customers, and partners. As you mention, the conference call was very light on facts - it really didn't help much.

      My questions generally look like this: What is the supported subset of SQL and MDX offered? Are there other reporting interfaces? How is write-back handled - is it only through SQL or are there other interfaces? What about locking - or is there a non-locking consistency model? What does the roadmap look like for BW integration and being able to use HANA in place of BWA? How about the roadmap for running Business Suite applications or BW with HANA as the primary database? What does the detailed technical architecture of the solution look like? How are tables partitioned (if they are partitioned)? How are joins processed? Are there any points of failure that we need to keep an eye on from a high-availability standpoint?

      Also, what is IC Studio? I've never seen that mentioned before.

      I agree that I didn't phrase my tweet very well, which I'm sure is why Vishal shot it down, but I was disappointed that there was little engagement on the substance. The kind of answer you give here is exactly what I was looking for and didn't get. The point was that it seems there will be a 1-1 mapping between an ERP and a datamart model in HANA for that ERP created using Replication Server. There may be more than one ERP datamart in the same HANA system, but the datamarts for the different ERPs won't be integrated, unless the customer constructs a view. Does that sound about right to you?

      Author's profile photo Witalij Rudnicki
      Witalij Rudnicki
      I think that the best place to post questions would be the forum SAP HANA and In-Memory Computing

      Here I'll try to answer as much as I can.

      What is the supported subset of SQL and MDX offered?
      VR: SQL suppose to be ANSI 92, but I haven't seen ICE Reference Guides for SQL and MDX yet.

      Are there other reporting interfaces?
      VR: ODBO. Not sure yet about BICS.

      How is write-back handled - is it only through SQL or are there other interfaces?
      VR: I am not aware of write-back functionality in currently released HANA 1.0; I think we need to wait till 1.5 is released.

      What about locking - or is there a non-locking consistency model?
      VR: For each write access, a row-level write lock is obtained. ICE transaction manager detects
      the deadlock and aborts one of the transactions. I am not sure about lock escalation mechanisms yet.

      What does the roadmap look like for BW integration and being able to use HANA in place of BWA?
      VR: I am trying to avoid discussing SAP roadmaps, but accordingly to what has been presented during TechEd, it will be HANA 1.5 starting Ramp-up Q2/Q3'11

      How about the roadmap for running Business Suite applications or BW with HANA as the primary database?
      VR: As above. It will be HANA 2.0 starting some time 2013-14.

      What does the detailed technical architecture of the solution look like?
      VR: HANA 1.0 is an appliance with ICE, Sybase Replication Server and IC Studio pre-installed. You can analyze data using BO BI 4.0 (recommended), MS Excel or other SQL/MDX-based BI tools including BO BI 3.1.

      How are tables partitioned (if they are partitioned)?
      VR: I still have same question on my list 🙂

      How are joins processed?
      VR: This is one of my db-specific questions as well.

      Are there any points of failure that we need to keep an eye on from a high-availability standpoint?
      VR: HA is not my favorite area, sorry 🙂

      Also, what is IC Studio?
      VR: In-memory Computing Studio is where HANA administration and modeling done.

      Author's profile photo Ethan Jewett
      Ethan Jewett
      Blog Post Author
      Hi Vitaliy,

      A late response from me, but just wanted to thank you for these answers. I look forward to discussing this more in the future!

      Ethan

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Ethan,
      I think you have hit a few spots of naivety on the SAP side, e.g. when pointing at the assumptions on semantic integrity of data (from 70 source systems). It's looks like demo-thinking and university research. My own experience from talking to some of the research (and non-product) guys at SAP (e.g. during Teched) indicates some naive thinking in those departments. Some of them have never seen a real-world scenario for sure!
      Anyway, I think we are bound to discover a few more "naiveties" around HANA along with also some great stuff. Hopefully the positive will outweigh the simple-mindedness and HANA will eventually converge to a reasonable, non-naive product.
      Best
      Tim