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Earlier this week, Time magazine picked “The Protester” as its person of the year, recognition of individuals who spoke up around the world — from the Arab countries to Wall Street, from India to Greece – individuals whose voices were amplified and aggregated by modern technology and its unprecedented power to connect and empower us. Twitter and Facebook, now approaching 800 million users (more than 10% of humanity), are often viewed as the harbinger of social networking. But social networking is not new. A recent issue of the Economist described Martin Luther’s use of social networking, especially the Gutenberg press, to start the Reformation. During the American Revolution, Thomas Paine published his Commonsense Manifesto on a derivation of the Gutenberg press. Within a single year, it reached almost a million of the 1.5 million residents of the 13 American colonies – about two-thirds of the populace, and helped seed democracy and America’s birth.

I believe that information technologies, especially well-designed, purposeful ones, empower and renew us and serve to amplify our reach and our abilities. The ensuing connectedness dissolves away intermediary layers of inefficiency and indirection. Some of the most visible recent examples of this dissolving of layers are the transformations we have seen in music, movies and books. Physical books and bookstores they inhabited have been rapidly disappearing, as have physical compact discs, phonograph records, video tapes and the stores that housed them. Yet there is more music than ever before, more books and more movies. Their content got separated from their containers and got housed in more convenient, more modular vessels, which better tie into our lives, in more consumable ways. In the process, layers of inefficiency got dissolved. By putting 3000 songs in our pockets, the iPod liberated our music from the housings that confined it. The recent iPhone 4S has a great 8 megapixel camera within it, along with a bunch of services for sharing, distributing and publishing pictures, even editing them — services that used to be inside darkrooms and studios. 3D printing is an even more dramatic example of this transformation. The capabilities and services provided by workshops and factories are now embodied within a printer that can print things like tools and accessories, food and musical instruments. A remarkable musical flute was printed recently at MIT, its sound indistinguishable from that produced by factory-built flutes of yesterday.

I see layers of inefficiency dissolving all around us. An empowered populace gets more connected, and uses this connectivity to bypass the intermediaries and get straight at the things it seeks, connecting and acting in real-time — whether it is to stage uprisings or rent apartments, plan travel or author books, edit pictures or consume apps by the millions.

And yet enterprises have been far too slow to benefit from such renewal and simplification that is pervading other parts of our lives. The IT industry has focused on too much repackaging and reassembly of existing layers into new bundles, ostensibly to lower the costs of integrated systems. In reality, this rebundling increases the clutter that already exists in enterprise landscapes. It is time for a rethink.

At SAP, we have been engaged in such rethinking, or intellectual renewal, as our chairman and co-founder Hasso challenged me, for the last several years, and our customers are starting to see its results. This renewal of SAP’s architecture, and consequently that of our customers, is driven by an in-memory product called SAP HANA (or HANA as I fondly call it) which, together with mobility, cloud computing, and our principle of delivering innovation without disruption, is helping to radically simplify enterprise computing and dramatically improve the performance of businesses without disruption.

HANA achieves this simplification by taking advantage of tremendous advances in hardware over the last two decades. Today’s machines can bring large amounts of main-memory, and lots of multi-core CPUs to bear on massively parallel processing of information very inexpensively. HANA was designed from the ground-up to leverage this, and the business consequences are radical. At Yodobashi, a large Japanese retailer, the calculation of incentives for loyalty customers used to take 3 days of data processing, once a month. With HANA, this happens now in 2 seconds — a performance improvement of over 100,000 times. But even more important is the opportunity to rethink the business process. The incentive for a customer can be calculated on the fly, while the customer is in a store, based on the purchases she is about to make. The empowered store-manager can determine these at the point of sale, as the transaction unfolds. With HANA, batch processing is converting to real time, and business processes are being rethought. Customers like Colgate-Palmolive, the Essar Group, Provimi, Charmer Sunbelt, Nongfu Spring, our own SAP IT and many others, have seen performance improvements of thousands to tens of thousands times. HANA brings these benefits non-disruptively, without forcing a modification of existing systems. And last month, we delivered SAP Business Warehouse on HANA, a complete removal of the traditional database underneath, delivering fundamental improvements in performance and simplification, without disruption.

HANA provides a single in-memory database foundation for managing transactional as well as analytical data processing. Thus a complex question can be posed to real-time operational data, instead of asking pre-fabricated questions on pre-aggregated or summarized data. HANA also integrates text processing with managing structured data, in a single system. And it scales simply with addition of more processors or more blades. Thus various types of applications, across a company’s lines of businesses, and across application types, can all be run off a single, elastically-scalable hardware infrastructure: a grand dissolving of the layers of complexity in enterprise landscapes. HANA hardware is built by various leading hardware vendors from industry standard commodity components, and can be delivered as appliances, private or public clouds. While this architecture is vastly disruptive to a traditional relational database architecture, to our customers it brings fundamental innovation without disruption.

Looking ahead, I expect that we will see lots of amazing improvements similar to Yodobashi’s. Even more exciting, are the unprecedented applications that are now within our reach. By my estimate, a cloud of approximately 1000 servers of 80-cores and 2 terabytes of memory each, can enable more than 1 billion people on the planet to interactively explore their energy consumption based on real-time information from their energy meters and appliances, and take control of their energy management. The management and optimization of their finances, healthcare, insurance, communications, entertainment and other activities, can similarly be made truly dynamic. Banks can manage risks in real-time, oil companies can better explore energy sources, mining vast amounts of data as needed. Airlines and heavy machinery makers can do predictive maintenance on their machines, and healthcare companies can analyze vast amounts of genome data in real time. One of our customers in Japan is working on using HANA to analyze genome data for hundreds of patients each day, something that was impossible before HANA. Another customer is using HANA to determine optimal routes for taxicabs. The possibilities are endless.

Just as the iPod put our entire music libraries in our pockets, HANA, combined with mobility and cloud-based delivery, enables us to take our entire business with us in our pocket. Empowering us to take actions in real time, based on our instincts as well as our analysis. To re-think our solutions to solving existing problems – and to help businesses imagine and deliver solutions for previously unsolved problems. And it is this empowerment and renewal, driven by purposeful technologies, that continually brings us all forward.

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  1. Manoj Vasudevan
    This was a well thought out writeup on HANA.

    It would be interesting to know about more customer case studies in terms of process improvement and cost benefit analysis of implmenting HANA.

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