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A Quick Introduction to SAP HANA: Unique Features and Deployment Options

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What is SAP HANA?

SAP’s High-Performance Analytic Appliance (HANA) is an in-memory database (IMDB or MMDB—memory resident database). It therefore does not rely on disk memory but rather on a computer’s main memory. It is SAP’s highest-profile product, which was initially released in 2010.

Besides being much faster than disk-reliant products, the infrastructure avoids the need for loading and writing back the data. As a result data analysts can perform real-time queries on large data volumes.

The columnar-based data store is atomic (meaning transactions are indivisible and irreducible), consistent, isolated, and durable. Consequently, the system is ACID-compliant. It supports structured query language (SQL), multidimensional expressions (MDX), and other industry standards.

SAP HANA’s programming component enables IT specialists to create customized application programs and run them on top of HANA. It also offers a suite of analytics libraries—including spatial and text analysis—that run across multiple data sources.  

HANA can run alongside SAP’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. This provides analysts with access to real-time transactional and operational data for analysis, rather than having to wait for weekly or daily reports.

The Role of SAP HANA in Digital Transformation

Many organizations are deeply involved in digital transformation projects, which introduce digital infrastructure to improve business processes and drive better business results. 

Almost all digital transformation initiatives require processing and analysis of data to make better business decisions, and deliver more options to customers. SAP HANA is a key building block of a digital transformation strategy, because of its ability to process data in real time, and apply advanced analytics without any additional tools or complex integrations.

What’s more, SAP HANA is an industrial-strength database that can support digital transformation efforts, starting small and scaling to support entire business units or enterprises. 

How Does SAP HANA Differ From Other Databases?

The difference between SAP HANA and traditional databases is its architecture, its data storage and accessing technology, its processing techniques, and its column store. The technology addresses traditional database bottlenecks, such as slow batch processes, and input/output transfers of data between disks and servers.

RAM-based storage

To address all these, SAP HANA’s main database storage is RAM-based, ensuring rapid processing, much faster than traditional database management systems (RDBMS) that saved only commonly used data in a buffer cache. And, it’s available either as a cloud offering, on-premises or in a hybrid constellation.


SAP adds leverage by enabling multiple tenants to access one single database instance. Customers can then connect different applications and different tenants, each one with its own tenant database. Other inbuilt services ensure rapid and highly reliable database operations and end-user request execution. These include: 

  • Name server 
  • Index server 
  • Daemon 
  • Compile server 
  • Web dispatcher
  • Script server
  • XEngine
  • DPserver

AI and machine learning capabilities

To cope with present and future analytics requirements, SAP has instilled its HANA product with machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. For example, it can intelligently select algorithms that determine whether to keep database information in memory or on a disk.

Besides being an application server, it includes extract, transfer, and load (ETL) capabilities. And so, more than a mere database, HANA is a primary tool in native application development, enabling data modeling, streaming analytics, analytic calculations, text search, and processing of graph data much faster than ever before. 

SAP HANA Features

SAP HANA integrates seamlessly with and offers a host of solutions for your business needs. These can be broken down into five main aspects: 

Database enhancement

SAP HANA improves organizational data administration and monitoring, and enhances workload management and security. Its latest high availability and disaster recovery (HA/DR) feature offers multi-target system replication, instead of just one, to protect critical applications. Data anonymization improves privacy protection, enabling organizations to safeguard data privacy while gaining additional insights.

Data management enhancement

SAP HANA fosters the integration of data from both within and outside the system, enabling data integration thanks to its multi-tiered storage architecture. Organizations can now expand their business insights thanks to the ability to leverage geospatial information using HANA’s new spatial data type.    

Advanced analytics processing

machine learning and predictive analytics incorporate into custom applications. The predictive analytics library (PAL) includes new algorithm parameters that improve data analytics processing. And, for more complex data analysis, graph and geospatial features plus text analysis improve the data science team’s productivity.

Application development and tools enhancements

Support for multiple programming languages help simplify development tools and expand use cases. Now, for example, you can address complex queries easily using HANA’s new SQL plan stability option, which prevents performance regressions. 

VMware support

SAP HANA can operate on VMware vSphere—a component in the VMware vCloud suite—thanks to scale-up deployment for production use. This enables you to build and run a vSphere-based private cloud by leveraging vCloud Suite’s components while still maintaining the benefits of HANA’s environment virtualization.

SAP HANA Deployment Options


The most traditional implementation path of any database is on-premises, that is, purchasing, installing, and running SAP HANA. In this model, you control the environment and do whatever you wish. You are responsible for both maintenance and upkeep, updates and upgrades.

Infrastructure as a Service

Cloud computing introduced the world to the concept of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Insofar as SAP HANA is concerned, you are still operating the database, but now you have a provider taking care of the hardware. SAP HANA cloud migration projects commonly focus on lifting and shifting SAP HANA from the on-premises data center to an IaaS environment.

The IaaS bring-your-own-license (BYOL) model enables you to use existing licenses and run databases on a hyper-scale cloud provider’s hosting services, including the dedicated SAP environment on Azure or AWS

Public Cloud

SAP offers its public-deployment option—SAP HANA Cloud. Here, SAP’s data center manages the deployment and you simply pay a subscription fee. However, your control over the environment and ability to customize your SAP HANA Cloud environment is limited. The most important advantage here is that you are the first to enjoy SAP’s latest new features and capabilities, which update automatically on a quarterly basis.

Private Cloud

Deploying SAP HANA on a private cloud combines the advantages of on-premises deployment with the flexibility of the cloud. Innovation is faster, flexibility is greater, and for large deployments, the total cost of ownership (TCO) is greatly reduced. Private clouds can be managed by external providers, who add optimization, enhancement, consultation, application monitoring, and release management services, at additional cost.


In this article I covered the basics of SAP HANA, its unique features like in-memory data, automated data management, and built-in analytics, and explained how HANA can be deployed in a number of models – from traditional on-premises to public and private clouds. I hope this will be of help as you consider the benefits of SAP HANA for your organization.

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