I’m not a great fan of SAP, or Oracle for that matter, but SAP’s HANA architecture is an unexpected innovation from a company that is rooted in serving the dull administrative needs of large organisations. In a nutshell HANA is an in-memory database capable of handling very large amounts of data with frightening speed. This is very timely, and more importantly will serve the needs of organisations for decades to come. While the focus is currently on the ability of HANA to address real-time analytics, the capability offered by HANA will serve us as we move into the feedback and control (cybernetics) era which has yet to unfold.
The current preoccupation with all forms of analytics (data mining, statistics, text mining, optimisation) and big data are predicated on very fast database systems. Traditional disk based technology is typically too slow and SAP has taken a simple idea – placing all data in much faster memory – and made it a reality. The idea is simple, but making it a reality is not. HANA enables many forms of business activity that were simply not possible before – real-time recommendations for customers, real-time tracking of very large distribution networks – and so on. This alone is enough to make HANA important for many businesses.
On the horizon however, and virtually unseen by most commentators, is the need to implement real-time feedback and control systems. It’s all very well to analyse current activity, but at which point is action called for, and what type of action will rectify a situation? Recommending additional purchases to customers in real time might not be optimal, and the response rate might start to drop off. At what point is remedial action needed, and how should the algorithms be modified? This is where we are headed – not just analysis, but analysis of analysis – a level of awareness within systems.
Massive computing ability is needed and there simply is no way that slow disk based technology will deliver the goods. HANA is a foundation for this move into a brave new world – and there are no real alternatives. There is a saying in technology markets that ‘if it works it’s already obsolete’ – I would make HANA an exception to this rule. For many organisations it will be a solid investment that will see them move into an age of real-time, intelligent business systems. Who would have thought that such an innovation would come from a German software company rooted in dull software applications that serve the needs of business administration.