SAP unveils its biggest thing for 20 YEARS: Core suite with HANA

4th-gen bet embraces cloud and slablet fondlers

SAP has rolled out a new version of its flagship business suite – and it's married to in-memory database Hana.

The software giant announced SAP S/4HANA on Tuesday, with CEO Bill McDermott billing the fourth generation of its suite as the biggest launch in two decades.

The core, on-premise Business Suite for running finance, staff, operations and customer relationships has been updated for cloud and mobile. The biggest single change – and bet – is that SAP S/4 HANA will only run on HANA, SAP’s bet-it-all in-memory column-oriented data technology.

HANA has been a work in progress since 2005, distilled from technologies brought through the acquisitions of TREX, P*TIME and MaxDB. After its release in 2010, HANA has become SAP’s big bet in real-time big data.

But of 253,500 SAP customers, HANA is used by just 3,600 at the last count in August 2014.

In tying the latest version of its signature suite to HANA, SAP is clearly hoping to drive uptake of HANA as customers upgrade their SAP business systems. Given the relatively small adoption, it's got little to lose. A public cloud version of the suite has been written to work with multi-tenancy for the cloud – running lots of users, securely, on the same instances of SAP.

Multi-tenancy was pioneered by Salesforce and is an architecture that Oracle was forced to embrace in the latest version of its database product, released on June 2014.

Other changes include a new data model that SAP claims shrinks its suite’s total footprint by a factor of 10. The data model has been simplified to speed data entry by three to seven times, SAP claimed, because data is no longer automatically updated. Data is read-only on demand.

The reduced footprint and simplified data model are intended to attract those rolling out cloud services because SAP takes up less disk space and runs faster.

Other new features include a completely new UI that SAP claims works on any device – mobile, desktop and tablet. The UI is built using Fiori, the interface design technology unveiled by SAP in 2013 and described at the time as its predominant user-interface model. It uses HTML5 and CSS and talks to an SAP network gateway to reach the SAP back-end.

Not all the current Business Suite apps work with the new UI – they will be updated according to priority. The idea is to make SAP finally friendly to users used to prodding and poking apps through a consumer-friendly touchscreen.

SAP co-founder and chairman Hasso Plattner said at an event announcing S/4HANA that SAP had to work with customers on the UI so as not to break compatibly with existing apps and kill customers’ familiarity.

“Everybody will tell you: ‘A little late, SAP',” Plattner said. “We believe we have the best UI now.” ®

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