Data and its analysis is becoming increasingly valuable to enterprises, helping to optimise internal operations and create new sales opportunities.
The software and platforms that simplify and speed data throughput are therefore becoming more attractive.
SAP unveiled its S/4HANA business suite earlier this week, touting it as a collection of enterprise applications designed to run on its HANA in-memory database platform. This marks "the end of the IT stack" by providing every core operational application a business needs on one platform, according to the firm.
Irfan Khan, chief technology officer at SAP's Global Customer Operations, told V3 that S/4HANA is a continuation of SAP's R/3 business suite, but simplifies the underlying data model of the modules that make up the application suite.
"We've effectively simplified the core of the SAP business applications. It's a rewrite, it's a new code line, and it's a new product," he said.
One suite, one platform
Essentially, S/4HANA consolidates business applications, such as enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and product lifecycle management, into a single system designed to run on one in-memory platform.
Kahn explained this cuts out the need to manage different data silos and database environments. It allows for real-time data crunching, and significantly reduces the time needed to complete operations like analytics and transaction processing.
"All of the business data, all of the business logic resides in one environment without [separation] and you are able to recast or reassemble any business use you desire instantaneously because of in-memory," he said.
Tony Bauer, principal analyst at Ovum, told V3 that the S/4HANA architecture change will have an impact on SAP's customers in the long term.
"The code and data structures have been rewritten to become more compact and efficient, and potentially more extensible," he said.
"SAP has done this in a way that keeps the data model intact (to limit disruption for existing Business Suite customers), but still takes full advantage of the HANA in-memory architecture to keep the underlying architecture lean, more maintainable and easier to integrate with other modules or third-party solutions."
However, Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, is not convinced by SAP's move to make S/4HANA reliant solely on the in-memory capabilities of the HANA platform.
"My biggest concern remains that SAP locks itself out of the transformation of the big data era with an over reliance on HANA being RAM-based," he said.
"When enterprises face the choice between an in-memory platform that has to shuffle data out of Hadoop clusters for insights, versus a solid state drive-based Hadoop-only project, they all pick the latter.
"Even enterprises that want and will use in-memory databases still pursue the Hadoop on a solid state drive path as they know they can decide to 'dump' their [enterprise resource planning] data in the Hadoop clusters later."
With S/4HANA is still in its infancy the impact it will have in real-world deployments remains to be seen. The cost too has not been revealed.
Nonetheless, Mueller warned that as SAP is presenting S/4HANA as a new product, customers may need to brace themselves for new licence agreements and negotiations.
"SAP customers should look at contracts and prepare for the 'return of maintenance' conversation with their account manager," he said.
"Customers will also note that SAP gave up database independence with S/4HANA, but that was a writing on the wall for quite some time."
SAP may need to proceed with caution. Oracle took some serious flak over its licence auditing from the Campaign for Clear Licensing when it launched an in-memory option for Oracle Database 12c software.
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