Is SAP HANA a database, platform, appliance, or cloud?
SAP HANA was designed to be a truly modern database platform, and as a result the answer is: all of the above. A modern database should be a database, platform and be available on-premise or in the cloud.
SAP has a large installed-base of on premise ERP customers, and the HANA platform supports their needs, especially the need for an enterprise-class database. Many of those customers are looking for an on-premise database to replace the traditional RDBMS.
The demanding needs of an in-memory database mean that SAP elected to sell SAP HANA as an appliance, and it comes pre-packaged by the major hardware vendors as a result.
However the future of business is moving into the cloud, and SAP HANA is available as Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) with HANA Cloud Platform and Managed Cloud as a Service (McaaS) with secured HANA Enterprise Cloud and via 3rd party cloud vendors. Customers can also choose Hybrid deployment model that combines on premise and cloud. More details on this are available here.
How does SAP HANA compare to Oracle or IBM?
SAP HANA was designed to be a replacement to Oracle or IBM databases, either for net new installations or for existing customers. In most cases it is possible to move off those databases easily, and gain reporting performance benefits out of the box. Then it is possible to adapt the software to contain functions that were not possible in the past.
All three of the major RDBMS vendors have released in-memory add-ins to their databases in the last year. All of them support taking an additional copy of data in an in-memory cache, or in IBM’s case columnar tables. All of them provide improved performance for custom data-marts. But make no mistake; caching data has been around for a long time, while an in-memory database platform to run transactions and analytics together in the same instance is a new innovation.
Traditional database caching solutions are similar to the GM and Ford response to hybrid cars – take their existing technology and bolt new technology to it. SAP HANA is more akin to Tesla, who rebuilt the car from the ground up based on a new paradigm.
And so HANA’s capabilities from a business application perspective are 3 years ahead in technology from what others have.