By the third day of SAPPHIRE, I got used to the concept of drinking from 2 firehoses pretty well. One of the reasons I chose not to blog from the show floor is that I had zero time to think through all the information that flooded in. A day and a half later, I have assimilated enough to present my thoughts here. In any case, the professionals in the business has done a thorough job with near-real time updates to their readers, that too without using HANA 🙂
Day 3 of course was the one every one seemed to be waiting for – where Vishal and Hasso took stage to explain the technology vision, and status on execution. Well, they did an excellent job too – although they could have done better on time taken to deliver their message. Vishal is supremely confident now – rightfully so, I should add – and it showed in his session. Hasso lived up to his billing too effortlessly. Now about their message – which was more or less all about HANA as expected.
Vishal started off with the issue of layers in architecture, and how some should be removed. I readily agree with the concept, except I have one issue – and now I know it will get addressed some time in future. Ever since SAP started with ERP decades ago, they were saying “don’t worry about tables and SQL, we will abstract it all for you”. And then along came HANA, and there the message was “use good SQL on the base table structure itself in HANA, and do wonderful things”. It is not an easy message to digest for people who are used to SAP from before. HANA needs abstraction to some level, and we are told it will come soon.
Throughout last year, people have been hammering SAP to show them usecases and real customer stories of HANA. Well, SAP responded with a dozen or more customers coming on video to vouch for HANA. And Vishal presented it with elan – he said something like “Our customers challenged us with <…>, and we solved it”. NICELY DONE !!!
I do have a serious issue with calling HANA Real Time. A better word would be “Right Time”, as Ray Wang pointed out on twitter – at least for now, till HANA becomes the backbone of ECC and other products. The question is “will users have a real time experience?”. Most users will not sit next to HANA box in a server room – they will be on a WAN, VPN connection etc. The very fact that SAP hauled HANA systems all the way from their labs to the show floor, and not just connected to them remotely tells me that HANA will not give a real time feeling to users. Probably for marketing reasons, “real real time” is a good term, but I strongly believe that this will just upset customers who expect split second responses when they use it in production.
SAP’s official stance seems to be that “stacks” are bad, and only the “other guys” do it . Well, the slides Vishal showed kind of gave the impression that stacks might not be such a bad thing after all. Dennis and Ray called it “Marketecture” and James Governor of Redmonk called it “Burgers” on twitter..Any way, it was all light hearted, so let us move on.
While it was terrific to see customer stories, the one thing I and a few others on twitter felt was – it would have been a lot better to get CEO?CFO types to deliver some of those messages, and not just use the IT executives exclusively. On the other hand, I give a lot of credit to SAP for getting over legal issues, and calendar conflicts and all in short time to get these messages delivered. Next time, I hope they bring a few customers on stage to demonstrate the apps they built . I am not clear if any of the customers did these apps in production – as in paid for it, or whether SAP and hardware vendors did free Proof-of-concepts with them to show HANA works. Jon Reed of http://www.jonerp.com took a video on me, John Appleby and Jon himself delving on this topic. Please check out JD-OD.com when he posts it.
Next up was HANA on cloud. As some of you might know, Thorsten Franz and I had both blogged about it a year ago that this was the way to go. Although we got a bit of pushback from some people, we strongly believed, as did many fellow mentors and colleagues, that it will be necessary very soon. So it was very gratifying to see SAP announce that they are doing it. The big issue with the HANA on cloud vision is “how do you do ETL, and will it be real time?”. Details remain to be seen – but the one use case I particularly worry about is the Sales and Ops Planning on Cloud. This is an ETL intensive activity generally, and speed is a known issue even for in-memory solutions. Add the bandwidth issue to access the cloud and concerns of security and privacy of base data, and I generally feel S&OP is better done on-premises than on-demand for most customers. There might be a few that have low data volumes etc which can use it – but it is hard to imagine this catching on with big SAP shops. Another concern I have about putting HANA on cloud in near future, is SAP’s ability to size the infrastructure. HANA has not spent enough time in production to get useful information on sizing, and there is a good chance of SAP under calling or over calling the size required to host HANA. And it will be bad in either case obviously.
Right after keynote, I had the opportunity to meet with Hasso Plattner . To say I was thrilled is an under statement. We covered a lot of ground – on and off-record. I had read Hasso’s book cover to cover on its PDF version, and had tweeted earlier that I had disagreements with some of it. One issue was compression in HANA. Even in keynote, he gave the impression that customers can see a 10X compression of data. I find it hard to believe, since DB2, ORACLE etc does an excellent job of compressing data already. So if say DB2 compresses data 5 times, will HANA compress it 10 times over and above this? Hasso clarified to me that he meant raw data will be compressed 10 times on average, and not already compressed data. But remember, customers “sees” already compressed data and will be comparing HANA’s result to that.Also, database cannot be sized based on this compression ratio as was mentioned in the keynote – it needs extra space for various technical reasons. None of it seems to be said in public. So, I would urge SAP to clarify this messaging – much like the “real time” instead of “right time” message. I am a HUGE fan of HANA – and I would hate to see it get any less traction because of setting unrealistic expectations. There are a few more such questions I need to ask, and Hasso has promised to respond via email. He was also gracious to sign a copy of his book for me. And no, I am not selling it on eBay 🙂
Right after meeting Hasso, was a meeting with Vishal Sikka. I strongly feel that hiring Vishal was the best investment SAP made in a long time. He is a passionate technical guy with a balanced philosophical view on software. And elevating him to SAP’s board was a great idea too – something other companies should be doing more. Since HANA was already beaten to death, and since I know what he feels about IBM Watson – we spent a lot of the time on Gateway and River. Gateway will be the way SAP and its ecosystem innovates in future. I think SAP missed an opportunity – and Vishal seemed to agree – to tell the world more on Gateway. Every year that SAP and its customers fail to tackle this, it becomes exponentially harder. SAP, Customers and Partners are all building stuff on business suite all the time the traditional way. If they don’t put a moat around the castle – an expression Vishal used, which I loved – it will become a problem that gets impossible to solve. However, drawing a line in sand is only a big first step (Vishal calls it creating a fire lane). For this effort to be successful, SAP needs to find a way to abstract out all the customizations and enhancements made in the system – so that there is no double maintenance going forward. It is easier said than done. Vishal asked me to talk to Kaj Van De Loo on this – but I ran out of time, and could not do that. I look forward to chatting with Kaj and learning about his strategy to do this soon.
John Appleby and I were involved in two videos with http://www.JD-OD.com to wrap up SAPPHIRE – one with Jon Reed on Analytics, and one with Dennis Howlett on Mobility. It was a lot of fun making it, and special thanks to the staff at Hilton Executive lounge for giving us the space to do it. I have not seen the one on analytics yet, but here is the one with Dennis on Mobility. http://www.viddler.com/explore/dahowlett/videos/49/
The day finished with the Sting concert. Amazing band – and it was a lovely way to unwind and end a very fruitful week at SAPPHIRENOW 2011. I look forward to Teched in Fall, and maybe the European SAPPHIRE after that if I can make it.
Overall – I was pretty impressed with SAP, and I wish them the very best in executing the strategy, and enabling customers to adopt it. Cheers !