Josh Greenbaum posted this blog making a case for HW independence for SAP. http://insiderprofiles.wispubs.com/article.aspx?iArticleId=6265 . Josh needs no introduction, and I am a huge fan of the guy. But on this topic, I respectfully disagree with him.
I do agree with Josh in that the Apple analogy is not exactly applicable to keep HW and SW integrated for SAP. Jobs had to do it on the front end and hence that was a good option. SAP’s work is in the data center, and not facing the customer. So the customer experience like Apple is not applicable.
Hardware agnostic software was a great option when hardware was pricey, many years ago. Hardware does not command such a huge premium anymore. And consequently, software companies need to re-evaluate their strategy on what they will and will not do in their architecture. Being agnostic worked for last 30 years for SAP, but I seriously doubt if it will be the same even for the next 10. If pushed hard, I might go on a limb and predict that SAP will do something about HW in 3 years or so.
SAP was agnostic to databases and operating systems too – and now that they bought Sybase and have invented HANA – is it reasonable to expect them to be agnostic to Databases going forward? HANA works only on SUSE Linux, and not AIX or Windows or anything else. And Steve Lucas already pronounced that he will get SAP to number 2 position in database world by revenue by 2015 – which is 3 years away. Will that happen by SAP being DB agnostic? no – SAP will go against Oracle, IBM and MS at every opportunity. It is the smart thing to do.
Ok back to hardware – if you look at HANA, it is the hardware advances that made HANA possible today, more than software. I have seen jibes thrown along the lines of “throwing hardware at the issue” as if HW is a bad solution. HW innovations, as I mentioned before, usually keep SW innovations trying to keep up. If RAM did not become cheaper, and multicore processing did not happen – would HANA have happened?
Currently SAP supports multiple vendors for HANA hardware. For a 1.0 product , it is probably ok to do this since nothing do-or-die will run on HANA today. But as HANA matures, SAP will need to make HANA work extremely efficiently for OLTP loads, and maybe even “real” big data (the petabytes and upwards size). At this point – will SAP try to optimize HANA for seven different vendors? or will it choose one or two? or will it just introduce its own hardware that is more optimized than every one else’s ? I am betting on the latter. SAP might never completely get rid of partnerships with other HW vendors for other reasons – but if HANA is where SAP is betting the farm, then I see no way SAP is going to remain HW agnostic in mid to long term.
Also, SAP now wants to be a cloud player – maybe even a leader as time progresses. Will they buy a lot of HW from IBM and HP for that? or will they do their own HW? Since all cloud apps are eventually planned to run on HANA – this is an even stronger case for SAP to stop being HW agnostic.
I think Oracle is VERY smart in keeping HW and SW integrated. Just because SAP competes with ORCL is not a good reason to say stacks are bad. Oracle is a very good and successful company too. Going forward, I do expect to see a lot more similarity between ORCL and SAP in how they create solutions. To retain leadership, these companies will need to lead with both HW and SW.