My introduction to SQL was learning Oracle 8.x around 1996 or 97. And since that time, I have heard about Larry Ellison. Interestingly – that is around the first time I heard of Hasso Plattner too . Till then I only knew of 5 IBM engineers being the founders of SAP. I have deep respect for both the gents – they have a lot in common, despite having such different personalities. Of course I have only seen Hasso at close quarters, not Larry. Having worked at IBM for many years, I also have the greatest respect for the DB engineers and researchers there.
When SAP entered DB market seriously with Hana – my first thought was that it was a terrible idea. DB is the stickiest part of the stack at customers. I also remembered being tutored in IBM by the sales leaders that if you own the lowest levels of the stack – like HW, OS , DB and middleware, you own the account for ever. What I did not know at that time was that SAP’s plan was not to be yet another DB vendor – they wanted to change how DB works fundamentally. SAP wanted to play offense in a game that had moved on to heavy defense as the winning strategy. That is not just a sales and marketing thing – it needed a level of engineering that is extremely sophisticated. I was sufficiently convinced that SAP had a real chance of changing the market – and I bet my livelihood on it.
IBM is a great place to get trained in enterprise software. I learned from my first year there that all competitors have to be respected, but none should ever be feared. Competition is the best thing about this industry – keeps everyone on their productive best. Few months ago, IBM came up with DB2 BLU and now ORACLE has come out with 12c. I think both are good moves and both companies will use it to try and negate the impact of SAP Hana. And this is great validation of SAP’s strategy to change how DB should work. What is also not too surprising is that Oracle and IBM chose incremental steps to find some common ground with Hana – rather than go all out. For one – this fits well with their strong defensive strategy of protecting existing instal base, and two it needs a level of engineering that takes more time than what they had since they realized SAP made the right bets. But all things said and done – still a good move that is positive for the enterprise software market.
I give Oracle full marks on messaging – I thought it was absolutely brilliant to say “don’t need to change anything, just flip a switch and reap the benefits of in-memory DB”. That is a simple and elegant message. And it is not trivial to come up with such good messages. It is very easy to understand and appreciate at a high level. Nicely done.
Ellison did say many things in his keynote that Hasso and Vishal from SAP have been saying for years – why RAM is faster, why columnar DBs work better and all of that. All of which are good statements, and he has the credibility to say these things about databases. He definitely was in his elements talking about databases – and I enjoyed watching it. It was also a nice change of pace from the opening act from Fujitsu.
SAP Hana is fast and it is in memory, and it is column based – and looks like 12c does all of this too in some way. But that is just a fraction of what makes Hana special. SAP views Databases very differently from Oracle. HANA is a full fledged platform – which supports all types of processing with one copy of data . Not only does it store data in memory and in columns, it pushes down processing closer to data – and reduces the number of physical layers needed traditionally in an application. It has built in libraries for predictive and statistical functions. It has built in app server and web server. HANA can seamlessly integrate with other big data systems like Hadoop. That is a long winded way of saying – a database can and should be so much more. SAP showed it can be done in one system without needing to club together many different applications – at multiple productive customer projects, not in some proof of concept labs environment.
Oracle could have done a lot more – but chose to just do only very little. I am sure they have the engineering brilliance to do more, and a sales force who could have made use of such innovation. That is disappointing for the techie in me – and I hope they do way more in future and push the envelope on what a DB can do.
I was also kind of confused on why Oracle chose to do Column and row stores with multiple copies of data (unless I misunderstood what Larry said in the keynote). Enterprises already can’t deal with the many redundant copies of data – why would you add to that problem with a “modern” solution?
I have more questions – why is OLTP faster now ? What is the behavior of the system when it starts up ? What happens when there is not enough memory – will it use disk ? What happens when an app needs data in rows and columns ? How much of DBA effort is needed – how smart is the system in deciding what goes into memory and what does not? how much does this “switch” cost a customer? and many more. I am hoping that more details will be available through the conference, or in the weeks that follow. I am hoping there are good logical answers to all of these details.
There were two general types of questions on twitter after the keynote – will be now see a Hana vs Oracle bake off on speed ? and will 12c slow down hana deals and put pricing pressure on hana ? I think both are genuine questions worth asking .
If 100X performance is all 12c is capable of, then we probably won’t need to do any bake offs. There are enough customers who have way more performance gains with Hana than 100X. In any case – raw speed is only one part. What you do with that speed is what happens – and Hana has applications purpose built to exploit the speed – using the other capabilities in Hana like predictive and geospatial cpabilities for example. And given the head start Hana has over 12c, it is hard to imagine Oracle catching up in incremental steps like it seems to be doing.
On slowing down deals and pricing pressure – I have no idea given I don’t work in sales. Nor do I make sales or pricing decisions for SAP. However, from past sales experience – I think this is a factor of how well Oracle and SAP can educate their customers on the technology options. I will definitely be curious to see how it plays out in market. Customers do not buy on technology merit alone – I know that well. Given Hana grew pretty fast and has thousands of customers in last 2 years, I doubt customers will have any issues in seeing its value proposition.
Oracle is a great competitor and will not just sit back and watch hana eat its lunch – as an engineer, I just hope that they bring in some serious innovation to database technology, to back up its messaging. I will be the first to stand up and applaud if they do that. And for SAP, I am sure the intention is to continue to try as hard as we can to maintain and increase the lead on innovation front.