An Ex-SAP dude’s wish list for SAPPHIRENOW 2014

Sapphirenow 2014 is kicking off on Monday – and although I don’t work for SAP or an SAP partner now, I care a lot for the company and its ecosystem and thought I will jot down a short note on my thoughts on what I would love to see unfold.

1. Let the new leadership team have its own identity

Bill McDermott is a well known entity – so although he is now sole CEO with Jim Snabe moving to Supervisory board, I don’t think anyone thinks of him as a “new” leader. If anyone can chart a course for the new SAP, it is Bill. 

Then there is Bernd Leukert. He is very well known inside SAP – but probably not as well known outside SAP. With Vishal leaving SAP abruptly and Bernd moving to Executive board – I saw a lot of commentary along the lines of Bernd being the new Vishal. I think this is a rather unfair expectation to set up. Vishal was a good leader but so is Bernd. But they are very different people . I would love to see Bernd explain HIS vision of how he expects SAP to develop over the next few years. 

2. Project the bench strength

One of the few things SAP could have done better was to give visibility of its bench strength to external world. Its not that SAP doesn’t have bench strength. Rob Enslin, Steve Lucas, Michael Reh, Rodolpho Cardenuto, Bjoern Goerke ….and many others are capable leaders waiting in the wings. Its up to Bill and Bernd to shine the light on their leadership team and I am sure we will see more of it – if not at sapphire, then shortly thereafter. 

3. Embrace channel partnerships

SAP can’t do it alone. SAP became an amazing ERP company because of a significant ecosystem of partners around them. Rodolpho is now in charge of the partner organization, and he works for Bill directly. I would love to see SAP double down on channel up and down its stack . How can I not say that ? – I am a channels dude myself now at MongoDB 🙂 

4. Show product direction that matches the simplification message

Investors and analysts need a message – but partners and  customers need clear product direction. When SAP leaders talk about innovation – they should give clear examples of what is actually getting simplified. Simplification is needed not just in products – it is also needed in how developers, partners and customers do business with SAP. Easy ways to download trials, simplified licensing etc are all good things to announce.

5. Stop charging for UI/UX improvements

Hopefully we will hear about Fiori and/or Personas being free. I am not holding my breath on it – and I am generally NOT a fan of making software free indiscriminately. However in the case of UI/UX – the poor reputation historically cannot be attributed to anyone other than SAP itself. So why charge for it to maintenance paying customers? Make it free and hopefully it drives enough Hana and Suite business to compensate on revenue front. Nothing will cheer user groups more than this announcement, if we get to hear it.

6. Explain what “SAP, the cloud company powered by Hana” really means

It is a great message – but now it is time to explain how this vision is going to be realized. SAP has a very heterogeneous cloud portfolio. Personally, I don’t think it is a bright idea to replatform all the acquired solutions to Hana. Customers who buy SaaS are buying a solution with a certain SLA. They don’t care what it runs on as long as the functionality satisfies their need, and SLA is met. Parts of all these solutions could probably have benefits that Hana can give. So a replatforming effort might be worth for carefully chosen parts of the portfolio. HEC, HCP, BI, BW on Hana, Suite on Hana etc are the ones that definitely directly correlate to “powered by Hana”. SAP needs to clearly explain the roadmap on transition to a full cloud company .

That is the technology message – but being a cloud company also needs a business execution part to be nailed. This is really hard for a company that needs to balance between on premises solutions and cloud solutions. So I am very curious to hear how SAP will lay it out.  

That is it . I wish the very best to SAP – have a great SAPPHIRENOW 2014 !


SAPPHIRENOW 2012 Orlando, Day 1 Wrap – speed, simplicity, personalization

SAPPHIRE is a week of sleeplessness and schedule conflicts, and this time is no different.  Right up front – Big thanks to Mike Prosceno, Stacy Fish and Andrea Kaufman for the excellent meetings they arranged for bloggers. Today’s agenda included meetings with Rob Enslin ( who heads global sales), Sanjay Poonen (heads Global solutions) and Steve Lucas ( heads D&T), and of course the big key note from Bill McDermott, the Co-CEO.

Enslin used to be CEO of North America, but it was my first time ever meeting with him face to face, although I have seen him doing keynotes etc many times. He knows the pulse of the market – and is aware of the challenges SAP has to over come to make it a successful year.  Between him and the current North American CEO – I think SAP sales is in North America has the best leadership they can have. I enjoyed the meeting a lot – since he gave answers to the point. My big question for him was what he sees as the future of SIs since SAP seems to be doing mostly a “productize the consulting” approach. Rob did not deny that, but pointed out that it will take some time to truly productize – and even at that stage, the need for business consulting and integration does not go away.

Next up was Steve Lucas, and he is some one I know well. Here is a photo of Steve with his IBM branded HANA box.

Steve recognizes that HANA is young, but his main message is that HANA is still one part of a portfolio of database products. So SAP can offer RDBMS solutions too for the clients who need them.  And to his credit, he did not reiterate the “we will be number 2 DB vendor by 2015” mantra this time. I believe they will stick to the “fastest growing DB” message.

Both Enslin and Lucas emphasized that time taken for hardware delivery is a big problem for HANA sales as it lengthens the sales cycle. I think this can be somewhat solved by deploying HANA to cloud, which is fairly easy to do. You can always migrate to physical hardware once you have it. But a lot of work on HANA can be accomplished just by having it on cloud. As far as I know, the only way to do this today is to hack the installer – but that is an easy problem to fix.

I would also hope that in Hasso/Vishal keynote, SAP will do something about the HA and DR scenarios for HANA. It is a question every CIO will ask before HANA can be deployed in production. My proposal is simple – while the keynote is in progress, they should just pull the power plug of HANA box and show HA will kick in.

Next up was the meeting with Sanjay Poonen. Sanjay is also someone that I have known for some time, and is an absolute straight shooter. He is a perfect example of the “new SAP executive” who not only asks for external feedback, but also acts on it in a time bound fashion. He is already making progress on developer enablement and licensing , and we should hear some details soon.  Sanjay’s approach is to think big, and not be reactive to competition. I got the feeling that his biggest priority now is Mobility. He is working on simplifying how SAP mobility works on all dimensions. I will be keeping an eye on this, as I believe this is a huge market for SAP to dominate if they get it right.

And then there was the keynote. It started off well – with some awesome music. That music is by far the best opening I have ever heard at any SAP event. But all the good vibes I had at that point vaporized in a hurry once Mika Brzezinski came on stage and started asking for who in the audience are democrats (ans – a minority) , and who are republicans (ans – a huge majority) .  And from then – it was kind of downhill for me personally, and I tuned out completely for next several minutes. If she had a brand of humor, it was not one that I recognized. In general – I think this part of the keynote was a waste of time.

And then Bill McDermott entered the stage in a sharp suit, and did a very “presidential” speech. If he runs for political office, I think he will do very well. He definitely is a talented speaker. His main message was that today, it is a world of consumers – and that mobility solutions are the way to get to them. He sees a massive market for that. He also gave plugs to HANA ( biggest thing that happened in Big Data  – which is quite a stretch I would think) and Social (which is very well deserved for my buddy Sameer Patel, the new GVP for Social at SAP).

The big takeaway from Bill’s speech were that business should aim for speed, simplicity and personalization. And I thought he was spot on. I am waiting to see how SAP solutions will evolve to cater to their CEOs vision.

The best part of the keynote for me was the customer panel that included Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts, Ace Hardware CEO Ray Griffith and Coinstar/Redbox CEO Scott Di Valerio.  I would highly encourage you to watch the fascinating panel discussion on video from SAP’s site. The CEOs seemed to love HANA and mobility and social. But if I understood them correctly – their experience with SAP software  is mostly (if not only) in the business suite. HANA, Mobility etc sounded more like things they like for the future, and not something they are already doing in the present.  It is rather ironic that despite Bill talking mostly about new generation technology solutions – customers are still only exploring the business suite which has been around for a while.

In between all the blogger meetings, I did get some time to spend at the IBM booth demonstrating our cool HANA based solutions to customers, partners and analysts. Our innovation center did a tremendous job building all this out, and I would shamelessly shout from rooftops to encourage everyone to check out the solutions there in next 2 days.

It is 2 AM here, so I am going to stop here for now, and get some sleep. Tuesday is a big day, and I am looking forward to learning more about SAP’s plans.

Redbull migrates BW to HANA – I am suitably impressed

SAP allowed some of us bloggers to interact with Christian Stoxreiter of Redbull. They just finished migrating their BW system to HANA. We will see him during Vishal’s keynote tomorrow I think explaining in more detail. I am a big fan of Christian now after he made the comment “We want to be dynamic and flexible, but we are NOT stupid. I know the difference between marketing slides and actual technology limitations”.


There is a lot that impressed me with this .


Redbull has been an SAP customer for 11 years. They have ECC, CRM and BW. The BW system which is 1.5 TB in size was moved to HANA platform and now the data size is 300 GB. What is even more impressive is that 200 GB out of this is in row model, which means once the data models are rationalized – it will get even smaller.


It took just 10 days to migrate BW to HANA. Of course this included working night shifts and all, and had the best of SAP techies on the job. The relationship between SAP and Redbull has been at board level from SAP, with Vishal Sikka being involved directly.  But even then, that is quite a short period to pull this off.


Redbull did not see a big improvement in query performance because they were already using BWA.  Moreover, they found that HANA does not have all the features that BWA gave them. But they think this is ok, because SAP is commited to working with them to put in features in future revisions of HANA. However, ETL performance improved in some cases from 50 minutes to 2 minutes.  This is a big value add for them since their total ETL time to get global data from 39 countries to a single BW instance was 32 hours or so.


Redbull thinks HANA is a great investment for them. They are not doing HANA for just BW alone. They want to influence SAP on Trade Promotions Management on HANA. They also have key areas in ECC where they want SAP to make things better. Redbull thinks they can influence SAP due to the first mover advantage. I think they are thinking smart here – sounds like a good strategy to me too.


Redbull’s BW on HANA is running in parallel to their disk based BW system now, and there is no clear answer yet from SAP on when they can put BW on HANA as stand alone without running parallel. But apparently that decision will be taken by next Monday on the time frame. Redbull is fully aware of limitations in HA/DR etc, and made an educated investment and they believe that it will pay off in spades down the line. I think this is pretty smart of them since it is a product that is gaining rapid market share ac, and will face an information explosion. My making an investment now, they will be well placed to concentrate on business without worrying about handling all the data that comes in future, including unstructured data, social media feeds etc.


Redbull has a clear vision for ECC running on HANA in future, with no aggregate tables etc. Again – smart in my opinion, since this is key to get SAP to create cutting edge new innovations on the core.


I have been fairly critical of SAP on several aspects of HANA. But this one is different – and I am glad to say SAP did an excellent job, as did Redbull. Good luck, and I am eager to see how BW on HANA will evolve. Maybe we will get more in keynote tomorrow.



SAP SAPPHIRE and Teched 2011 Madrid, Tuesday – HANA, BI 4.x, Netweaver et al

My day started with informal discussions on future of BI products. Mobile BI is of course a no brainer next big thing.  Question is how is SAP going to tackle this? Webi is by far the most commonly touted mobile BI client. Xcelsius has the flash limitation on iOS, and even on Android – not all controls of Xcelsius work that well. Some time next year, when an Analysis client for mobile goes into ramp – there is an option to generate HTML5 layouts. If SAP does a good job on this, I would bet that this will start Xcelsius on its death march. Xcelsius is a great tool – but popular opinion is that it is not scalable for thousands of users. I have seen few hundreds use it, but not thousands. So I personally don’t know, and am willing to stand corrected. I will ask around more while I am here.

Next up is a question of how to best make dashboards etc out of ECC.  The big limiting factor in my opinion is that universes do not work on top of ABAP data dictionary. And if you go directly against the tables at SQL table – you will lose out on security, semantics and most probably will violate licensing agreements with SAP and the DB vendor.  The smart thing for SAP to do will be to allow universes to be built on ABAP data dictionary. This could single-handedly give an explosion to licenses sales for BOBJ. Any one listening  at SAP from sales side? To check out – I spoke with Adam Binnie, the GVP for BI. Many thanks to Andrea Kaufmann for finding some time for me with Adam.

There is no solution now or on roadmap to solve the flash compatibility issue. Adam said SAP team is checking on this in a research mode. It is not an easy problem to solve – there is a huge userbase for whom a disruptive solution might be painful to the extreme. Plus SAP has a limited option on a problem between Adobe and Apple. Nevertheless, SAP owes the world a solution for this somehow.

Although I feel SAP has not given Xcelsius the love it needs in near past, Adam thought otherwise. I think the disconnect essentially is that whatever is driving the product roadmap, probably is not very well integrated with the ecosystem. Adam said he will look into it, and that by end of the year he plans to put some concrete actions in place.

On the universe on top of ABAP data dictionary issue, it did not look like a priority for SAP. Adam thought this might be because multiple semantic layers (as in ABAP DDIC, and Common Semantic Layer from BOBJ both) might be against SAP’s design principles. Again, he agreed to check with his team and give me an update.

Of course no day passes in SAP land for me sans a thought on HANA.  if we fast forward to future – the big big thing is ECC running on HANA.  Is this the final frontier?  I am not too sure .  Over the last decade or two, SAP has made a lot of DML optimization already. Standard Business Suite behavior is to select once from database, hold it in memory – and then do all kinds of business logic in ABAP. So you could select a million records, filter it to hundred thousand with logic – then take it through Authorization checks to find what will pass, and end up with 10 records. If this logic is not rewritten completely – how much of benefit will SAP get by simply putting the tables in memory?  And think of the re-write – can you replace the ABAP logic with a bunch of database stored procedures ? Can you find a clever way of passing authorizations to hana at database level and not let ABAP do it? Will this mean HANA gets an ABAP interpreter? Too many complex issues to be solved to make it work efficiently.  So I raised this with SAP’s Deputy CTO Sethu Meenakshisundaram and a member of his team, Frank Samuel. Here is what they had to say.

SAP has a vision on how this would work going forward. The key to that is building a good foundational meta model in HANA that can represent the business objects in ABAP. Once DDIC, Security etc are modelled, then a standard API set can be used by ABAP and non-ABAP systems to do complex processing with HANA. But given the sheer amount of work, this will take some time to complete.  A consistent set of user friendly APIs is a tall ask for SAP in my opinion, based on what I have seen in past. Maybe they will do better this time.

Jon Reed brought up the question on multi-tenancy in the meeting. And I had posted this question on my blog earlier. I was quite pleased that Sethu had read my blog before hand. So according to Sethu, HANA is built as a multitenant model, except it is not used as such. Apparently, this is a simple thing for SAP to flip the switch. This is very different from what I have heard before, and I mentioned it to Sethu. He agrees that communication on HANA needs to improve from SAP’s side to minimize confusion. In any case, SAP not only needs to flip that switch, it should also build apps on HANA that are multi-tenant. And Vishal should mention it in his keynote to make sure the world is not confused, unlike what happened with ORACLE. BI OnDemand is a good start in this direction, and I expect more such things to come up in next few years

SAP has a grand vision on how the in-memory platform will help business. And i truly like what I heard. Sethu thinks Supply Chain is an area where SAP can do wonders with this, and I agree.  S&OP for example is an area where I have heard many customers request more of SAP. However, vision and execution needs to match.  SAP’s execution on HANA is not exactly stellar so far in my opinion, but I guess they will get there soon enough.

Next up was a meeting with Bjoern Goerke who is the Corporate Officer in charge of Technology and Innovation Platform at SAP. As always – a terrific meeting. I asked the same question on HANA multi-tenancy to him. His answer was more tentative than the one I got from Sethu – “not now, but we are working on it, and will get there soon”. While he agreed on the need for a good meta model on HANA and a framework for all the aspects like security, user provisioning etc – he could not give out any time frame for it. “One step at a time” was his answer. I respect that, although I think these are all things SAP should get out to the ecosystem as soon as they can. Technology should not be a huge limiting factor here – ABAP DDIC itself is stored in tables, and parts of this concept is already in use by other parts of SAP like BW replication etc.  SAP should do all they can to improve speed to get these things out of labs to the ecosystem. I asked Bjoern if BOBJ universes will be built on top of ABAP DDIC, and did not get a clear answer.

I did provide some feedback that HANA studio is not exactly a fine artwork, and got some assurance that it will improve constantly. SAP is moving all the developer studios to eclipse, which is the right thing to do. ABAP on eclipse is already available to see in the booth here. Apparently 7.3 Netweaver is doing great, and has 300+ live customers.  A lot more info on neo and ByD etc were discussed, and between Jon Reed and Dick Hirsch – I bet they will post their views after the meeting.

I would be terribly remiss if I did not mention this – Stacey Fish and Andrea Kaufmann from Mike Prosceno’s team deserve big time kudos. They are not only super helpful, they also try their best to give us as much information as possible so that we can form a more educated opinion before we blog. If they worked in my team, I would be writing performance bonus recommendations for them now. I cannot thank them enough

SAP Teched and SAPPHIRE 2011, Madrid – Monday

Fellow SAP mentor, Harald Reiter and I flew into Madrid on Monday morning from Phoenix on the same flight. Uneventful flight, and I managed to read about 400 pages of Steve Jobs biography. It is an impressive book, and I recommend it readily. We were a bit surprised at how long we have to walk from the flight to passport control counter. And we got a cab to go to  Hotel Silken Puerta América Madrid


A bit of an unusual hotel, I must say – looks very modern, unlike the regular Hilton and Marriott ones I get to stay during my work weeks in USA. Took me a few minutes to figure out how to make everything work – including curtains, lights and stuff.  Like many European hotels – the breakfast spread was awesome. We had a nice time catching up with the ever helpful Stacey Fish and Jon Reed at breakfast.


Another cab ride brought us to the convention center where innojam was in full swing. It was a lot of fun watching people do this, especially since I was spared the stress of another 30 hours of insomnia trying to get new technologies to work myself 🙂


While contestants were busy making final touches, Jon Reed and I got into a good discussion on HANA. I showed him some use cases on HANA that my Advanced Analytics team at IBM did.  Harald joined in too – and it was a fun discussion. Before coming to Madrid, I had put up my questions for SAP on HANA.  After discussing with folks here at innojam – both SAP and non-SAP folks – my impression is that I am not the only one with these questions.


Rui Nougueira asked if I can stand in for a judge who could not make it to Madrid. It was quite an honor, and I readily agreed. My fellow judges were both senior SAP executives, and I was quite amazed with the content presented to us. It was webcasted live globally, and I believe a replay link will be provided in Teched site soon. First prize went to Carbon TNT – and that team did an amazing job with both technology and presentation.The prizes were given away by my colleague, since IBM loaned the HANA server to SAP for the event.


Post innojam – Harald and I caught up with Juergen Schmerder of SAP who is the man who runs all the systems for innojam. There isn’t a problem this man is not aware of, and he has been in SAP since 1999. Total straight shooter guy – and he gave us a lot of good information on HANA. I also spoke at length to Ruks Omar who is in the HANA marketing team.  Without going into all the details – I can just say this – some of the smartest people at SAP are trying to make HANA work perfectly on technical side. Where SAP absolutely needs to shore up is on talent to relate it to business problems, and a consistent methodology for HANA implementations.


Last event of the night was a mentor gathering organized by our chief herder Mark Finnern, and deputy herder Aslann.  It was great to catchup with all the mentors from Europe whom I don’t get to see often.


Dennis Howlett gave me a ride back to the hotel and I got a first hand taste of how Madrid traffic. I am glad I did not rent a car here. Tuesday is an action packed day with many nice meetings on the schedule. Looking forward to it





SAPPHIRENOW 2011 Madrid – A few HANA questions if I may?

I am going to Madrid next week to attend SAPPHIRENOW. SAP is paying for my flight, hotel and admission. As I am preparing for the trip, I thought I will share the questions I am looking to get answers. My understanding at the moment is that HANA will bring in 100M Euros this year. It is quite impressive for a 1.0 product, and SAP deserves kudos for getting customers to buy HANA in a bad economy.


So, here are my questions.  I am hoping to get them all answered next week in person, or if I am lucky someone can enlighten me in blog comments here itself.


Customer Perspective

1. How many customers are using HANA in production ? So far we know of 2 that were announced at Teched. Will we see a few tens more announced in Madrid?

2. How many customers that did POCs with HANA – the ones shown on stage at SAPPHIRE Orlando, took their POCs to production and are running their business on it?

3. For those that took it to production – how are they dealing with High availability/ Fail over / Disaster Recovery ? What would be really nice is if SAP lets us talk to these pioneering customers directly at Madrid.

4. I saw a tweet from SAP internal IT manager!/MatthiasWild/status/130031370457198592 that SAP internally went live with BW on HANA, but it is just a parallel system to a disk based BW system. This is because of HA/DR . How many customers will buy HANA for BW to run it in parallel? Jeff Word announced two live HANA on BW customers will be present at Madrid. Are they solely on HANA, or are they using another disk based system as primary BW  instance?


Applications Perspective

1. Will SAP unveil the killer HANA app in Madrid that makes HANA more compelling than a fast database?

2. How many partner apps have been created during the year on HANA?

3. With HANA supporting R, will statistical processing logic need to be written from scratch in R, or will business functions be available that hides R from developers?

4. Who owns the IP rights if a partner develops a HANA app?


Partner Perspective

1. What is SAP’s vision for SI’s in future of HANA ?

2. Is there a market for smaller SI’s in HANA for SMB?

3. Of all the projects in HANA that are going on, what percentage is directly driven by SAP ?

4. Are there benchmarks and testcases for partners to use when implementing HANA solutions? It would also be good to see comparisons between IQ and HANA for same query on a given dataset.

5. Now that SAP has sold a lot of HANA, can we have better sizing tools? We all lived through the pain of incorrect sizing on BW and then BWA. I hope to not repeat this with HANA.

6. I have heard bits and pieces on HANA pricing on BW. Will this be clearly explained at SAPPHIRE Madrid ?


Cloud Perspective

1. What is the HANA cloud? does such a thing actually exist today?

2. Is HANA multi-tenant? When I read this it looks like there is a HANA cloud already that works. Is this true?

3. Does ByD already work on HANA? If not – why and when will it?

4. What is SAP’s solution for ETL to cloud for HANA to get huge volumes of data in real time?


Future Perspective


1. Where is the money going to come from next year from HANA ?  BW with HANA is a very good next step. BW has 16000 installbase or so. If SAP gets 25% of that to buy HANA at a million dollars each, they will make a significant jump in the size of the company. But how many will buy HANA as DB? BW customers are either really big (maybe top 100 customers) and the rest are usually much smaller.

For the big customers – they will have long term existing licenses from ORCL etc for enterprise which might not be easy to get out of in near future. Also, these tend to have business critical use cases- like for financial close etc. How many of these will jump into HANA as DB when it is so early in maturity curve?  And for really big systems – will they be successful using commercial hardware? Or will they need special hardware built for them? I have not seen yet a comprehensive answer for scale out from SAP.

For smaller customers – the majority – how much of a pain is BW really? Most customers by now would have solved most of their painpoints on performance etc. And even if they have not, will HANA licenses be more cost effective than buying more fusion io cards and RAM / SSD ?

2. When will ECC and rest of business suite run on HANA? And when it happens – will SAP still give customers the choice to have ORCL etc ad DB? As database vendors bring more and more sophistication into their products over time, will there still be enough of a value proposition to have HANA as a DB?

3. What percentage of ECC transactions will benefit directly  from HANA  in terms of real value? Will there be an option to point just these parts of the solution to HANA and rest to disk based DB to optimize cost?

4. Even within a high value analytics use case, not all data needs to be analyzed all the time. So if I have 10 years of data, and I generally go back in time only for 3 years in most queries – will HANA let me store my old data in disk, say in IQ?


There you are – and if you have additional questions that you want me to ask SAP while I am in Madrdi, please leave them in  a comment here.

SAPPHIRENOW 2011 Report Out Day 3 – HANA, Mobility, Gateway and Sting

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 took a video on me, John Appleby and Jon himself delving on this topic. Please check out 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 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.

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 !