Is resistance futile?

Superfast, gob smackingly awesome, seriously, you can’t live without this s**t.
Admit it, you are a little jaded and worn down by the non-stop hype about in-memory databases (IMDBs) aren’t you? Bet you are sick to death about hearing about HANA this or HANA that. Come on, hands up at the back. No, not you, Mr. Ellison.

It is wall to wall HANA from SAP, but, if you take a step back for a moment, you’ll see that IMDBs really are the future. At some point, you will be using in-memory computing in your IT landscape, even if it’s just that SaaS application you bought to keep HR quiet.

Contrary to popular belief, SAP did not invent IMDBs. There are quite a few out there, and have been for decades. My personal favorite is VoltDB from that Turing Laureate Michael Stonebreaker’s stable. But then, I confess I am an admirer of Mr. Stonebreaker, after all he helped spawn a whole new generation of database products, one of which was Sybase – you know the code line came from Ingres right?

That said, HANA, is actually a very good product and you can see why SAP pushes it ad nauseam. The HANA platform is SAP’s focus and their most recent press release indicates that, after a slow start, all things HANA are taking off. Go to SAP.COM and the current headline is how HANA is helping the NFL, obviously this is a great promo as the world is clearly interested in a minority sport although to be fair SAP’s HANA helped Germany win the World Cup, of course, it did – hey, maybe Roy Hodgson should call up Hasso Plattner for some help too.

But, take a look at the market trends around in-memory and you can see why vendors are keen to take it up. Gartner believes that come 2016, the IMDB market will be worth a billion dollars or more, so which vendor would not look to enhance their IMDB features or go acquire a company with that technology. It is quite simply, inevitable. Just look at the continuing stabilization of DRAM prices compare to the end of the last century, when a gigabyte of top grade RAM was a cool sixty thousand bucks, now it’s less than fifty and falling. Yep, MDBs are most definitely part of the future of computing.

Join the Collective
All things considered, you can reasonably argue that, with SAP, there is only one direction and ultimately there will be a single data platform taking pride of place in their stable until, perhaps, someone markets a real-world commercial quantum computer that not only works but can access unlimited data stored on the proverbial pin head.
Look at some of the SAP strap lines, ’The Platform for Next-Generation Applications and Analytics’, ‘Run Simple’ and ‘Point of Inflection’, these marketing terms are there to emphasize why you need this technology. And, at some point most large SAP customers may find they have no choice but to be on HANA. Certainly if you go SAP Cloud, you will end up on HANA.

Along the way to data Nirvana, SAP has and is, still assimilating companies, including one of my all-time favorites, Sybase. You don’t need to be Einstein to see what they are doing with Sybase products. At some point, old favorites such as ASE, IQ etc., will be mere components, embedded within the HANA platform to help it evolve to as close to a data platform panacea as SAP can create. Most people won’t even know they are in there. You probably won’t see or be able to get at them, but then again why should you care?

The thing is, not all SAP customers want an application or data platform. They like what they have and they want to use it until such time as they have to abandon ship. Former Sybase ASE customers bought a database not an application platform. The biggest problem for these customers is that they represent only a tiny percentage of SAP’s client base. And the question has to be, does SAP care about them? A reasonable assessment of SAP, its products and stated direction, is that it will simply focus the HANA platform end of. Why would it not? And out of interest, has there ever been a coherent answer as to why SAP assimilated, sorry bought, Sybase in the first place. Was it for its mobility offerings, its customer base, as a core database for SAP applications or because Sybase had some good technology, period? In many ways it no longer matters. Sybase technology is now part of the collective.

Boldly Go
So should the Sybase Tribe be engaging their warp drives and setting coordinates for a different galaxy? Or maybe they can still leverage considerable value from their old Sybase product line. Of course, should you feel the need, you can always hang on to your lovely ASE database and still dip your toe in the water. SAP provides a HANA accelerator option for ASE, rather blandly named A4A but then High-Performance ANalytical Appliance, I mean seriously that is hardly a catchy name. But, if you are interested in the big picture of HANA and ASE, it is presented in Javier Martin’s blog here.
IMDB’s like HANA don’t just offer speed per se, they act as enablers of creativity around what applications you can build, how you can design them and what radical improvements to business processes you can make. It was never just about faster analytics, it was about merging and evolving your data platforms in a way that really can simplify your IT landscape and systems. Platforms like HANA, will either work through collaboration and orchestration of complementary data systems or through assimilation. Your competitors will use platforms like HANA, so why not you?

However, for all us old timers and until the collective is complete, the Sybase Tribe can carry on as they were but accept that as just a Sybase customer, they probably won’t be getting a whole lot of hand holding or warm fuzzy cuddles. Ask yourself just how many dyed in the wool Sybase techies are likely to be left in SAP? Of course, Sybase fans can still leverage value from their investment and still get good quality support, they just won’t be high up on any sales person’s list, unless they are buying a shed load of licenses.
It is still such a pity, that Sybase didn’t innovate faster or learn how to market itself better, but it didn’t. I still like the Sybase Tribe and, sorry to mix Sci-Fi movies, I think I will go hang out with the Rebel Alliance a little longer despite the rise of the glorious HANA Empire. Resistance may ultimately prove to be futile, but it’s a lot more fun.