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What's the difference between SAP HANA, S/4HANA and HANA Cloud Platform

Scott Carey | July 31, 2017
SAP's flagship in-memory database HANA has faced a rocky road to adoption, but customers are finally starting to understand what it's all about.

SAP's S4/Hana at Sapphire Now 2015
SAP's S4/Hana at Sapphire Now 2015. Credit: SAP

When SAP announced its next generation enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution S/4HANA in 2015 it was hailed by CEO Bill McDermott as its "biggest launch in 23 years, if not in the entire history of the company".

Two years on the technology is starting to see the sort of adoption the German software maker expected to see, but customer confusion over what S/4HANA and its underlying in-memory HANA data store were meant the road to widespread adoption has been a winding one.

Simply put, HANA is a new type of database, S/4HANA is a suite of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software run on top of that in-memory database. Then, either or both of these solutions can be run on SAP's managed private cloud platform, in the public cloud with AWS, Azure or Google Cloud, or a customer's own on-premise data centre.

It is important to note that SAP's HANA data store -- which was first release in 2010 -- is a fundamentally different architecture to your classic relational database. It runs in-memory, meaning data is stored in columns instead of rows, allowing for faster, near to real-time analytics and compute capabilities.

SAP has had trouble in the past getting across what HANA is, and why customers should shift their precious enterprise data to this new data store.

Speaking to Computerworld UK back in 2015, during the SAP Insider tour in Nice, SAP's cross platform product marketing vice president Matthias Haendly admitted that "there is confusion over HANA, and we can always do more to explain what exactly each one can do for you."

Then at the UK and Ireland SAP User Group conference in 2016 the then chairman Philip Adams admitted that 12 percent of the user group had never heard of S/4HANA. "That confused me and I am sure that has created a certain amount of head scratching amongst SAP marketing teams," he said at the time.

Now, according to SAP's July 2017 Q2 results, adoption of S4/HANA was up 70 percent year-on-year for customer numbers, standing at more than 6,000 and including big names like Google and energy giant Centrica.


SAP Cloud Platform

SAP customers can deploy HANA and S/4HANA in their own data centre, but SAP has been clear about the fact that they would rather customers run it on the SAP Cloud Platform.

Co-founder and chairman of the SAP advisory board Dr Hasso Plattner has admitted that "in the cloud is our version to aim for" when it comes to getting customers onto S/4HANA.


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