Back to the Basics: What is SAP HANA?

Back to the Basics: What is SAP HANA?

Written by: Fernando Ibarra Avila

In this blog series we plan on describing some of the technology that we, at Comerit, work on. While we usually work with the IT departments of our clients, we sometimes must discuss the tools and process flows to clients without a technical background. Whether you are business person trying to better understand what your IT department is saying, or an IT professional just starting out with SAP, the goal of this blog series is to give some clarity to the world of SAP technology. In this post, we’ll be exploring SAP HANA.



Do a quick Google search on SAP HANA and you will be taken to the SAP Product webpage dedicated to SAP HANA. The description reads:


“SAP HANA is an in-memory data platform that lets you accelerate business process, deliver more business intelligence, and simplify your IT environment.”


That all sounds great, but, under all those marketing terms, what does that actually mean? The key phrase to keep in mind is that SAP HANA is an in-memory data platform. To put it in non-technical terms, think of a platform as a foundation.

At its core, SAP HANA is a database. In fact, there are many companies that we work with that utilize HANA solely as that. The goal of a database is to keep and store data. Depending on the application that is attached to a database and the database itself, the database can either be write-optimized or read-optimized. Write- and read-optimized are terms used within IT to determine if a database is optimized to read data (query database tables to perform analysis) or write data (enter transactions into a database tables). To better understand HANA, here is quick history lesson:


Comparison timeline of SAP HANA database in the 1990s and SAP HANA database currently


In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, many IT departments had to make the distinction within legacy systems. Legacy environments could either be write-optimized or read-optimized knowing that higher performance on one would mean lower performance on the other. This is where the concept of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Enterprise Data Warehousing (EDW) came in. ERP was optimized to write to a database while EDW was optimized to read and perform analytics from a database. That means that most business ran on two different systems to perform two different tasks. The write-optimized environment was used to enter transactions; the read-optimized environment was utilized to create reports and perform analysis.

So, what does that mean for SAP HANA? Over time, technology and processing power became more readily available. On top of that, new data handling concepts were being created and implemented. This, in turn, enabled appliances that utilized column-oriented, in-memory computing. Now, there are whole Computer Science courses on those two concepts, but for our purposes, here is a quick summary: these appliances provide for faster data access, which in turn means faster processing and querying. That means that ERP environments and EDW environments could all be in a single system! Not only are they in a single system, but processing is also extremely quick.


To see this in action, here’s a short demo that utilizes SAP HANA as it reads more than a billion rows:


It is important to note that this is looking at SAP HANA from a database perspective. What makes HANA a platform is that it has a vast array of other capabilities that are not normally attributed to a database. The best example of one such feature is the availability of SAP Extended Application Services Advanced (XSA). Essentially, XSA is an application platform that also lives within the SAP HANA system. In former application developments, there have typically been two layers: the application layer and the database layer. Each layer would require its own separate server and would require communication through some networking mechanism. Because XSA lives within the HANA system, it has access to all the data within the HANA system, minimizing network latency. This is a brief summary of XSA, but it is just one of the many capabilities provided by HANA.

The overall goal at SAP is to utilize SAP HANA as a platform for a company’s IT department. This would enable simplification and overall faster access to data. I hope this short blog has provided a good starting point for anyone trying to start out in the world of SAP HANA!

If you want to learn more about utilizing SAP HANA within your organization, check out our SAP HANA Readiness Workshop>>


Comerit_Fernando Avila_SAP Business Intelligence expert_SAP BI expert

About the Author 

Fernando Ibarra Avila is a senior SAP BI Associate who focuses on developing and managing SAP applications. His areas of expertise include SAP HANA modeling, SAP Lumira, SAP BI/BW Reporting, BI Dashboards and modeling, Web Intelligence, and SAP BusinessObjects. Comerit has been lucky to have Fernando as a member of our Charlotte, North Carolina team since 2014.