SAP HANA: What It Is and Why You Should Run It on AWS

When considering Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, there is one company that truly stands out: SAP. Founded by ex-IBM engineers in 1972, SAP has, for a while now, been a market leader in producing software to help companies manage their logistics, human resources, financials, and more. The inventory of SAP products has grown quite large over the years as the company has continued to develop (and acquire) new technologies. One product in particular, SAP HANA, has generated a huge buzz. In this article, we will take a look at what SAP HANA actually is, as well as why you might want to consider running SAP HANA on AWS instead of on-premises.

What is SAP HANA?

SAP HANA is a relational database platform optimized for analytical (OLAP) and transactional (OLTP) processing, with support for various enterprise-based applications like ERP, BI, and others. It is ACID (Atomicity, Consistency, Isolation, Durability) compliant, which guarantees validity of the data. Also, it is an in-memory database, unlike other databases that are disk-optimized.

The Technology Behind SAP HANA

By residing in-memory, SAP HANA doesn’t rely on the slow speed of the hard drive, as data doesn’t need to be read from the disk before being loaded into the memory. This allows for much better overall performance. Also, SAP HANA organizes data in columns, rather than in rows (which are commonly used in traditional relational database management systems). Since most queries usually only look for a certain sets of columns, this helps avoid the need to load a huge set of data to provide a specific answer, leading to significant increases in speed of access.

With these capabilities, SAP HANA offers much needed advanced features, like predictive analysis (using historical data, statistical algorithms, and machine learning to predict future outcomes), real-time analytics, and integrated data mining (recognizing and organizing patterns when working with large amounts of information). In addition, SAP HANA actually combines OLAP and OLTP into a single structure, reducing the database footprint while removing in-memory duplication. Still, using memory for such a huge amount of information does have some disadvantages—specifically, very costly hardware requirements.

SAP HANA: The Physical Appliance

SAP HANA is available as a physical appliance (a hardware you can buy), as well as for use in a public cloud like AWS. If you want to use it as an appliance on-premises, SAP provides support for certified SAP HANA hardware. The company works closely with manufacturers to create hardware that meets the requirements of the high-performing HANA environment. These requirements include, for example, memory chips for the compute nodes that provide maximum bandwidth, are homogeneous, and are spread across all CPUs symmetrically. Some of the certified vendors producing hardware for the SAP HANA appliance include Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Fujitsu, and Cisco.

Unfortunately, this specialized hardware comes with a steep price. Between the appliance itself, necessary architecting and administration, and potential hardware upgrades, the total cost of ownership of the SAP HANA appliance simply might be too high. So let’s look at the alternative: using SAP HANA on AWS.

Running SAP HANA On AWS

Running SAP HANA on AWS, rather than on-premises, will greatly simplify the process of managing your application. Firstly, on AWS, you only have to manage your SAP application, while the physical infrastructure underneath is owned and managed by AWS. Sure, managing SAP HANA on AWS is still not easy, and will require experienced (and possibly certified) experts that don’t come cheap, but offloading the hardware maintenance to your cloud provider will save you both time and money.

Also, on AWS, you only pay for what you actually use. This means that instead of paying huge upfront costs for the SAP HANA appliance, you can rent the hardware and pay for it per hour. You can even rent the SAP HANA license per hour, instead of buying it. If you do own the license already, BYOL (bring-your-own-license) is also an option.

On top of that, using AWS allows you to provision your SAP HANA infrastructure quickly (we’re talking minutes or hours, instead of days or weeks). You can also scale out your environment as your needs grow, and can even achieve higher levels of availability by relying on multiple Availability Zones and SAP HANA System Replication.

What Instance Types Can Be Used?

You can use various Amazon EC2 instance types to run SAP HANA on AWS. Since the service is so memory-intensive, it’s best to use instances from the memory-optimized family (although using a powerful C4 compute type, or even a CC2 cluster type, is certainly viable up to a point). The most common options range from the weaker r4.2xlarge (8 CPUs and 60 GiB of memory) to the r4.16xlarge (64 CPUs and 488 GiB of memory). For even more power, you can try the x1.32xlarge (128 CPUs and 1,952 GiB of memory). And if that’s still not enough, Amazon released the Amazon EC2 X1e instance family last year, which can go as high as 128 CPUs, along with the stunning 3,904 GiB of memory. This option also has the lowest price per GiB of RAM and was designed with SAP HANA in mind.

What Are Your Pricing Options?

Companies of various sizes and needs can run SAP HANA in the cloud. Let’s look at some of the pricing options currently offered. For a full guide, click here.

SAP HANA Bring-Your-Own-License

If you already own an SAP HANA license, the BYOL model is probably the best option, as you only need to pay for the provisioned on-demand infrastructure on AWS. This offering supports both production and non-production use cases. You can scale up (if using a single-node SAP HANA setup) to 4TB of memory, or scale out (for multi-node configuration) all the way to 50TB when relying on the x1.32xlarge instance.

For the BYOL model pricing, most of the HANA scenarios are available, including:

  • Native SAP HANA applications;
  • Data marts/analytics/big data;
  • SAP S/4HANA;
  • SAP BW/4HANA;
  • SAP Business Suite (“Suite on HANA”);
  • SAP BW and SAP BPC on HANA;
  • SAP Business One HANA.

SAP HANA One

This option provides a production-ready (although it works for non-production environments too), single-tenant, on-demand SAP HANA system with a per-hour, on-demand license. It is sold via AWS Marketplace, and has fewer options when it comes to SAP HANA scenarios, as it supports only native HANA applications and data marts/analytics/big data. Its memory options are also more limited, available in 60, 122 and 244GB sizes only.

SAP HANA, express edition

This is a streamlined version of SAP HANA, and can be run on laptops and other hosts which don’t have many resources available. This edition is free, but only supports in-memory databases with up to 32GB of memory. It is used for non-production environments only. Of course, you will still pay for the underlying infrastructure on AWS that you are using.

SAP HANA Trial Systems

If you want to test SAP HANA on AWS, this offering provides a free trial license. Just keep in mind that like SAP HANA, express edition, you will have to pay for the infrastructure being used on AWS.

SAP HANA Certification

Whether you want to learn about a new technology or become recognized in your area of expertise, certification is a great way to show technical capability and gain confidence. Today, SAP products are in high demand, and certifications are a smart way to enter the field—whether you are an SAP customer interested in broadening your skills or looking to start a career as an SAP consultant. For SAP HANA, various certifications are offered, including the Certified Application Associate or Certified Technology Associate. Training for these exams is usually done by taking an official course, but there are also third-party courses provided by websites like Udemy.

Summary

SAP HANA is a promising product, offering a high-performance database (thanks to its in-memory and column-oriented design), as well as the advanced analytic capabilities necessary for today’s business enterprises. Of course, high performance comes with high costs, and the one issue with SAP HANA is exactly that—expensive hardware and maintenance that you may not be able to afford. Understanding this, SAP has partnered with Amazon to offer SAP HANA in the cloud, making it accessible to everyone. Now you can use SAP HANA for your production environment by paying only for what you use, and you can also run your dev/test workloads with a free license (paying only for the underlying infrastructure on AWS). So, whether you are a small startup or a large enterprise, running SAP Hana on AWS certainly seems like a smart option.

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