Monday, October 21, 2013

SAP, Software, and Amplifying Human Potential: Some Thoughts on the eve of TechEd

4 years ago today, I learnt of the death of my dear friend Ranjan Das.  He passed away unexpectedly, far too young.  As I was looking back on the last 4 years, and looking ahead to our TechEd conference that begins in Las Vegas today, I was stunned to realize the obvious: how time flies by so quickly, and how the things we cherish are the things that are timeless, in that these are the activities that last the test of time, and also the activities that so engross us that one loses track of time in.  Both happen to not be about the superficial things in life, but about things that touch us and that matter to us in a deeply personal way.

Around this time 4 years ago I started the HANA project.  We had worked on it for years already (I'd started the in-memory db work in 2002, and came up with the name HANA in 2006), but it wasn't until the fall of 2009 that we finally convinced SAP's management that HANA needed to be built and the time was now, and we started the HANA development project in October.  The day I learnt of Ranjan's death, I was in Walldorf, and this was the day Franz, the core HANA leadership and I sat together and decided that HANA would run under existing applications, both ByDesign and also the Suite, in addition to serving analytics, and all kinds of new applications.  That it would carry the load of the new and the old.  Both, simultaneously.  I felt that this was our burden to help renew SAP, a challenge Hasso had laid out to me earlier in the year.  I remember walking to my flight that evening, at Frankfurt airport, telling Hasso on the phone that this is what we decided, and he was very happy about it.

Ever since those early, heady, days, it has been a hell of a journey.  We built HANA in record time, and released it to customers on Dec 1, 2010.  She went GA on June 20, 2011.  Ever since she's been nothing short of a revolution.  We recently crossed a billion dollars in HANA revenue, by far, by a wide wide margin the fastest growing product we've ever seen in SAP, quite likely also in the industry.  This success is a result of HANA's technological capabilities, and the breakthrough benefits these result in.  Much has been written about this, by me and many others ( has plenty of background).  HANA, at its heart, represents a rethinking of the relational database, a reinvention of it, to reflect both,
(a) the new hardware reality of super-affordable x86 based machines that combine very powerful multi-core processors with the super-fast access to data in large memories that are now available in DRAM, and
(b) the new ideas in in-memory structures, especially the column store, the newly designed highly parallel structures and operators, and tons of new ideas in database technology.
And this combination enables us to bring value to the enterprise in totally new ways.  I wrote a paper at the ICDE conference this year, articulating a new way to represent this value, in scenarios that bring together data volume, speed and complexity in unprecedented ways.  HANA's value also enables us to rethink the application reality in the layer above HANA, both by simplifying and accelerating the existing applications, by refactoring these, as well as building totally new applications.  Many that were often not possible before.

And so all the database world seems to have woken up to this new reality.  IBM's Blu, MSFT's recently announced Hekaton and Oracle's recently announced 12c in-memory among others.  And yet when I look at the public material on these, it seems clear that they could have done much better, they could have done so much more.  The main point of HANA is a single columnar store, where the transactions go into memory, and are available instantly and as-is for analytics, even deep complex questions, due to the power of massive parallelism, and this point seems to have been fundamentally missed by these approaches.

But while the competition misses the point, we have taken the ball fwd, and taken major steps to make HANA our platform for enterprise applications.  We have added all kinds of interesting capabilities into HANA, from various application libraries for statistics, planning and business functions, to middleware and integration capabilities, to now even a complete set of application serving capabilities, so we can run and deliver entire applications directly from HANA (and, of course, if a developer wants to build apps in their favorite platform and simply integrate with HANA, they have total freedom in doing so).  So on the basis of these capabilities, we have been moving every single SAP product to HANA.  From the Business SUite to B1, from ByDesign to Business Objects, from Success Factors and Ariba to Sales OnDemand and Hybris.  Every one.

But as we look at this platform, and the capabilities that it affords us, and take the broader view, there is a sense that it must be about more.  As Alan Kay always reminded me, the future cannot only be an increment of the past.  If all we did with this platform, was renew things we already knew, we'd have fundamentally missed the point.  It must be about more.  About enabling new capabilities, building new things, great new apps that help transform the world with real-time software.  Ones that are purposeful, ones that empower us and inspire us.

The last time Ranjan and I were together, we'd spent 6 hours in a flight from orlando to SFO, during which he kept bugging me; he must have asked me a 1000 times about what the next big thing was, and that conversation led us to the point where I told him I think it was the ability to build the truly next-generation amazing applications around design, and creation, enabling the acts of creativity by companies, to help them truly find their purpose.  And we'd talked about many companies in India (in particular Mahindra and Mahindra -- Anand had been a very big influence in Ranjan's life) and how they would benefit from going beyond outsourcing and consulting, towards truly creating innovation.

Today we are doing lots of these.  Abdul and his teams, Thomas Torf, Priya, Alan Southall, Ritika, Prasad and others, work with customers to find truly important, meaningful, purposeful areas for them, that need to be transformed with software, and help bring these to life.  From end-user clientelling and responsive supply chains for Burberry, to real-time signal detection for EBay's analysts, from predictive maintenance for John Deere's machines, to forecasting and optimizations for NongFu Spring, Mitsui and other companies in Asia, from better oil and energy exploration, to personalized management of energy by billions of consumers.  And our team in India, led by Gansu and his gang, are working with individual milk providers to see their revenues from their milk-production directly for the first time, without corrupt middle-layers in the system, thanks to the power of  their Aadhar identities and HANA.  And beyond SAP, today we crossed a great milestone.  More than 1000 startup companies are now building their products on HANA.  More than 35 already have products in the market, addressing all kinds of needs, in all kinds of areas.  It is an unbelievable example of bringing the power of technology to help enable the empowerment of end-users.  Great technologies, from the bicycle to Gutenberg's printer, from the surfboard to the internet, have always aspired to, and managed to achieve, the amplification of the human ability, our intellect, our senses, our purpose.

At this TechEd, I am hopeful that we can share with our ecosystem our roadmap and direction, not only for our Task A, our technology and platform, but about how it can help us find our greater purpose, help us build the great applications that empower us, that amplify our reach, and enable us to do more, and even more importantly, help us to continually learn, and adapt and evolve, as we continually get better at attaining our intents, our purposes.  Ranjan would have been really proud...

-- Vishal