Global CIO: The Software Revolution: Can SAP Light The Fuse? - InformationWeek

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1/30/2011
12:59 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: The Software Revolution: Can SAP Light The Fuse?

Three emerging technologies have sparked a new generation of incredibly fast enterprise apps with huge disruptive potential—and SAP plans to lead this revolution.

"Back in India, where I grew up, my dad was an officer in the Indian railway system, and he used to take me inside the locomotives to see how they worked: there was the fireman, sweating and pitch-dark from the coal and dust and noise, shoveling coal into the fire as fast as he could, and it was really almost painful to see. And next to him was the engineer, and he's trying to watch hundreds of dials and knobs and levers all at the same time to try to keep the train going 40 kilometers per hour.

"And a few years ago, my dad came to visit me in Germany and we took the ICE train from Cologne and that train had a top speed of 300 kilometers per hour. And I had arranged to be able to take my dad up front to see the driver, and we enter the front compartment and there the driver sat, smoking a cigarette and calmly talking to another driver without even looking at the instrument panel! And my dad said, 'My God—can you believe this!'

"But that mirrors the type of truly astonishing transformations we are beginning to see in the software industry—and within a very short time, we'll see not just one but thousands of advances of that same magnitude that my dad saw on that high-speed train in Germany."

With that deeply personal and profound analogy, SAP's Vishal Sikka, the company's executive board member overseeing technology and innovation, framed his perspective on how the important but relatively stodgy world of enterprise software is on the threshhold of a far-reaching transformation that will produce software solutions that run far faster and with more power than anything we've been able to imagine until now.

Based on SAP's experiences with 50 global customers that have been using its new in-memory-technology analytics appliance called Hana, Sikka said, SAP believes it can and should create totally new versions of its applications that incorporate Hana's underlying in-memory technology to accelerate performance by factors of tens, hundreds, or even thousands.

In a phone conversation late last week, Sikka said this new generation of applications would be not only faster but also simpler to write because of fewer moving parts, and also able to leverage opportunities in social and mobile expectations that are becoming ubiquitous in both the consumer and business worlds.

"With this technology, we have the ability to process data at unbelievable speeds, and so we chose as our first application real-time analytics with Hana," Sikka said.

"But perhaps even more important, we see the opportunity to completely rethink all of our applications on top of this new technology, and that means a lot of the applications that currently do the processing of that data become so much faster—and I mean thousands of times faster in Hana—which gives us the opportunity to completely refactor the apps themselves.

As an example, Sikka cited SAP's own internal use of a dunning application with its CRM system to remind customers that bills are due. The Hana appliance, he said, runs that SAP internal application 1,200 times faster than on standard hardware.

"In addition to the unbelievable speed of the application, you can now add new designs and user experiences that are now possible for taking full advantage of the mobile devices and social connections and networks people now have today," Sikka said.

"And this is very profound, for this reason":

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