Is HANA the Concorde of enterprise software?

by Davin Wilfrid

September 23, 2011

by Davin Wilfrid, insiderRESEARCH

The estimated costs of developing a supersonic airliner were so great that it took an international treaty between England and France to embark on the project. The treaty would eventually give rise to the aircraft’s name – the Concorde. Not only were the original development costs enormous, but British Airways and Air France needed government subsidies to purchase the airplanes – a fleet which at its height comprised only 20 active craft.

There was no denying the coolness of the technology. It was the first aircraft to employ hybrid circuits, electrically-controlled flying and braking systems, variable air intake systems, and a dropped nose section for landing visibility. The Concorde’s graceful delta-winged body was hurled forward by four Rolls-Royce/Olympus engines originally designed for the British Avro Vulcan bomber (thanks Wikipedia!).

It could get you from here to there fast. Really fast.

As a feat of aeronautics, the Concorde was a booming success. As a product, it was a flop. Taking the Concorde from Paris to New York reduced a passenger’s travel time from eight hours to three and a half (and gave them something to talk about at parties), but the economics eventually won out &md ash; not enough passengers were willing to pay high premiums for the novelty of supersonic travel. Without those extraordinary government subsidies, in fact, the Concorde would never have survived as long as it did (1976 – 2003).

I was reminded of the Concorde at TechEd in Las Vegas last week. I spent a lot of time talking with SAP customers and partners about HANA — SAP’s revolutionary database/encapsulating platform for all future SAP innovation. The buzz around HANA is palpable. Every Pod, lounge space, and classroom featuring HANA was packed to the gills. SAP CTO Vishal Sikka inspired gasps when bragging about a customer that had reduced the processing time for a key report from three days to less than two seconds.

HANA can get you from here to there fast. Insanely fast.

The advent of HANA-enabled applications promises extreme performance improvements that can open the door to real-time analytics of previously unimaginable quantities of data. Couple that with a boom in mobility solutions, and you're standing on the precipice of revolutionary changes to the enterprise business landscape. 

But the question is whether those dramatic improvements in performance will be enough to justify the costs for most SAP customers, or whether HANA is another Concorde — groundbreaking technology left to rust on the runway. Partners tell me licensing costs plus infrastructure investments (it takes a high end server to run a lightning-fast in-memory database) will put HANA out of the reach of most companies if they can’t present a lock-tight business case for what they’re going to do with all that power.

Sikka said as much himself in revealing interview with Courtney Bjorlin of ASUG News:

Sikka: In general, the improvement by the factor of 100 or more is always viewed as a good thing. But there are a lot of people who say, “I don’t really care if this thing runs in an hour or a second, this is not such a big deal.” The key is, and we are still behind on this and we need to do more work on this, to find the intersection of these dramatic improvements in performance, and [link that] back to the real-time effect and value—the multiplier of the performance benefit that is possible with HANA, times the value of that benefit.

SAP is trying to move the process along by developing pre-packaged HANA applications targeted at helping customers in different industries reap the results of intense performance improvements. The company also recently launched a new microsite at to help educate the ecosystem about the in-memory technology and the prospects for driving business value through HANA.

This is where the analogy to the Concorde ends. SAP understands that the success of HANA ultimately resides in the innovative spirit of its customers. HANA is not an airplane that can take you from Paris to New York in a hurry — it’s a business teleportation machine that can take you anywhere you want to go instantly. The next step is for innovation-minded companies to step on to the flight deck, chart their own course, and grab the throttle.

Seat backs and tray tables up, please. 


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Davin Wilfrid

9/25/2013 8:58:00 PM

Hi Timo,

Sorry for the late reply. I left a comment last week but I think the system ate it.

I think the digital photography analogy is a good one. Certainly it adds tremendous value to the consumer by eliminating complexity. But there was still a price-value tipping point that needed to be reached. The first digital camera I played with (in college -- owned by school) cost more than $10,000. The first one I bought (12 years later) cost $500.

To me, the question isn't whether SAP can deliver groundbreaking performance improvements and reduced complexity. The question is whether customers will be able to sell that to management as part of a real business case -- at least in the near term.

Thanks for commenting.


Timo Elliott

9/25/2013 8:58:00 PM


I completely agree -- but I think we're already much closer to the "$500 digital camera" than most people realize. The $12,000 version was akin to earlier iterations of in-memory like BW Accelerator, that have proved their worth...


Timo Elliott

9/25/2013 8:57:59 PM


First, I work for SAP. But I don't think Concorde is the right analogy. Concorde went faster by introducing more complexity.
Instead, HANA is digital photography: it's speeding things up by eliminating obsolete layers.
Taking photos used to be expensive, slow, and require experts for the processing. When I finally got a picture back, I would realize that it wasn't what I wanted -- just like too many of today's analytics.
Along came digital photography. Early critics griped about the resolution, lack of viewfinder, etc. but it very quickly left its older competitor in the dust, not just because it was "faster", but because it has revolutionized the convenience of taking pictures.
And instant feedback has lead us all to be better photographers. If we don't like a picture, it costs almost nothing to try again.
From a rapid start, digital cameras evolved even faster -- they have become extended and embedded in more complex systems (the apps and shareability of my iphone camera pictures more than make up for the lack of pixels compared to my Canon EOS).
More on analytics here: (and some of my photos here!

Regards, Timo

Vitaliy Rudnytskiy

9/25/2013 8:57:59 PM

SAP HANA is ... Chuck Norris of Enterprise Software:

Have a good weekend :)