SAP HANA, Oracle 12c in-memory, IBM DB2 BLU – a comparison

John Appleby

Posted by John Appleby on

Global Head Of DDM/HANA COEs

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Oracle finally released their in-memory cache for the Oracle 12c database this week. With it, has already come a good quantity of anti-SAP HANA marketing, with the usual jousting that you would expect between enterprise software vendors. They released a comparison sheet between Oracle and SAP HANA, which is the usual mix of propaganda/marketing.

This is compounded because SAP has reseller agreements with Oracle and IBM, so they have to be very careful how they position SAP HANA’s capabilities. I don’t work for SAP, so I don’t have to be careful. Furthermore, I didn’t like the Oracle comparison because it’s very database-centric, and businesses are application and process-centric. Here’s an alternative view on the world.




Oracle 12c

Database in-memory



SAP Business Suite Optimized for SAP HANA – 50% faster on average in response times. Not supported No support for BLU acceleration
SAP “S” Suite Simplified Financials with SAP HANA – 50% less footprint including no totals or separate ledgers. Remainder of SAP Business Suite to follow. Not supported Not supported
Fiori Full support for free Fiori business applications including fact sheets and search No fact sheet support; search possible with HANA sidecar database No fact sheet support; search possible with HANA sidecar database
SAP HANA Live Optimized for SAP HANA, providing real-time operational reports for the Business Suite via virtual data models – no EDW required. Supported with a SAP HANA sidecar database Supported with a SAP HANA sidecar database
SAP BW (basic) Full support including full data model acceleration for all business areas including Inventory, complex calculation pushdown (exception aggregation), data load acceleration. Not supported Support for column tables for PSA, DSO, InfoCube, InfoObjects.
SAP BW (advanced) BW 7.4 is HANA-optimized including simplified LSA++ model, industry solutions e.g. Retail Point of Sale. Support for HybridProviders, CompositeProviders, integration with HANA Information Views. Not supported No advanced features
SAP BW Virtual Modeling Complete virtual modeling capability in BW. Not supported Not supported
SAP BPC Support for BPC 10.1 Unified Model (based on HANA PAK). Support only for BPC 10.1 Classic Model Support only for BPC 10.1 Classic Model
Code Acceleration Substantial pushdown into the database for complex procedures using AMDP Not supported Not supported
Data Virtualization Support for Smart Data Access data virtualization for Archiving/NLS Not supported Not supported
Lumira Server Support for the Lumira Server analytics platform Not supported Not supported
In-Memory Platform HANA is an end-end cloud and on-premise platform with support for database, modeling, graph, predictive, spatial, text, search, integration and application services. Many separate components required for similar functionality Many separate components required for similar functionality

Comparison Notes

Note that this is a comparison which is deliberately SAP application-centric. What’s important to note is that “not supported” also means in many cases “not possible”, in my opinion. For example, the “S” Suite of Simplified Applications is only possible because it’s possible to calculate totals and ledgers on the fly. The design of Oracle and IBM’s solutions mean that this simply isn’t possible.

In the projects I’m working on, we find that the sheer number crunching capability of HANA means that we can solve problems we couldn’t solve in DB2 or Oracle. For instance, we put together a real-time management dashboard for one company; this was based on 34 separate complex questions that displayed in one dashboard. Using the HANA platform, we could get an end-end page load on an iPad in under 3 seconds based on real-time data. There’s no way that this could have been built on DB2 or Oracle – it took 30-40 seconds and that’s not an acceptable response time for a mobile app.

The other thing that is worth noting is SAP’s development direction. I recently spoke to a friend at SAP that put it nicely: “We spent the last 10 years optimizing our products for Oracle and IBM. Now we are spending some time optimizing for our database”. Some customers have commented to me that they feel that SAP is investing overly heavily in R&D for HANA, at the expense of other databases, but I don’t believe that is a fair assessment: HANA enables capabilities that other databases do not, and SAP is writing software to take advantage of these capabilities. If other databases could do the same things then SAP would enable them (and the software has in most cases been written to take this into account), but they can’t do the things that HANA can do.

Oracle attacks HANA specifically on the topic of enterprise-readiness, but that’s not what we see in the field. In fact HANA is so much easier to configure for High Availability that almost all of my customers use HA/DR scenarios. By contrast, I have almost never come across Oracle RAC, because it’s notoriously difficult to set up. And in a recent customer, we had zero issues during user testing on a complex deployment. Not just zero open issues at the end of testing – not a single issue during user testing.

Some customers suggest that Oracle and IBM will catch up – but the reverse seems to be true so far. When I last looked at HANA and DB2 a year ago, SAP were around 2 years of development ahead of IBM, but that seems to have increased in the last year – HANA has become much more mature, and IBM haven’t made any changes since the release of DB2 10.5. We don’t see any SAP on BLU deployments at all or any live customer stories.

IBM DB2 BLU 10.5 FP4 “Cancun”

It’s worth a quick note on the Cancun release of BLU. For SAP BW, this brings improved capabilities and allows the major BW table types to be column oriented. Data load benefits are around 1.25x faster, vs 3-10x faster on HANA and data simplification isn’t possible. However for those customers who view BW as a legacy investment and haven’t updated it, BLU might be a way to squeeze some more life.

It also brings a concept called “shadow tables” which keeps a synchronized copy of row- and column-oriented tables. These aren’t supported yet in any SAP solution but might be used in the future for real-time analytics on SAP ERP. However, there’s no roadmap for this and shadow tables will not work with the sERP or HANA Live, so it’s unclear how these will function.

IBM didn’t lift the major limitations in BLU – Unicode only, no DPF/PureScale, AIX/Linux x86 only.

Final Words

This comparison will no doubt be controversial, but it’s what we see in the field. I’d welcome feedback, or additional scenarios that aren’t in this list. But my conclusion is that the next generation of SAP applications – Simplified Business Suite, Fiori, BW, BPC – only run with a full feature set on the SAP HANA platform.

If you view your SAP investment as a legacy investment which you intend to sunset, DB2 BLU or Oracle in-Memory are ways to gain some additional mileage out of your existing investment, but if you view SAP as a strategic asset, you should look at your HANA roadmap.

Disclosure: I don’t work for SAP and received no compensation for this piece, but I have consulted in the past with SAP on various areas of SAP HANA. Bluefin is a Microsoft, Oracle and SAP Services Partner.

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