SAP HANA and the Internet of Things - The Perfect Match

Thursday, 6 Apr, 2017   /   Andrew Peterson

This is the first in a series of posts in which I'll be discussing why SAP HANA is an ideal choice for the core technology platform of an internet of things (IoT) solution, no matter how large or small the IoT business opportunity may be.

And to kick the series off, I thought it would be helpful to provide a quick overview of what the IoT and SAP HANA are, and in doing so, maybe dispel some misconceptions and provide some additional clarification regarding how these two important technologies can help generate substantive business value.


The Internet of Things – a hyped-up name for nothing new?

At the simplest level, the IoT is nothing more than machines communicating with other machines across a network (in this case the internet). There is nothing really new about this – industrial automation systems have been doing it very successfully for decades. These automation systems include SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition), PLC (Programmable Logic Controller), and DCS (Distributed Control System) systems and they typically utilised some form of proprietary networking protocol to facilitate communication among machines, sensors, and control devices. However, these early proprietary networks were one of the principal limitations of these systems because it made it difficult to build automation systems that spanned more than one type of network or system manufacturer. Nevertheless, it's worth keeping mind that the technology had to start somewhere, and back in "those" days, the internet didn't even exist.

Roll everything forward to today and we now have the IoT, but nothing has really changed in the sense that the IoT is still fundamentally all about machines communicating with other machines across a network. What has changed is the standardisation and commoditisation of the hardware, software, and importantly, the networking protocol and infrastructure which now enable us to build networks of connected machines, or "things", far more cheaply and easily than ever before.

The first big step towards the IoT was the universal adoption of the Internet Protocol (IP) for communication between computers and the global spread of wired and wireless IP networks. The next big step was commoditisation and this has led to a bewildering array of different types of sensors, devices, actuators, controllers, and other types of machines and equipment, all of which can be connected directly to the internet. Perhaps the most important outcome of these two global-scale innovations is that the opportunity to create business and social value from the IoT is really only limited by our imagination.

Another aspect of the IoT that has been receiving a lot of attention over the last few years is data, or rather, the potential for the IoT to generate truly massive amounts of data. While it's true that data lies at the fundamental core of any IoT application, the simple collection and storage of those data is unlikely to generate any value by itself. The real value of the IoT comes from the clever use of data to achieve specific business or social objectives, and this is where SAP HANA is important.


SAP HANA – a complete platform for IoT applications

To begin to understand what SAP HANA is, we should start with its name. HANA is an acronym for "High performance ANalytic Appliance", and as the name implies, an original design goal for SAP was to create a truly high performance system for data analytics. The core of this system is the in-memory column-store database that HANA is now well known for, but a system for high performance analytics requires much more than just an extremely fast and robust database. It also requires all the software components necessary to manage a broad range of database services, data integration services, advanced analytics services, and the application services needed to create a complete business solution. A simple way to summarise the core functionality of SAP HANA is with the figure below (courtesy of SAP):

SAP HANA Platform diagram

Since the initial release of HANA just a few years ago, SAP has actively developed HANA as the core technology for their enterprise-scale business solutions. Today, HANA provides all the functionality required for both transactional and analytic business solutions in a single, fully integrated, scalable, high performance platform that's available on premise or in the cloud. But this is only part of the reason why HANA is ideal as the core platform for an IoT solution.


Integrating SAP HANA with the IoT

SAP is investing heavily in developing technologies and products that have a single purpose – to make it even easier and more cost effective to not just connect HANA directly to networks of sensors and devices (no matter how large or small those networks may be), but also to manage those devices remotely and to stream massive amounts of data directly into HANA and/or the Hadoop distributed storage system.

These IoT-focussed products include:

  • SAP Smart Data Streaming – manage and analyse diverse, high volume and high velocity data streams in real time with sub-millisecond processing for mission-critical systems.
  • SAP SQL Anywhere – capture and store data locally on connected devices and exchange diverse data using highly scalable, session-based synchronization technology.
  • SAP Event Stream Processor – capture machine data at the source with a stand-alone, complex event processing engine.
  • Apache Integration – directly access the Hadoop distributed file system and the MapReduce programming model with user-defined functions in SAP HANA.
  • SAP Remote Device Management Service – manage the full device lifecycle from onboarding to decommissioning, build device and data models, receive device information, remotely configure devices, and send commands to control device behaviour.
  • SAP Message Management Service – collect and store sensor data and manage messaging activities with support for various transport protocols and message formats.
  • SAP Application Enablement Service – use functions supporting remote device management and message management in IoT applications through application programming interfaces (APIs).

The IoT functionality noted above, along with HANA's core-platform functionality discussed earlier, is still only part of what makes SAP HANA the perfect platform for a complete IoT solution. In future posts we'll explore in more detail these and other features of HANA that make it the ideal, high-performance IoT platform. For now though, many of these features can be summarised with the high-level diagram shown below.

Diagram of Features