When SAP launched its high-performing SAP HANA in-memory database and platform in 2011, the move marked a major shift in the company’s product strategy. SAP had not previously offered its own database. Its products were database agnostic, but that was all changing. Today, SAP fields both SAP HANA and S/4HANA, which is SAP’s next-generation business suite for ERP and more. As its name implies, S/4HANA runs on SAP HANA—and only on SAP HANA. It does not support Microsoft SQL Server, IBM DB2 and so forth. In early 2025, SAP will stop supporting all business applications other than S/4HANA. This looming deadline presents two migration challenges. A company must adopt SAP HANA as its database and migrate from ECC to S/4HANA. This double migration can be a bit daunting. However, an intermediate move is available. It is possible to run ECC on top of the SAP HANA database. This is often referred to as “Suite on HANA” or just “SoH.” There are some pros and cons to this approach, which we will now discuss when looking at SAP Business Suite on HANA vs S/4HANA.
What are the Differences Between SAP ECC, SAP HANA and S/4HANA?
To understand how SAP ECC, SAP HANA and S/4HANA differ, it’s important to know that SAP HANA is actually more than just a database. It’s the backend that runs the SAP landscape. That said, SAP HANA doesn’t execute business transactions. That requires SAP applications that run on top of HANA, e.g. finance, HR and logistics.
- SAP ECC is an enterprise suite that comprises ERP modules like logistics, warehousing, finance and human resources. ECC overlaps with SAP R/3 and SAP ERP. This can cause some confusion. To clarify, ECC evolved from SAP R/3, which was first released in the early 1990s. In 2003, the application became known as “SAP ERP.” By 2004 on, the term “SAP ECC” was used more or less interchangeably with “SAP ERP.” To keep the discussion on track, we’ll refer to any of these applications as “SAP ECC.”
- SAP HANA is the backend that runs the SAP landscape. Its central feature is an innovative, column-based Relational Database Management System (RDBMS), which is used to store, retrieve and process data on core business activities. SAP HANA itself doesn’t determine what sorts of tasks a business does — it can accommodate any type of data. Businesses install applications that run on top of HANA, such as SAP applications for finance, HR and logistics. As such, companies have to make choices about what software best meets their current needs.
- SAP S/4HANA is SAP’s next-generation business suite, designed specifically to work with SAP HANA. S/4HANA is an ongoing project, with SAP now reworking the code behind the SAP ECC modules and optimizing them for the way the HANA database is set up. To date, SAP has reworked the finance module and improved logistics as part of the core S/4HANA features. In other areas, work has yet to be done to make the business benefits of SAP Business Suite on HANA vs S/4HANA more significant.
SAP S/4HANA’s Advantages Over ECC
User feedback has been positive for SAP S/4HANA, with many impressed by the application’s simplifications to the data model, user experience, decision making, business processes and models. S/4HANA brings much-needed innovations for IoT, “big data” analytics, mobility and more. S/4HANA also uses the modern Fiori User Experience (UX). Fiori UX offers users a more intuitive and efficient UX compared to the older SAP GUI. Other advantages include:
- Financial management and accounting—SAP S/4HANA Finance covers the full range of finance tasks, which span planning, analysis, accounting, compliance and risk management. ECC does not offer all of this functionality in one application, making it less efficient. According to SAP Chairman, Hasso Plattner, the S/4HANA finance app can shrink data more than 10 fold, from 593 GB to 42 GB, “with only 8.4 GB being dynamic, current-year data requiring high availability and backups.”
- Rapid data modeling—Because SAP S/4HANA does away with the supporting data, it can also do away with the rigid structures. You can rapidly build models, predicting the effects of business decisions such as divestment or acquisition. This flexibility allows predictive modeling, real-time cost and revenue analysis and cash flow optimization.
- Compliance and monitoring financials—By centralizing data and eliminating redundant information, S/4HANA makes it easier to stay compliant and monitor financials. Organizations aren’t forced to wait until the next close to get an in-depth look at financial KPIs. They can analyze data in real time over any range and at the desired depth – which provides better insight into the health of the company. SAP S/4HANA Finance also allows companies to automate risk, compliance, international trade and other activities. By proactively minimizing risk and compliance violations, the software makes it easier to optimize business operations, protect assets, and improve financial performance. S/4HANA also provides real-time fraud detection. It can even predict and block future fraudulent behavior.
- Supply Chain— S/4HANA provides compelling advantages over ECC in a range of logistics uses, including sales and procurement, inventory management and capacity planning. SAP S/4HANA allows real-time tracking of current inventory, transportation of goods, production costs and other data. Accounting instantly reflects costs and profits which provides better visibility into the company’s current finances.
- Logistics—S/4HANA logistics can synchronize with mobile devices in individual trucks, automating invoicing and route planning, and posting problems such as missing goods. It also analyzes the flow of goods to reduce bottlenecks and help materials planners minimize inventory levels.
What Is Business Suite on HANA?
Suite on HANA is more than just using the SAP HANA database to support ECC. SoH puts ECC on the sophisticated SAP HANA back end platform. As a result, you get the performance boost of SAP HANA without restructuring the application layer. Users don’t have to adapt to a new system. Business Suite performs faster on SAP HANA because it’s working inside the memory component. The ECC functionality is the same as you would get on another database and hard disk drive data storage. Most of the SAP transaction codes are available in SoH. However, there is no data simplification. At the same time, access to the HANA live studio lets you report in real time. SoH also features amended transactions that deliver increased performance.
Suite on HANA Data Structure and Architecture
Suite on HANA Migration
SAP will continue to support and update Suite on HANA, giving you the freedom to plan your SAP HANA migration and S/4 upgrade in a way that makes sense. Good planning can maximize strategic benefits, while minimizing disruptions. The roadmap to Suite on HANA is pretty simple. You need to upgrade to ECC6 Enhancement Pack 7 and then perform a database migration from your current database to HANA. This is generally a technical exercise and achieved seamlessly with a strong technical partner.
ECC users may migrate to SAP HANA Business Suite first, or upgrade directly to S/4HANA. The databases and tables will have to be converted into the columnar structure of SAP HANA, with unneeded indices and aggregate tables removed. Additionally, applications designed or modified by the customer must be evaluated. In some cases, new HANA functionality may render them unnecessary, while in other cases, they need to be adjusted to work properly with the new backend.
Installing either SAP Business Suite on HANA vs S/4HANA requires adjustment at the backend. SAP HANA is able to support all ECC functionality, but the different structure of the database necessitates good SAP Basis support, plenty of testing and backups, and potentially some post go-live tweaking to ensure everything is working properly.
If your company has custom applications, legacy servers or multiple environments, it can further complicate things. An SAP partner with extensive SAP HANA migration experience can help you plan the best way to adapt complex or custom ERP environments to HANA. In many cases, HANA functionality can remove the need to use custom code.
In any case, organizations will need to upgrade NetWeaver, adjust and tweak the new applications, and provide some additional training using S/4HANA applications and updates. Companies may also benefit from optimizing their ERP landscape (for example, by merging multiple SAP HANA Business Suite systems or migrating legacy systems to HANA), which adds extra complexity to the project.
Sizing the Environment with Expertise
It’s important to note that not appropriately sizing the hardware prior to your migration will lead to poor response times and generally poor system performance. The SAP Quick Sizer tool is a good starting point; yet, one must still interpret the results from the Quick Sizer and make additional calculations to truly lock down the correct hardware configuration.
At Symmetry, we have years of expertise in right-sizing the landscape. We can evaluate the SAP ecosystem among companies of all sizes and within all industries for the following elements:
- KPIs for peak and average loads
- Disk requirements
- Usage information for application deployments
- And many other KPIs, including those for database startup times, input/output performance, data throughput and storage system latency
Making the Choice
Every business is unique, so the path to S/4HANA depends on your specific needs. For many SAP ECC users, they prefer to start with SAP Business Suite and move to S/4HANA at a later date. SoH provides many key benefits of S/4HANA, and is simpler, less expensive and less disruptive. Highly dynamic companies may want the advantages of S/4HANA enough to do the full S/4HANA upgrade all at once.
For companies upgrading from a legacy or non-SAP system, we recommend going straight to SAP S/4HANA. They’ll be building and migrating to a completely new system anyway, so there’s no benefits to moving to SAP Business Suite on HANA. For companies with a complex blend of SAP ECC and other ERP environments, however, the choice can be more complex, and a multi-phase project may make the most sense. This is a common migration plan for those who require production applications support during a migration. It’s cost effective while also supporting the use cases and functions most crucial to business performance.
Your company’s attitude toward cloud and IT infrastructure upgrades is also a factor. If your organization is reluctant to take on big IT projects, migrating straight from SAP ECC to S/4HANA may make the most sense. In spite of the added complexity, at least you’re done in one fell swoop.
Getting the Most Out of S/4HANA
When it comes to migrating to ERP on HANA, the right business partner can make all the difference. From choosing between SAP Business Suite on HANA vs S/4HANA, to planning and executing your SAP HANA migration to tweaking and running your SAP HANA cloud post go-live, we can maximize the benefits of your SAP investment, while minimizing costs and disruptions. Contact us to learn more about how we can help today.