The system was built on Dell hardware, and the university is using the vendor's services. Dell has developed student retention data models for the school, and has made them part of their services offerings.
Burk Buechler, portfolio director for Dell application services, said the company built the university system in two phases. It first got HANA deployed and connected to key data points, then built analytical dashboards.
Underlying the broader use of HANA is whether to use x86 systems or so-called engineered systems, which include IBM's recently announced PureSystems approach.
Engineered systems offer performance gains, meaning faster time to realize value and "less cumbersome" management, said Alys Woodward, a research director at IDC. On the other hand, "software on commodity hardware reduces vendor lock-in and enables the use of cheaper components," said Woodward.
How SAP HANA "will play in the broader marketplace -- outside SAP's core install base -- against Oracle Exadata and IBM engineered systems, depends to some extent on how these two opposing concepts will play out," said Woodward. IBM's recently announced PureSystems fits into the engineered system category.
Boris Evelson, an analyst at Forrester, said that whether HANA is the right approach depends on how it is being used. HANA is much more applicable to those cases where business requirements change all the time. That means the queries change frequently as well. HANA is less applicable to stable, status quo environments, he said.
It's also important to recognize whether HANA is solving problems that could be solved in some other way. Typical BI challenges include things like poor data quality, which are problems HANA will not solve, said Evelson.
HANA is also expensive, said Evelson, but it can deliver "solid ROI" if it is being used for the right reasons. It can compress data more efficiently in memory, and users can save time and money by not having to constantly tune and retune queries, he said.
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is email@example.com.