Deciphering the World of SAP S/4HANA

Update: I published this blog about a year ago after realizing that while lots of the people I was speaking to had started to think about S/4HANA, many of them didn’t have a clear view of the latest versions on offer. (I could count myself as one of that group before writing the piece, if I’m really honest.)

Judging by the number of views the page received over the next few months (to be clear: a lot) we can safely say plenty of people felt the same way.

But we’re talking about SAP’s product line-up here so naturally the good times didn’t last. (If a year is a long time in politics it seems to be a lifetime in SAP’s marketing!). The most recent round of announcements made my piece on SAP’s flagship product line-up inaccurate after less than twelve months, so it’s time for an update.

As with the first draft, this is intended as a high-level intro to the various S/4 options available today. It won’t tell you everything you need to know but hopefully it will help to give you a steer on where to start looking. Just please don’t blame me if you’re reading it in a few months and everything has changed again!


SAP doesn’t make it easy to stay up to date with what they call their products, the version numbers they give them and how long they will be supported for. New products are introduced fairly often these days, which would be hard enough to keep track of, but they also tend to rename existing ones on a regular basis. Sometimes what looks new isn’t at all, so I thought I’d summarize some of the interesting things I have deciphered recently.

SAP, HANA & Cloud

It was confusing enough when there were a bunch of different products with the words ‘SAP’, ‘HANA’ and ‘Cloud’ in their names, despite them being designed for quite different purposes. On the one hand you might say things have got better: there are now fewer products in that group. On the other, their respective new names don’t necessarily make it easier to tell what’s what. Here are some of the big cloud-related categories today:

OK, for anyone objecting to the first line in that table, I realize that HEC isn’t really an option that SAP want to sell you any more – see Which Edition of S/4HANA?, below – but it’s still on the SAP website, so I’ve included it here as an example of both Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and how difficult it can be to understand what’s current.

I should also note there are numerous other ‘cloudy’ SAP products available, from Sales Cloud to Marketing Cloud to Service Cloud, and so on, but I’m focusing on the ‘core’ technologies here.

So given that I’ve used that slightly unhelpful obsolete example to bring in the topic of ‘as a Service’, what do the entries in the ‘Type’ column actually mean?

XaaS – the common catch-all abbreviation for ‘as a Service’ products – includes a range of different categories including Software (SaaS), Platform (PaaS), Database (DBaaS) and Infrastructure (IaaS). If you read the table above carefully enough you’ll have seen that Transformation as a Service is even a category these days!

This handy summary from Gartner provides an overview of the difference between three of the most well-established XaaS categories: IaaS, PaaS and SaaS:

IaaS vs SaaS vs PaaS table
IaaS vs SaaS vs PaaS: What’s the Difference |

Which Edition of S/4HANA?

S/4HANA has been a pretty dynamic product since it was introduced and the product names have reflected that fact. Sometimes it feels like they change every couple of months or so. A number of changes were made following the introduction of RISE with SAP, so here’s how the high-level S/4HANA product names stand in July 2021:

  • SAP S/4HANA On Premise – The “traditional” version of SAP S/4HANA software. Customize to your hearts content and run wherever you want. It could be hosted “On Premise” in your own data center, you might for your own Virtual Private Cloud (probably provided to you by your SI) or you could run it on one of the IaaS offerings designed for S/4HANA by hyperscalers like AWS, Microsoft and Google. You can even ask SAP to manage hosting and maintaining it for you (the equivalent of HEC, or the old S/4HANA Private Cloud option).
  • SAP S/4HANA Cloud, Private Edition – Not to be confused with the Private Cloud product that was available in 2020, this new offer lies somewhere between the on-premise and SaaS options. It’s not Software as a Service but is licensed on a subscription basis (software and hosting) and is managed for you by SAP. Some extensibility is possible, but not to the level traditionally allowed in On Premise variants.
  • SAP S/4HANA Cloud Extended Edition – Previously called Single Tenant Edition) , this is a SaaS offering delivered by SAP. Fewer required upgrades than the ‘pure’ Cloud version, but more extensibility options. Restricted IMG and no modifications of SAP code.
  • SAP S/4HANA Cloud – Previously called Essentials Edition, or Multi-Tenant Edition, this is the S/4HANA SaaS offering. It has the least amount of flexibility but (at least in theory) is the easiest to manage. It’s more suited to small businesses or those that can be run with totally ‘out of the box’ processes. Hosted and managed in the public cloud by SAP.

(Note that S/4HANA Cloud is the only variant listed in the product section of the SAP website, and you won’t find any distinction there between the SaaS and Private Cloud editions. Hence this blog!)

S/4HANA versions are changing from YYMM to YYYY

Since S/4HANA was first introduced, the name of each version has been the combination of the Year and Month in which it was released. This is true for both the On-premise and SaaS editions.

  • S/4HANA 1511 was released in November (month 11) 2015
  • S/4HANA 1610 was released in October (month 10) 2016
  • S/4HANA 1709 was released in September (month 9) 2017
  • S/4HANA 1809 was released in September (month 9) 2018
  • S/4HANA 1909 was released in September (month 9) 2019

In 2020 SAP changed this convention, moving to naming only by year, so the on-premise update released last September was just S/4HANA 2020 (not S/4HANA 2009).

Now here’s where things get confusing. The naming convention for S/4HANA Cloud (that’s the SaaS version, remember) hasn’t changed. So in 2020 we had S/4HANA on-premise 2020 (annual 2020) being released before S/4HANA Cloud 2011 (meaning November 2020)!

SAP Road Map: SAP S/4HANA |

As you can see, the on-premise edition typically receives 2 FPS (Feature Package stacks) and then an annual SPS (Support Package Stack) until it goes out of mainstream maintenance.

Speaking of which…

S/4HANA 1511 will go out of maintenance before ECC 6.0 EHP8

Did you know that every annual version of the S/4HANA (on-premise) software has a 5 year lifespan? That means S/4HANA 1511 (the one from November 2015) went out of mainstream maintenance in November 2020, and the same will happen to S/4HANA 1610 in October of 2021.

SAP Release and Maintenance Strategy, January 27, 2021

So while the 2040 deadline date for S/4HANA support appears to compare well with the latest ECC support deadline of 2027, and is technically still true, you will likely have to be running S/4HANA version 2036 in order to reach 2040 in maintenance.

  • The minimum number of upgrades that you will have had to perform (starting on 1511) to stay in mainstream maintenance would be 6;
  • If you upgrade annually to stay completely current, that will mean 21 upgrades between versions 1511 and 2036;
  • If you REALLY wanted to be bleeding edge and also took on every FPS, you would have to manage over 60 of these “upgrades” in the next 20 years!

Obviously the initial transition is a bigger project – perhaps significantly so – than implementing an annual upgrade but the key point to bear in mind is that there will still be plenty of work to do, perhaps every year, if you’re going to get the most out of your S/4HANA On-premise or Private Cloud systems.


Of course, this is exactly the kind of challenge that automation can help with. Basis Technologies are supporting many companies around the world with both S/4 transitions and upgrades through our DevOps and test automation platform for SAP. I recently talked about one example in this webinar, but if you’d like to have a more specific discussion about how automation can support your adoption of S/4HANA please get in touch.

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