SAP lays out plans to become big player in databases, mobile

BOSTON — SAP made a series of announcements on Tuesday as part of its bid to become a high-profile player in the database market alongside the likes of Oracle and IBM.

The HANA in-memory database platform is at the center of SAP’s strategy, and will eventually underpin all of its products. Many SAP customers currently run the company’s flagship Business Suite ERP (enterprise resource planning) application on rival databases, especially Oracle and IBM DB2. SAP is hoping over time to convince those customers to run HANA instead, but the necessary engineering work isn’t yet finished.

To this end, SAP is also banking on Sybase ASE (Adaptive Server Enterprise), a product acquired through the 2010 purchase of Sybase. The port of Business Suite to Sybase ASE would be generally available this month, executive board member and technology chief Vishal Sikka said during a press conference Tuesday in San Francisco.

Right now, HANA is best suited for analytics. On that front, SAP announced the general availability of its Business Warehouse platform running on HANA. “BW on HANA is a non-disruptive and dramatic improvement in cost and performance,” Sikka said.

The “ramp-up,” or early adopter period for BW on HANA, started in November and was the fastest in SAP history, he added. Some 80 units have shipped to customers and partners so far, he added.

In addition, SAP said Tuesday that it intends to create a US$155 million venture capital fund for startups that build applications on the HANA platform, as well as spend $337 million on an incentive program meant to lure customers to HANA.

Under the latter effort, SAP will provide consulting services for new customers who want to move from “legacy” databases to HANA. In addition, SAP will give HANA customers who have finished implementing the software “up to an 18-month exchange program out of their SAP HANA licenses to any other previously licensed SAP product if they are not satisfied,” according to a statement.

SAP is also focused on making sure developers and database administrators have access to the best training materials for HANA, as well as development and test environments at no cost, said Steve Lucas, executive vice president of analytics, database and technology. “We need to build an environment where we can get a thousand flowers to bloom,” he said.

SAP also provided further details, many not unexpected, of how other parts of the Sybase portfolio will play into its database plans between now and 2015.

Sybase IQ, a columnar-store analytic database, will be tied together with HANA to act as a store for older or “cold” data. The product is “envisioned to share common capabilities and life-cycle management” with HANA, SAP said.

The Sybase SQL Anywhere mobile and embedded database will serve as a “front-end” data store in the HANA platform, the company added. Sybase’s PowerDesigner modeling toolset is to play a key role as well, SAP said.

SAP also intends to build integration between HANA and data sources including Hadoop, the popular open-source processing framework.

Overall, SAP faces a challenge in migrating customers to its database portfolio, given the changes cloud computing has brought to the IT industry, analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research, wrote in a new report on HANA.

“In cloud computing models, users don’t care, nor ask what database the applications run on,” Wang wrote. “They buy [service level agreements] that must be met by the software publisher. Will users care that a new database is in use? This will be SAP’s short-term challenge.”

SAP has said that several core modules of the Business Suite will be ported to HANA by the end of the year. Work on that project is “going extremely well,” Sikka said during the press conference.

But in reality, HANA won’t be a fully viable replacement for the likes of Oracle “until at least 2015” due to needed technical features that have yet to be added, according to Wang. Those areas include “beefed-up backup and recovery service,” auditing, SQL injection protection, compliance monitoring and identity management, he wrote.

While the development work could be complete in late 2014, “given SAP’s track record for delivery and customers’ track record for adopting new technologies, significant user adoption post-general availability (GA) could take until 2015,” he said.

Existing customers are also “heavily vested in their database of choice,” Wang said. “Business Suite customers will most likely be the targets for SAP HANA. However, among the estimated 18,500 SAP Business Suite customers, the lack of HANA-ready administrators and consultants, plus the inertia required to overcome database choice, will play a key role in slow adoption.”

SAP is also planning to support the latest version of the Business Suite under standard maintenance fees until 2020, which lowers the pressure on customers to make database changes, Wang said.

Meanwhile, the Sybase acquisition also gave SAP an array of mobile application and device management technologies, including the Unwired platform.

In a related announcement on Tuesday, SAP said it planned to buy mobile application development vendor Syclo. Terms were not disclosed. The deal will give SAP Syclo’s background and expertise in mobile applications for utilities, manufacturing and other industries, SAP said in a statement.

SAP also announced mobile development partnerships with Adobe, Appcelerator and Sencha.

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