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SAP has some explaining to do at Sapphire

Chris Kanaracus | May 9, 2011
While SAP has spent the past year spinning a vision for on-premises, on-demand and on-device computing, its upcoming Sapphire conference is an opportunity for the vendor to lay out some important specifics on these plans for the thousands expected to attend.

After some fits and starts, its Business ByDesign suite for midmarket companies and divisions of larger ones is ready to be sold at scale. SAP expects to have 1,000 customers on it by year's end.

SAP should and probably will deliver strong Business ByDesign customer stories at the show, said Jon Reed, an independent analyst who closely tracks the company. This will give attendees a better sense of the software's stability and potential benefit to their businesses.

But the big money remains in SAP's on-premises ERP systems, which run many of the world's largest companies and aren't going anywhere anytime soon. SAP has started rolling out a series of specialized SaaS applications, including the CRM (customer relationship management)-themed Sales on Demand, that it is positioning as extensions to on-premise implementations.

At Sapphire, SAP needs to offer customers more clarity on when and how the software should be adopted, and pricing information wouldn't be a bad thing either, said Forrester Research (FORR) analyst China Martens.

But SAP shops might also wonder where the divide is between what these extensions do and the features gained through regular product upgrades, for which they already pay handsome annual fees. It will be up to SAP to start making that distinction.

Hullabaloo about HANA

If SAP CTO and executive board member Vishal Sikka has a favorite topic these days, it's the in-memory database technology that powers SAP's new HANA (High Performance Analytic Appliance).

Sikka and other SAP executives have exercised little restraint in touting HANA's performance and cost advantages over other databases. But the product remains in its infancy, and a series of specialized analytic applications that will run on top of it are only now starting to be released.

"I'm hoping they do a good job of forecasting the road map [for HANA], and take the hype out of it," said Bridgette Chambers, CEO of the Americas' SAP Users Group (ASUG), which is co-locating its conference at Sapphire. Chambers especially wants SAP to show how customers will be able to save money with the technology.

SAP may also use Sapphire to discuss its broader database plans, given the additional products it gained through the Sybase acquisition.

For one, the company is expected to eventually port the Business Suite to Sybase ASE (Adaptive Server Enterprise), a move that could potentially save significant money for customers now running Oracle (ORCL). Sapphire show-goers might receive a sneak peek of this scenario as well as HANA running the Business Suite, although the latter seems less likely.


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