SAP's in-memory technology is the differentiator for application services and database services that will take on Oracle and Salesforce.com in the cloud.
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SAP jumped into the cloud platform-as-a-service market on Tuesday by launching the first in a series of planned cloud-based application services and database services. Announced at the vendor's annual TechEd conference in Las Vegas, the new services make SAP a more comprehensive cloud player and open up new points of competition with the likes of Oracle and Salesforce.com.
Uniting both services is the fact that they run on the Hana in-memory database, creating what SAP chief technology officer Vishal Sikka described as a "RAM-optimized platform" that will set the SAP cloud apart from the competition. In the case of Oracle, Sikka said in-memory-based cloud services would enable companies to reimagine and transform cloud-based apps, not just speed them up--a reference to Oracle's recent Open World claims about performance gains with its latest engineered systems.
With its announcements, SAP is now challenging Salesforce.com's Heroku unit with a new Java-based cloud development platform called SAP NetWeaver Cloud. The platform runs on Hana, and its in-memory performance ensures that it won't require the "resource governors" that Sikka said Salesforce.com routinely imposes on customers so it can keep up with cloud computing demands.
SAP's new platform is called the SAP Hana Cloud, and it includes both AppServices and DBServices. On the database side the vendor introduced SAP Hana One, a new deployment option on Amazon Web Services (AWS). Hana One is aimed at companies that want to experiment with Hana, stage proof-of-concept projects, or put small-scale in-memory applications in the cloud.
Hana One can handle up to 32 gigabytes of end-user data and costs 99 cents per hour for SAP's software and another $2.50 per hour for AWS EC2 compute capacity, for a total cost of $3.49 per hour. SAP had previously offered free Hana developer licenses of Hana on AWS, but data loads were limited to megabytes rather than gigabytes.
"At that price point it's pretty hard not to be interested," said Hana customer Adam Recktenwald, enterprise architect at the University of Kentucky, in an interview with InformationWeek. "It would have made it easier to justify an on-premises deployment."
The University of Kentucky completed a three-month on-premises deployment of Hana in March and then spent two months performing its first proof-of-concept (POC) project. Had Hana One been available at the time, the school could have saved weeks if not months on the POC effort.
Looking beyond Hana One, SAP plans to provide more database-as-a-service options, but Sikka said those services won't be detailed until November. Leveraging the processing power of Hana's in-memory technology, SAP's planned database services will also include certain application-level services, Sikka said, including user management, session management, user authentication, http Web services, and language runtimes.
"The separation of the application server and the database server into different tiers is a construct of inefficient [legacy] infrastructure," Sikka told InformationWeek in a one-on-one interview. That argument echoes what SAP has described as the "artificial" separation of today's analytical and transactional environments, and it's another example of the simplification SAP is promising by consolidating layers of obsolete infrastructure with Hana processing power.
On the application services side, SAP announced the general availability of SAP NetWeaver Cloud, which is a Java-based development platform as a service for building, deploying, and managing applications in the cloud. Support for Eclipse and industry standard tools will also support the use of Ruby, PHP, and other programming models, according to SAP. More than just NetWeaver pushed into the cloud, the platform runs on Hana and is licensed on an open source model, SAP said.
Given the familiarity of NetWeaver to SAP developers, applications built on NetWeaver Cloud are most likely to be integrated with SAP's on-premises or cloud-based applications, or used as extensions to them. But the platform is also suitable for building entirely new, stand-alone applications from scratch, according to SAP.
NetWeaver cloud includes integration services, portal services, and mobile services, as well as federated ID management and single-sign-on capabilities. To make the platform more attractive to cloud developers, SAP has introduced free, unlimited developer licenses that eliminate 90-day usage restrictions.
Customer adoption will obviously go a long way toward validating SAP's budding cloud platform. But what would also help would be adoption by third-party software vendors as well as systems integrators and resellers. That would prove the SAP Hana Cloud to be a more open universe than Oracle's go-it-alone, all-red-stack Oracle Cloud. It might also begin to challenge the strength of Salesforce.com's AppExchange and vast cloud community.
What might make it harder for SAP to shine as a cloud platform provider (and as a database supplier) is the competitive stakes in applications, business intelligence, and analytics. But SAP executives say that shouldn't be an obstacle.
"We're totally open to the ecosystem, and if somebody who might compete with us in other arenas wants to use our database or services, we would have no problem with that," said SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott during a brief question-and-answer session at TechEd.
Indeed, an independent embrace of Hana would validate either customer demand or the superiority of SAP's in-memory technology, and that would bolster the company's database and cloud ambitions.
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