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Interop: SAP Sheds Light On Cloud Computing Plans

Execs point to future systems powered by SAP Business Suite and Business Objects along with SAP's CRM On-Demand and Business ByDesign.
SAP sees a number of roles for itself in the cloud, one of which is as an enabler of cloud services as the transactional backbone of large companies. For example, all of Apple's iTunes orders are processed by an SAP system on the back end, as are 8 million transactions per hour on Deutsche Postbank AG's online banking Web site.

It also sees its software as running on third-party clouds and hosting services. In one interesting development, Sikka said that SAP senior VP of advanced technology Sanjog Gad is working on getting SAP software to run on Microsoft's new Windows Azure cloud computing platform, which can't run all standard server applications today. According to Sikka, "a lot" of companies already do testing and development of SAP implementations on Amazon Web Services before deploying them more widely on internal data center resources. Another of SAP's largest customers runs all of its Asia-Pacific business in an HP data center.

Despite signs -- decreased head count, a smaller dedicated budget, and a stagnant customer count -- that SAP is backing away from work on its Business ByDesign on-demand ERP suite for small and medium-sized businesses, Sikka said that Business ByDesign remains a top priority for the company.

However, he said SAP faces complex problems before it begins scaling Business ByDesign further. For example, Sikka said SAP needs to further improve the technologies it uses to manage the performance of complex analytics done at scale across many different businesses. Unlike in some multitenant applications, Business ByDesign doesn't depend just on being able to partition one massive database for many customers, but also requires SAP to run complex analytics on those databases, and that, Sikka said, requires "a fundamental rethinking of the architecture," though exactly what that entails is unclear.

"Within each virtual unit you have for a customer, and you need multiple different optimizations for analyzing text, events and so forth," he said. "When you type in a search, you expect a subsecond response time, and when you enter an availability to promise check, you expect a subsecond response time. Doing all those optimizations at once is a complicated challenge."

Sikka won't rule out more acquisitions in cloud computing, but said it won't be buying "15-year-old companies" to augment its cloud computing capabilities. "The new stuff, we are interested in," he said, pointing to SAP's recent acquisition of Coghead. "The old stuff, not so much."

He also said the company would likely partner with a number of companies on cloud computing, including IBM, which has recently been seen as a potential purchaser of SAP. In addition to investments and partnerships, SAP also will bolster its cloud portfolio with homegrown innovation, some coming from the company's research and development arm. New areas of research on the potential of cloud services for SAP include mobility, search, and analytics as well as "new development paradigms."


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