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SAP Showcases Innovation At Sapphire

The apps vendor announces multiple mobile, in-memory, and on-demand platforms, products, and partnerships at its user conference.
By most accounts, cloud computing has been the weakest of SAP's innovation thrusts. The on-demand Business ByDesign (BBD) suite is SAP's poster child for its cloud computing initiatives, and reporters and analysts at Sapphire peppered co-CEOs McDermott and Hagemann-Snabe with plenty of questions about the seemingly conservative goal of bringing just 1,000 customers onto the platform by year's end.

Looking beyond BBD, there were a number of notable cloud-related announcements at Sapphire. For starters, Sales OnDemand, a new sales-force automation application built on BBD, will hit general release by the end of June. This was expected.

More notable, though not prominently highlighted during Sapphire, was a deal with Amazon Web Services. SAP said it has certified the SAP BusinessObjects release and more than a dozen Rapid Deployment Solution (RDS) applications to run in Amazon's cloud. RDS apps are slimmed-down, pre-configured versions of standard SAP applications. The RDS list covers sales and marketing, supply chain, product development, manufacturing, and finance apps.

Third-party partners will provide application deployment and management services to run SAP apps in Amazon's cloud, and SAP says it's working on licensing and subscription schemes that will support expected cloud-computing capabilities, including quickly scalable capacity, both up and down, and paying only for the resources used. SAP said the combined cost of licensing, management services, and Amazon Web services for the RDS customer relationship management app would be lower than the cost of subscribing to Salesforce.com.

SAP also announced private-cloud and public-cloud services with Dell and Verizon, expanding on existing hosted service capabilities. In total, SAP actually announced quite a bit related to cloud computing, but it all took a backseat to the in-memory and mobile developments.

In an interview with InformationWeek, co-CEO Hagemann-Snabe acknowledged that SAP needs to articulate its cloud message more strongly. He noted that SAP is going after cloud computing in multiple markets. Not just BBD, but extension applications, such as Sales OnDemand, and business intelligence in the cloud, with BusinessObjects on Amazon and the new Hana Cloud service. A deal with Verizon will put the Sybase Unwired Mobile application infrastructure and the Afaria device management capabilities in the cloud so companies can subscribe to services rather than deploying infrastructure.

"We're conservative in talking about the cloud because we went to market too early with Business ByDesign, and we burned our fingers by talking about something without having it," Hagemann-Snabe said, referring to the original introduction of BBD in late 2007. "I would rather have it and show it than talk about it."

With this week's announcements, SAP has clearly delivered big progress on the mobile and in-memory fronts. The company let customers do most of the talking about how the technology is transforming their businesses. Some of the general-release products are still just over the horizon--Hana and Sales OnDemand in June, 19 new mobile applications in September, with more to come by year's end.

Having largely delivered on what they promised, McDermott, Hagemann-Snabe, Sikka, and Plattner returned again and again to the imperative for companies to reimagine and reinvent their businesses. It's a challenge and a plea for customers to take the technology and become one of those best-run businesses SAP features in its ad campaigns.

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