SAP is expected to make a slew of announcements related to in-memory computing, mobile applications and cloud-based services today during the Sapphire conference in Madrid.
Much attention will likely focus on HANA, SAP's in-memory database, which the vendor intends to weave through its software portfolio. For one, SAP will announce the availability of its Business Warehouse software running on top of HANA, said executive board member and technology chief Vishal Sikka in an interview prior to the conference.
"That is a major milestone, demonstrating that HANA is a full database able to handle the load of a data warehouse," he said. "It's a huge milestone." Some 16,000 BW deployments exist around the world, giving HANA a large target market to entice.
Beverage maker Red Bull already has its BW system running on HANA and will appear at Sapphire along with many other HANA customers, Sikka said. That will be a dramatic change from the recent Tech Ed conference in Las Vegas, which featured plenty of HANA hype but was short on real-life examples of it in use.
The dearth of HANA customers at Tech Ed "was all about timing," said Sikka, who noted that HANA only entered general availability in June. While customers were working on HANA projects in the run-up to Tech Ed, not enough were yet in production, he said.
SAP is also delivering a third support package for HANA that adds additional features, including a number of predictive analysis libraries and an Information Composer tool that lets business users push data into HANA via simple means, such as a spreadsheet. The tool uses wizards to simplify the data-modeling process, SAP said.
In addition, the HANA update provides performance and reliability enhancements including point-in-time recovery; integration with SAP's Solution Manager system; and faster data-loading, according to a statement.
Expect plenty of cloud computing talk at Sapphire as well. New announcements scheduled include a private beta for NetWeaver Neo, a PaaS (platform as a service) based on SAP's Java development and middleware stack.
On the private cloud front, SAP is also planning to announce a partnership with VMware around virtualising "traditional" SAP ERP (enterprise-resource-planning) deployments.
"People have been virtualising SAP but the vast majority have been in traditional mainframe architectures of HP and IBM," he said. And virtualisation efforts by customers involving x86-based systems have been rather "one-off," he added. "We're bringing the weight of the two companies together to help them with this."
In addition, SAP's NetWeaver cloud will work close with the Java-centric Cloud Foundry service offered by VMware's SpringSource division, he said.
SAP also plans to discuss its growing family of on-demand applications during Sapphire. A travel-expenses application, Travel OnDemand, will enter early trials by the end of the year, and Career OnDemand for employee development is set for a pilot in January, SAP sad.
Mobility is sure to be another hot topic at Sapphire, with announcements including a new SAP Store for Mobile Apps.
The store can be accessed through a Web portal and an iOS application to start, according to a statement. SAP plans to add Android, BlackBerry and other mobile client support later. Right now, customers can download and try out applications from SAP and its partners, and ask for a price quote if desired. The ability to buy the applications directly from the store will be added "soon," SAP said.
Overall, SAP and Sybase will show they are delivering on promises made in August 2010 regarding mobility, said Raj Nathan, executive vice president and corporate officer, head of mobile applications, SAP Group.
"We fundamentally said we plan to make our platform a standard one, and that 80 percent of application content will come from partners over the long term," he said.
In fact, Nathan has been surprised and "delighted" by the pace of partner involvement, he said. Right now, some eight applications are certified on SAP's app store, and about 30 are expected to be certified by year-end, according to a spokesperson. That pace should pick up quickly, Nathan predicted. "At the same time next year, it would not surprise me if we have 200-plus of these."
The Sybase Unwired and Afaria platforms for mobile development, management and security will be available to partners at no charge for development purposes, Nathan said. Pricing for use in production will depend on the situation. "If the [partner] application is going to be charged at €10 per year, it will be difficult for us to charge very much for the platform," he said. "There's no one formula."
There will be general categories for pricing, Nathan added. "Partners will be confused if we say each of them is a custom [agreement]," he said.
SAP has also been developing mobile applications on its own. At Sapphire, it will announce a number that are now or will soon be available. They target areas such as CRM (customer relationship management), field services, logistics, health care and retail.
The company's mobile, in-memory and cloud initiatives gained focus last year after the ascension of co-CEOs Jim Hagemann Snabe, who will also be present at Sapphire, and Bill McDermott. Revenues have improved as well following a significant downturn during the global recession.
While SAP has much to be excited about, there's work to be done, according to one expert.
"I think SAP is at a bit of a crossroads as a company. They're in danger of getting too pumped up about the fact they have had a pretty significant comeback," said Jon Reed, an independent analyst who closely tracks the company. "They do have some risk in that, can they move quickly enough on the new opportunities and are they aware there is significant competition? The Workdays and NetSuites of the world are coming out with pretty strong news of their own."
Take SAP's plans for mobility, Reed said.
"While they do have a good ecosystem, in many ways they've not been able to engage the kind of innovative, low-to-the-ground kind of developers that are building apps for the Apple platform. SAP needs to create a scenario to engage developers."
The same goes for other SAP initiatives, including HANA, Reed said: "It's the age of the platform. That's the obvious lesson from the Googles and Apples of the world."
Sapphire continues until tomorrow in Madrid.