What to expect at SAP's Sapphire

HANA, the cloud and social software are among the issues on tap

SAP's Sapphire conference kicks off next week in Orlando, setting the stage for the company to sell customers on its visions for cloud-based applications, in-memory computing, and mobility.

The conference also provides SAP with an occasion to make major announcements and provide updates on how previously announced initiatives are going. Here's a look at some key themes and questions SAP may address during Sapphire's keynotes and sessions.

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HANA in the cloud: This week, SAP decided to release some big news prior to Sapphire, announcing a HANA-powered cloud service where customers will be able to run their business applications, including SAP ERP (enterprise resource planning).

SAP has developed next-generation data centers around the world, as well as new management and provisioning software for the HANA Enterprise Cloud. SAP is going to let its hosting partners in on the action as well, but has decided to wait until Sapphire before releasing details of how that will work.

Progress with PaaS: Although Sapphire attracts a more general cross-section of SAP customers and partners than its Tech Ed developer conference, SAP may place some focus on its HANA-powered PaaS (platform as a service), which was launched last year. In a rare move, SAP has released public pricing for the service, with tiers ranging from individual developer licenses to a premium package that seems to be aimed at ISVs.

Startup showcase: Some initial PaaS customers may be startups. SAP has spent considerable effort and money trying to get startups to build applications on top of HANA, and is expected to showcase a number of these companies at Sapphire.

While SAP has consistently touted HANA's speed and performance advantages, officials also frequently invoke the platform as something fit for creating entirely new types of applications. Clearly, part of the reasoning behind the startup program is to attract the sort of fresh ideas and imagination that can make those applications a reality.

Integration education: Application integration is a key issue for SAP customers, especially as they add SaaS (software as a service) products as extensions of their on-premises ERP. To this end, SAP could shine more light on or even announce an availability date for a cloud-based integration service it first discussed last year.

All about Ariba: Expect some announcements involving SAP's Ariba division. SAP bought Ariba last year for $4.3 billion and with it gained technology that connects suppliers with buyers. In November, SAP said it planned to integrate Ariba with HANA in the first half of this year, timing that suggests an availability date could be made public at Sapphire. SAP officials may also lay out more details of how Ariba will be integrated with SAP's other applications.

SAP's social standing: SAP is keen to fend off Salesforce.com in the CRM (customer relationship management), social software and social media monitoring markets, which have begun converging. To that end, in November SAP announced a new product stack called 360 Customer that combines CRM, HANA, the Jam social network and analytics. It will be worth watching to see if SAP announces significant customer wins for 360 Customer at Sapphire.

Mobility mojo: SAP's focus on promoting HANA has meant less attention on other emerging product areas, such as its mobile device management and mobile application development technology. The mobility market is "very fragmented," but it will be of interest if SAP can show at Sapphire that it is gaining market share in mobile, and from whom, said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research. "It's probably IBM more and more," he added.

It will also be telling if Sapphire features customers who are standardizing their mobile activity on SAP's technology, given the higher cost compared to alternatives, Wang said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com.

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