SAP preps low-cost alternative to Oracle

SAP is almost done porting its ERP software to the Sybase ASE database, meaning potential savings for customers now running Oracle

SAP will finish porting its ERP (enterprise resource planning) application to the Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) database later this year, giving customers now running Oracle and other platforms a lower-cost alternative, the company announced Tuesday during the Sapphire conference in Orlando.

Sybase ASE has only a fraction of the database market share held by Oracle, IBM and Microsoft, but it is widely used by financial institutions. SAP noted this in its announcement, saying its ERP customers will now get to use the same database "that powers Wall Street."

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Future versions of SAP ERP will be "certified out-of-the-box" with Sybase ASE releases, SAP said. In addition, Sybase ASE's life cycle will be "fully synchronized with SAP maintenance policies to simplify release and deployment planning for customers."

The combination of ASE and SAP's business software will mean customers can deal with a single company "focused on efficient business operations and on providing attractive licensing and maintenance terms and conditions," SAP said.

It's not quite clear how much customers could save buying ASE compared to Oracle, although such estimates are hard to pinpoint, given the heavy discounting off list price that often occurs in software contract negotiations.

Also, there's no telling how Oracle would respond in terms of pricing or customer incentives, should SAP manage to siphon off a significant amount of database revenue.

In any event, recent tests are already showing significant "price-to-performance" improvements from running SAP on ASE in place of competing databases, Sybase CEO John Chen said in an interview. Sybase is now run as an independent subsidiary of SAP.

The savings may grow, since Sybase technicians are still doing some system tuning, Chen said.

Also unclear was how ASE will coexist with SAP's HANA in-memory database over time. HANA, a newer product than ASE, has so far been mostly targeted at analytic workloads, but could be positioned for transactional systems as well.

There's unlikely to be serious friction between the two products, according to Chen. For one, it will be some time before HANA is ready to handle the transactional workload demands of large SAP customers, and ASE has a healthy installed base that SAP would "do well to serve."

The question now is how successful SAP will be moving non-ASE shops over to the platform.

Database migrations are typically no small task, something Chen readily admitted. "It's not the easiest thing on Earth. [Migrations] need a level of commitment and investment."

A lot depends on how the applications that the original database supports were written, he added. "If there's no multi-threading, and minimal triggers, then technically, it should be move over, compile and run."

The company is "very committed" to offering services that help make the migration process easier, Chen said.

There are already two migration pilots ongoing now, with "half a dozen waiting in the wings," Chen added. The companies involved are quite large, he said. "Not Global 25, but the next tier."

Still, the most opportunities for ASE lie in new projects, where customers choose it over Oracle and other products, and not in migrations, he said.

Meanwhile, SAP is also looking to take advantage of Oracle's recent decision to stop developing software for Intel's Itanium chips. Hewlett-Packard's Integrity servers are based on Itanium chips and run its HP-UX OS. SAP has committed long-term to HP-UX for both its business applications and ASE, according to a statement.

In addition, Red Hat is poised to offer customers the ability to run SAP software with ASE on its RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) OS, the company said.

Down the road, SAP plans to certify Sybase ASE for other products in its portfolio, including CRM (customer relationship management), NetWeaver Portal and NetWeaver Business Warehouse.

The Sybase ASE announcement, with its focus on reducing operational costs for customers, stands apart from SAP's splashy marketing pushes around mobility, in-memory computing and SaaS (software as a service).

In another announcement aimed at the installed base on Tuesday, SAP said a new Innovations 2010 "enhancement pack" for Business Suite 7 users is now available. The enhancement packs are supposed to give customers new features without the pain of a full upgrade, but in practice, the process of applying the packs has still required some work.

The new pack includes more than 300 new capabilities across various functional areas and industries.

SAP intends to increase the pace of releases for the enhancement packs, according to co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe.

"We think we can deliver quarterly enhancements," he said during a keynote address.

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

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