SAP and leading Linux distributor Red Hat plan to announce a new partnership designed to deliver applications on the popular open-source operating system with technology created inside SAP's LinuxLab, according to SAP executives.
The joint development deal is expected to be announced in September, at one of SAP's annual TechEd conferences, said Manfred Stein, product manager at SAP's LinuxLab and Unix Platforms Center in Walldorf, Germany.
Red Hat is already "a very important partner" to SAP, Stein said. "They are very strong, especially in the U.S., and we want to see lots of customers running SAP on Linux."
"We are very confident that we will have something to sign before TechEd," Stein said. "They're a certified distributor for SAP, and we want to put that in a stable framework."
Stein declined to provide details of the partnership. SearchSAP.com was unable to reach Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat for comment last night.
Last year, the number of SAP installations on Linux worldwide doubled compared with the year before, reaching 1,000. In 1999, SAP began shipping the company's core R/3 product on Linux. That same year, Oracle Corp. pledged its support for Linux. Back then, it was unclear whether Linux would ever be ready for prime time. Since then, the open-source platform has been widely adopted, and enterprise software vendors are rushing to figure out how to take advantage of its popularity.
The SAP LinuxLab and Unix Platforms Center currently provides patches and information on Linux fixes to SAP customers. Developers from Bull, Dell, Fujitsu-Siemens, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, RealTech, SuSE and Red Hat share the lab with SAP developers.
"We could see, in two years' time, Linux take some of the share from Windows," Stein said. "It might develop into one of the two primary SAP platforms."
That puts SAP in a delicate position, said Joshua Greenbaum, principal analyst at Daly City, Calif.-based Enterprise Applications Consulting.
"The trick is for SAP is to support Linux without alienating Microsoft," Greenbaum said. "Obviously, Microsoft is still an important partner for SAP. So SAP wants to have a certain neutrality when it comes to platforms. But the bottom line is that anything that's good for Linux is bad for Microsoft."
"SAP increasing its support of Linux is significant. Ultimately, it's about lowering total cost of ownership (TCO) and increasing customer choice."
By now, Greenbaum said, "It's a clichÉ to say 'Linux is growing up.' It has already grown up."
In the last year, Oracle has been heavily advertising its support for Linux. The company developed a popular version of its 9i database software that can run across multiple Linux servers using real application clustering (RAC). With Oracle CEO Larry Ellison recently declaring his intentions to take on No. 1-ranked SAP in the business software space, industry analysts say it's not surprising that SAP is eager to make customers aware that it also has made a large commitment to Linux.
Boris C. Bialek, IBM's senior manager of DB2 strategic technologies and co-founder of SAP's LinuxLab, continues to work with customers running SAP on Linux.
"People are suddenly seeing big companies like SAP and IBM investing in this area, and people are coming out of the enterprise world to make Linux one of the driving platforms in the industry today," Bialek said. "We wouldn't do this if the customers weren't buying it."
In a March report from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, 72% of respondents said they expected to use more Linux in 2004. About a quarter of those surveyed expected to replace Windows servers with Linux. Still, nearly half of the respondents said that a lack of enterprise support was a concern and a reason they had delayed making the switch.
Aware that so many customers are planning to wind up with Linux someday, enterprise software vendors are investing heavily in the platform, said Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler.
"SAP and their competitors don't want to lose business, so they're helping fuel the Linux trend," Schadler said. "SAP has Linux as one of two operating systems that it codes first -- and that's a pretty good endorsement."
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