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SAP HANA Cloud Platform emerging as go-to PaaS

SAP is pushing the HANA Cloud Platform, a strong PaaS competitor, as the environment for developing business applications that tie into SAP software.

The SAP HANA Cloud Platform (HCP), an in-memory platform as a service (PaaS), represents the future of customizations for SAP users, as well as extensions to SAP software. If an SAP user wants to write applications that tie into SAP software, whether on-premises or in the cloud, SAP is encouraging them to do it with HCP.

Furthermore, SAP wants third-party ISVs and integrators to take their industry-focused expertise and deliver it through apps and extensions built upon HCP, which can then be sold to SAP's 250,000 customers through the SAP store, creating, in effect, an enterprise-grade "app store."

The vision is ambitious but critical to SAP's cloud strategies.

"If you're an SAP customer, you're getting a lot of pressure to go to the cloud," said Forrester Research Inc. analyst John Wargo. "Everything for SAP is going in cloud, all the development tools, the suite and everything else, so it's not going to be long before -- if you want to do anything innovative or new with SAP -- it's going to be in the cloud first."

Of course, using the cloud is not without benefits, Wargo noted. For example, you could buy a prebuilt application and configure and deploy it from the cloud instead of having to make programmatic changes. If you can remove complexity by using HCP, he said, "that's when this becomes really powerful."

Why choose HCP?

SAP HANA Cloud Platform is made up of several different services that users can tap into, but the foundation includes three core options: SAP HANA App Services, SAP HANA DB Services and SAP HANA Infrastructure Services. App Services is for the creation of applications and includes support for integration, analytics, mobile, portals and collaboration. It builds on the capabilities of SAP HANA DB Services, which provides an SAP HANA system with a monthly license and infrastructure subscription in configurations up to 1TB. SAP HANA Infrastructure Services lets customers quickly deploy their existing HANA licenses in the cloud for use with HCP.

HCP has the components to compete with PaaS options from Amazon, Salesforce, Microsoft, Google and others, but is HCP likely to get the nod from non-SAP focused developers?

"If you're not doing this for SAP business applications, then honestly there are better, less [expensive] and maybe even better performing options out there," Wargo said.

HCP is all about SAP's 250,000 customers, but Gartner Inc. estimates that only 1,200 to 1,500 customers are using HCP today. "That's not a huge number," said Massimo Pezzini, a Gartner fellow and research vice president, but he expects that SAP's recently increased marketing and messaging around HCP -- along with the release and adoption of S/4HANA -- will spark additional HCP activity.

Pezzini said that the reaction of HCP customers he's spoken with is positive. "HCP does what it is supposed to do," he said. "It is reliable, stable, there are multiple capabilities, and the HANA database itself adds significant value." The bottom line, he added, is that customers are turning to HCP for the deep out-of-the-box integration between SAP and HANA applications.

Pezzini said he sees customers using HCP primarily for developing new cloud-based applications that interface with SAP ERP on-premises. "We have examples of customers building a call center or e-commerce in the cloud using HANA Cloud Platform and integrating that with SAP on-premises -- and that is modeling the classic uses," he said. "In some cases, they are experimenting, but others are very serious business-critical applications deployed on a global basis leveraging HCP."

Interestingly, Pezzini said that some enterprise clients, including SAP clients, are using more than one PaaS.

"For example, I was talking to a packaged manufacturing company that is using three platforms as a service -- using SAP for SAP-centric applications, for doing similar things against, and finally using Amazon," Pezzini said. "I believe this is going to be such a situation for many out there. Very few organizations will be able to standardize on a single platform as a service."

The SAP store and rise of third-party apps

Key to SAP's HCP effort is encouraging and assisting third-party developers to create extensions, plug-ins and apps that use data from SAP systems. In one example, a small startup called EnterpriseJungle has tapped into HCP to deliver its app directly embedded within SuccessFactors.

EnterpriseJungle is a knowledge management engine that delivers personalized content to employees in an enterprise to help them find experts and relevant content from within their own organizations. For example, EnterpriseJungle's "Who can help me?" tool allows a visual search of the workforce with up to 150 search filters.

Interestingly, EnterpriseJungle didn't have to be created with HCP -- other PaaS options could have worked. So why did EnterpriseJungle choose HCP?

"We saw a very clear opportunity for startups to deliver incredible solutions and fight for their place in the SAP enterprise in a way that was never previously available," said James Sinclair, co-founder of EnterpriseJungle. As a very small startup, EnterpriseJungle wanted an ecosystem that could bring access to a loyal customer base, in addition to an integrated platform that could change how software is purchased by enterprises.

Sinclair said that HCP also lets his company rapidly create custom prototypes that SAP-using clients can touch and feel. "Now we're getting traction on the ability to deliver design-led solutions, very quickly, without any limitations," Sinclair said. "The integration to mobile and into existing infrastructure and technologies is just fantastic."

Because SAP has delivered the components for integration and security, Sinclair said, the amount of effort that his team -- and the customer -- has to put into compliance and review is greatly reduced. "Absolutely from a trust perspective, the sales cycle and the implementation are expedited," he said.

Next Steps

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