SAP takes it all to the cloud

SAP, the German software giant, is making one of the largest pushes into cloud computing yet seen from a large incumbent company. It may even be destroying its own business, in order to build for a new one.

SAP is famous for developing enterprise resource planning, or ERP, software. ERP is used to control complex manufacturing, run corporate functions like financials, or manage a company's systems of supply. A few years ago SAP introduced HANA, a product that combines fast computing and data retrieval to better analyse how well a company is working. The product has been a big hit, and SAP has been proclaiming it the company's future.

Last week, SAP said it would offer HANA as a cloud-based product, providing companies with access for the cost of a license. Prices were not disclosed. SAP has established a network of seven data centres around the globe to support the endeavour, a company official said, and will begin by deploying 30,000 computers for the network.

"We will do cloud-based ERP on a massive scale," said Vishal Sikka, a member of SAP's executive board and one of the people who oversaw the project. Of SAP's regular product, he said, "At some point in the future, complex implementations should go away. All of our products are moving to HANA."

SAP, along with companies that have agreed to test the product, already has 750 terabytes of data in the system, enough data to fill 750 million good-sized books. The company expects to have twice that amount in the system by the end of the year.

That probably is not all that much data, compared with the amount SAP touches the old-fashioned way, with conventional computer servers inside companies, but it is a decent start. As SAP builds the trust of big customers with its cloud, Sikka said, SAP will become a giant. "We have single customers running projects that are bigger than the entire Salesforce.com cloud," he said.

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