HindustanTimes Thu,18 Dec 2014

How three Indians turned SAP into a cloud computing major

Vivek Sinha , Hindustan Times  New Delhi, February 15, 2014
First Published: 10:48 IST(15/2/2014) | Last Updated: 13:40 IST(15/2/2014)

Six years ago, $23-billion (Rs 1.42 lakh crore) German software major SAP, best known for its business software products (enterprise resource planning or ERP in geekspeak), faced a problem: it was still king in ERP but didn't have a strong presence on the cloud, which was seen as the future of computing.

Cloud computing is a system of "renting" software over the internet instead of buying it on license.

It is cheaper than buying software and, so, is preferred by many firms. After several brainstorming sessions among senior SAP executives, the company's chairman H. Plattner and its chief technology officer Vishal Sikka (46), who grew up in Vadodara, decided to venture into the cloud with a database management system (which tracks and analyses massive volumes of data), where SAP had little presence, but with a small twist that proved to be a masterstroke.

The new product was called HANA or high performance analytic appliance, which for a variety of technical innovations, speeded up real-time data analysis by up to 100 times. Analysts, rivals and even some insiders predicted failure.

As recently as September 30, 2012, Oracle CEO and cofounder Larry Ellisson took a dig at HANA, calling it a "small thing." He had earlier dismissed SAP's innovations "wacko".

But Sikka, who is now being called the father of HANA, had the last laugh. At the end of 2013, the product had about 3,000 customers worldwide, making it the bestseller in its class. Oracle, too, has now adopted this new technology. According to company grapevine, Sikka is now a frontrunner for the post of SAP CEO.

"HANA was the right product, at the right time, at the right price," said Milan Sheth, an analyst at consultancy firm EY.

Several SAP executives around the world contributed to HANA but the ones who stand out are IIT-Kharagpur alumnus Anirban Dey (41), MD of SAP Labs India and a golf enthusiast, whose team developed the system that programs the database that is to be analysed.

And his colleague, Ganapathy Subramanian (36), VP, SAP Labs India, builds applications to make the HANA and other tech platforms more versatile and user-friendly.

Not everyone, however, is impressed. "We cannot term HANA as an exceptional technology," said an analyst requesting anonymity, as his firm has dealings with SAP.

But for now, Sikka and his team are basking in the glory of HANA's success.

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