SAP's effort to get startups on HANA bandwagon chugging along

More than 200 startups have joined a program SAP began last year to help startups build products leveraging the in-memory database

SAP has spent the past year wooing entrepreneurs around the world in hopes they'll be entranced enough by its much-hyped HANA in-memory database to build products and even entire companies around the technology. On Friday, SAP brought the road show to Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a vibrant community of tech entrepreneurs.

"We have a lot to offer," said Scott Jones, senior director of startup training and enablement at SAP, during the event at hack/reduce, a nonprofit organization focused on fostering innovations in the "big data" movement. "This is as much SAP pitching to the startup community as startups pitching to SAP. We're trying to become part of the community, part of the consideration."

Startups interested in building a product around HANA can undergo a series of steps, beginning with attendance at a forum like the one held in greater Boston.

Later they would join a development accelerator program, receive coaching from SAP, build a proof-of-concept and ultimately a commercial product. Once a viable creation is in hand, SAP helps startups on the sales and marketing front, including by serving as a reseller.

"SAP doesn't ask for money, SAP doesn't ask for IP," Jones said of the process. "It's your code, but we're going to support you."

However, once startups begin selling products that use HANA, they would have to buy embedded licenses of the database from SAP, passing along the cost to customers.

SAP has run about 15 startup forums for HANA in 12 different countries. More than 100 startups are in the program and their projects collectively encompass 22 industries and nine lines of business, according to an SAP data sheet.

In addition, about 60 percent of the projects fall "outside SAP's traditional domains of expertise," according to the sheet.

Some 26 percent of the projects concern data visualization, business intelligence and market insight, while another 17 percent focus on areas such as social media, collaboration and gaming, according to a slide displayed at the event. Others tackle predictive analytics and sensor network data analysis.

Startups are using HANA in multiple ways, whether to build a new application from scratch, port an existing application or creating features and adding them on to their existing software, said Robert Kapanen, global lead for market enablement, SAP Startup Focus.

Qunb, which is focused on data visualization, falls into the last category.

The company, which won a startup competition at the LeWeb conference in December, had initially used a Hadoop cluster for its architecture. It soon found, however, that Hadoop wasn't ideal for manipulating corporate data, such as that from a CRM (customer relationship management) system, in the way it desired, said Qunb CEO Cyrille Vincey, in an interview at Friday's event.

Corporate data can have many dimensions and involve real-time feeds, problems better handled by HANA, he said. Hadoop is commonly used to process large amounts of unstructured data, typically in batch form.

Hence Qunb is using a hybrid architecture, with HANA "solving one part of the problem and our tech another," he said. "This is what we've prototyped and I think it makes a lot of sense. It's not a dual fight between two techs, with one winner in the end."

SAP is expected to heavily feature startups from the HANA program in May, during its Sapphire conference in Orlando.

It's not clear when startup-built products will start to make a major contribution to HANA revenue, which is obviously SAP's hope and the main reason for its investment in the program.

SAP has called HANA the fastest-growing product in its history, and in January reported that HANA pulled in nearly €400 million ($521 million) in 2012. This week, Cowen and Company financial analyst Peter Goldmacher issued a report alleging SAP has made various machinations behind the scenes in order to inflate HANA's reported growth rate. SAP vigorously denied the claim.

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

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