SAP readies 'River' cloud platform for public debut

River will be for simple 'extension' on-demand applications, while Business ByDesign will support more complex ones

SAP is segmenting its emerging cloud-computing strategy across multiple development platforms, including one code-named "River," which will support lightweight extensions to its on-premises ERP (enterprise resource planning) software.

The first River-based application, Carbon Impact 5.0, is set to be unveiled next month and will be running on Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud.

SAP has been working on River for about 18 months, said CTO Vishal Sikka in a recent interview.

River applications are meant to be simple, with only a few dozen screens or so, and are easy to put together and extend, Sikka said. Still, SAP has done "a significant amount of work" on River in areas such as data security and authentication, "which frankly have been missing in many cases in the cloud atmosphere," he said.

River will be opened up to partners "over time," as well as other infrastructure services, he said. "The first [application] is on Amazon, but the platform is designed to run on multiple clouds. Over time it will run on multiple clouds including our own."

SAP went with Amazon at first because it has "a great expertise in this area," Sikka added. "It's a great way for us to deliver the first application, but by no means the only one."

Meanwhile, more complex cloud applications will be based on the platform behind Business ByDesign, SAP's on-demand ERP suite for the midmarket, Sikka said. Business ByDesign is entering a broader release this year.

Although earlier indications were that the platform SAP acquired via its 2006 purchase of e-sourcing vendor Frictionless Commerce would play a central role in its on-demand strategy, that doesn't seem to be the case any longer.

The Frictionless platform provides "a unique set of components for applications similar to sourcing," he said. But "not much" is planned for it outside of e-sourcing, Sikka said.

Although SAP builds out a portfolio of on-demand applications, its embrace of the cloud goes only so far for now.

For example, while customers can use public services like Amazon for development and testing purposes, Sikka doesn't see production ERP systems running there anytime soon, "for the foreseeable future."

"Technology's just not at a point where you can run a mission-critical application on a public cloud," he said. "There isn't one contributing factor to it, but really several."

He cited familiar reasons, such as customer concerns over data privacy, data integration and regulatory hurdles.

But Sikka also flagged one perceived benefit of public clouds -- "elasticity," or their ability to scale pools of resources up and down in response to demand -- as a potential pitfall.

"Mission-critical enterprise applications have lots of ways in which they tax the underlying resources of a system," Sikka said. On-demand applications such as Salesforce.com's CRM (customer relationship management) offering are "relatively straightforward," he said.

In contrast, SAP's Business Suite has a wide variety of processes ongoing, Sikka said. "You're running analytical things, you're running long-running things, you're running complex things like demand planning, workforce planning, things like that." Therefore, "a very uniform composition of simple hardware resources may not be the right [approach]," he said.

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

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