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SAP embraces opens source -- sort of

Simon Phipps | July 30, 2014
Years of slow change are finally leading to new openness at SAP, at least in connection with SAP HANA

At the annual OSCON (Open Source Convention) last week, those stuck in a worldview of open source from the previous decade would have suffered serious cognitive dissonance.

First, Microsoft was an anchor of the conference, with a full-scale display from Jean Paoli's subsidiary Microsoft Open Technologies. As I walked past I repeatedly heard people expressing shock that Microsoft was there at such scale. Wholehearted support for open source still largely stops at the boundaries of Microsoft's Azure cloud offering, but plenty of staff people with genuine open source credentials were showing their wares. Microsoft's journey is definitely progressing.

Another surprising newcomer showed up as well: German IT superpower SAP had a stand on the show floor for the first time. SAP announced that it has become a sponsor of two key open source communities: the Cloud Foundry platform-as-a-service community initiated by Pivotal, and the ever-expanding OpenStack Foundation. SAP's new steps revolve around adding support for its SAP HANA in-memory database to both platforms, including a Cloud Foundry service broker being developed at GitHub.

SAP also discussed its own open source project, OpenUI5, a substantial JavaScript UI library it previously delivered as a proprietary project under the name SAPUI5. Having built the code in-house, it started a move to fully open development late last year and now has the code on GitHub, where it is attempting to develop in public. Earlier open sources moves also include an embrace of Apache Spark and code to allow use of SAP HANA from Node.js.

While SAP has been a major participant at Eclipse for quite some time, these three activities signal the company is taking another step on the journey to openness. I spent some time with Thomas Grassl, SAP's vice president of developer relations. He explained how important these new moves to open source are for SAP, especially in the cloud where open source is the assumed default. Cloud deployments are especially sensitive to any aspect where licensing permission must be sought before deployment and the permissionless flexibility delivered by open source brings a clear advantage.

Like Microsoft, SAP sees the inevitability of open source and is taking steps to adapt its business for open source. Grassl told me that his developer relations team works closely with SAP's internal open source office -- which deals mainly with governance aspects. He explained that as well as producing open source software, recent policy changes have finally allowed SAP's product developers to consume open source code. That has in turn led to contributions upstream to around 100 different open source projects. Coupled with a move to zero-dollar licenses for developer use of their products, SAP's developer activities are finally moving into the same circles that competitors have occupied for some time.


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