SAP’s future is getting a little cloudier. The company has announced SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud service, which delivers a variety of ERP, CRM, data-warehousing, and other applications via—you guessed it—the cloud. The platform relies on HANA, SAP’s proprietary in-memory technology, which undergirds much of the company’s software offerings. SAP claims this cloud service is capable of “elastic petabyte scale,” meaning that clients can use it for pretty intensive analytics. But the bigger question is speed: is the platform actually capable of delivering on SAP’s promises of “real time” data crunching? Even with on-premises infrastructure and the latest software, mining large datasets for insight can become a slow and aggravating process. But SAP has a lot of faith in HANA. Over the past several quarters, it’s systematically extended the technology to more of its products; back in March, for example, it rolled out SAP Business One, a business-management platform for small and midsize businesses that relied on HANA to speed high-volume transactions and analyze data. But SAP is beginning to face significant competition in the in-memory arena. Microsoft has announced its “Hekaton” project, which will layer in-memory technology into its next major SQL Server release. In April, IBM unveiled a new platform called BLU Acceleration, which it claimed would boost the in-memory performance of datasets. And if that wasn’t enough, Oracle used this year’s Collaborate ’13 to introduce its new Oracle In-Memory Applications for Oracle Engineered Systems, which it claimed would leverage DRAM, flash memory and the InfinitiBand network fabric to run processes much faster than other commodity hardware. In light of that, it seems logical that SAP would seek to expand HANA, its competitive differentiator, to as many demographics as possible. But if other IT giants continue their forays into the in-memory space, it may force SAP to adjust its overall strategy. At stake is quite a bit of potential profit. According to research firm IDC, data analytics and delivery enjoyed growth in the range of 6-7 percent in 2012, outpacing the general software market, which grew 3.6 percent. On IDC’s list of top worldwide software vendors, SAP trailed Oracle, IBM and Microsoft.   Image: Tashatuvango/