Business ByDesign: to scale or not to scale?

As the soap opera that is SAP Business ByDesign rumbles on, I can't help but think of the opening lines in Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1:To be, or not to be: that is the question:Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to sufferThe slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;No more; and by a sleep to say we endThe heart-ache and the thousand natural shocksThat flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummationDevoutly to be wish'd.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

As the soap opera that is SAP Business ByDesign rumbles on, I can't help but think of the opening lines in Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1:

To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;

Recent reports suggest that ByDesign is languishing. Rosalie Marshall of v3 quotes:

Stefan Reid, an analyst at Forrester Research who used to head up the product management division for SAP's Netweaver infrastructure, said that Business ByDesign is unlikely ever to be scalable because it is not based on a multi-tenant architecture.

"SAP said that the architecture of Business ByDesign is multi-tenant, but it can't be because SAP has also said that it is powered by Netweaver, which I know is not multi-tenant," he said.

"And if SAP wants to sell a software-as-a-service [SaaS] solution at a competitive price point, it has to be scalable."

That's not quite true. I've sat through many ByD presentations and talked to plenty of customers. I can't ever recall SAP saying 'multi-tenant' instead preferring its own moniker 'mega-tenant' where multiple customers reside inside the same rack but on different server blades. This still leaves the vexed question of why BYD economics are so out of whack with where SAP needs them to be. But I was equally concerned with the customer numbers. Back to V3:

The 40 current customers of Business ByDesign in the six countries where it is available are being used by SAP as good practice case studies, or what it calls "referencing accounts", for when the firm is ready to encourage more businesses to sign up, according to Rainer Zinow, Business ByDesign innovation vice president.

That didn't jibe with the 150 customers we were hearing about in 2008. It now seems I didn't understand what they were saying. I followed up on the points with Rainer Zinow. These were his emailed replies and my interpretation:

Qu: In 2008 we were told there were around 150 in the early program, now it seems that number has shrunk to 80 - or is it 40 - or some other number? Please see: http://www.v3.co.uk/v3/news/2246312/sap-business-bydesign-really?page=1 If some have dropped off the scheme then what happened?

Re. 1: We are currently have 40+ customers live with broad solution scope deployed and another 40+ customers in implementation projects.  In addition we are working with more prospects who are evaluating ByD, but have not yet signed.  This is consistent with the number of customer engagements we shared previously – so the number of customer engagement stays about the same as what we had discussed in Orlando.

Read: ByD sales is something of a revolving door. As operational cost comes down, SAP should be onboarding more customers while stuffing its pipeline. Zinow's answer suggests potential customers have yet to be convinced

Qu: Back to the user numbers per blade. Originally 50, then 100, where are we now?

Re 2: Regarding the number of users per blade: We can run up to 100 users on the latest Blade technology. As always it depends on the number of cores, front side bus speed and on board memory.

Read: Nothing much has changed. That's worrying. We're almost a year on from when SAP put on the marketing brakes while at the same time acknowledging operational issues.

Qu: Is the issue one of memory utilization within the NW environment that's preventing SAP from getting this to scale?

Re 3: Scalability is not an issue, as ByD behaves like any other NetWeaver based application. With growing CPU and memory resources on board of blades, we should be able to grow the number of users even further.

Read: Watch this space. ByD is clearly memory intensive and SAP is hoping that Moores' Law will work in its favor.

Qu: Has the pricing changed? You're quoted as saying that customers need to take the whole thing but that presumably is based on $149/user/month as previously announced or has that changed?

Re4: Pricing has not changed. Still 149 USD per user for all business functions with a minimum user count of 25.

Read: SAP has been adding functionality and is keeping its prices steady. At least for now. That's got to be good news.

Later this week I'm hoping to meet Vishal Sikka, SAP's CTO. I'm expecting to see some clarity on the technical issues.

Editorial standards