Comment: SAP As An Open Source Cast Study


Is SAP a great case study on the ways in which proprietary companies can engage with the open source community?

Independent technology-industry analyst company The 451 Group certainly think so. Enterprise Software Analyst Matthew Aslett has recently spoken with SAP director of technology standards and open source, Claus von Riegen and SAP open source program manager, Erwin Tenhumberg about the company’s gradually increasing engagement with open source. Aslett promises to publish the full report in due course, but has just posted a blog featuring “highlights” of his formal assessment of SAP’s open source strategy.

SAP and open source do not had the easiest of histories. In November 2005, SAP president Shai Agassi dismissed open source innovation as “IP socialism” and called it “the worst thing that could happen.” He admitted that there could be a place for open source in debugging, but that anything more complicated than that was likely to break the underlying code of an app. They did allow external developers to interact with the core SAP application through open source standards, but other than that, it remained closed.

SAP slowly came around to the idea of open source, becoming a founding member of the Eclipse Foundation in 2004. However, it didn’t begin formally contributing to Eclipse projects until three years later. Since then, the number of projects that SAP contributes has jumped from a mere three in late 2008, to more than 25 per day. Ongoing SAP projects at Eclipse, include the data-centric technologies project, Data Tools Platform; and Web Tools Platfprm. SAP was the original contributor of the Java heap analyser Memory Anlyzer, in October 2007. SAP is also contributing to the Eclipse Modeling Project and the Eclipse Equinox OSGi implementation. It has also initiated the Eclipse proposals for the Pave Framework and the Graphiti graphics framework. SAP was the third largest contributor to Eclipse in 2009. Clearly, after a cautious start, SAP are getting stuck into open source, as far as Eclipse is concerned. Its enhanced contributions, means that SAP is now classed as an Eclipse strategic developer, instead of a strategic consumer.

And SAP is looking to expand into new areas of the open source community. In October 2009, SAP announced it would be joining a number of projects at the Apache Software Foundation. These projects included Maven, VXQuery, Tomcat, OpenEJB and ActiveMQ.

“This is a great step forward. We are highly enthusiastic about further extending our reach into the community.” said the executive vice president of Technology Development at SAP, Hervé Couturier, at the time.

In the same year, SAP also hosted the EclipseDemoCamp event at its headquarters in Germany. At the event, various developers demonstrated the latest developments in a range of Eclipse-based projects. SAP have also contributed to Ruby on Rails and JRuby, and invested in many prominent open source companies, through its SAP Ventures arm. These companies include Red Hat, GroundWork, Intalio, JasperSoft and MySQL.

The forthcoming full report promises to reveal SAP’s plans for encouraging more open source development from its SAP Developer Network members, and the due diligence checks SAP performed on its code use. Still, just looking at the history of SAP, it is possible to see a gradual acceptance of open source and, if The 451 Group’s teaser blog post is to be believed, SAP has every intention of continuing deepening its involvement in the open source community.

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