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On May 12, 2010, SAP announced it had agreed to acquire Dublin, CA-based Sybase for $5.8 billion. The first big strategic bet under co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe since they took over the top spot from Léo Apotheker on Super Bowl Sunday of that year, the Sybase buy offered benefits in at least three important areas: database technology (the core of Sybase's original business although it was now a distant runnerup to Oracle, IBM and Microsoft) , strength in vertical sectors like financial services and telecom, and advancing SAP's position in mobile technology.
Sybase CEO John Chen left the company last year to join PE giant Silver Lake Partners, and Sybase became a fully integrated part of SAP rather than a standalone unit.
I asked R "Ray" Wang, Principal Analyst & CEO of enterprise software research firm Constellation Research, Inc., to reflect on how the Sybase acquisition has turned out for SAP three years later. He responded by email that "while the acquisition was on the expensive side, SAP used it to leap frog from super legacy ERP vendor to a more forward path of innovation. In general the Sybase acquisition set into motion 3 areas for SAP:
1. Mobility - this helped them move into the mobile device management and mobile app dev market.
2. China presence and credibility - this gave them a good footing in China based on John Chen's market development and credibility with the Chinese government.
3. The underpinning of database and HANA - the movement to reduce dependency on Oracle and set a path for in-memory computing came from these efforts."
When I asked Wang to be more specific about how Sybase contributed to the development of HANA, he said "The key thing was having access to some of the smartest database minds in the world. They say HANA is home grown, but I think they learned from Sybase and built from scratch."
Also, this thread on the SAP Community Network from earlier this year provides some interesting perspectives on what was gained from the acquisition.
Update 5/16/2013: Hasso Plattner speaking at SAPPHIRE: "Guess why we bought Sybase? They have a whole package of columnar store. Probably will be useful."