SAP is to start supporting its ERP range on VMware's virtualisation platform.

The business software vendor is certifying 64-bit versions of its Netweaver ERP software as well as its CRM applications to run in Windows or Linux-based virtual machines created by VMware Infrastructure, according to Parag Patel, vice president for alliances at VMware. Eligible hardware includes servers from Dell, Fujitsu-Siemens, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

"This is a very clean support statement," Patel said. "You can run SAP in development, you can run it in production, you can run it on several operating systems. In other words, no caveats."

SAP has more than 40,000 customers, and VMware has 25,000. Patel said he didn't know the exact number of customers already running SAP on VMware, but added he "wouldn't be surprised" if it was in the hundreds or thousands.

Those customers will now be able to approach SAP first for any technical problems, Patel said, though they can also approach VMware if a problem is more of a virtualisation issue.

"What's significant is that SAP has very mission-critical apps," Patel said. "Companies are very conservative in deploying SAP, and SAP is very conservative in adding support for its apps."

Patel said more than 100 vendors have enabled their software to run on VMware. They include IBM, CA, BEA Systems Inc. and others. VMware's online list of partners is out of date, Patel said, and he advised customers to check individual support statements at each application vendor.

The alliance also represents two companies lining up against an increasingly threatening rival, Oracle.

Long foes in the enterprise software market, SAP and Oracle are embroiled in a lawsuit. Oracle sued SAP in March, alleging that employees of SAP subsidiary TomorrowNow downloaded large amounts of content from an Oracle support website in an effort to provide cut-rate support to Oracle customers.

Meanwhile, an uneasy truce between Oracle and VMware, including support statements by Oracle for its apps on VMware, appeared to implode last month at the Oracle OpenWorld show, when Oracle announced its own virtualisation platform and said it would restrict app support to its own platform. Oracle later released a statement in which it attempted to soften that stance.

Asked if the SAP-VMware support agreement was an anti-Oracle move initiated by SAP, Patel said "I haven't gotten those vibes."

Lack of support for applications running in virtualised environments hasn't inhibited corporate adoption so far, said IDC analyst Michelle Bailey. But as more risk-averse companies, such as small and medium-size businesses with smaller IT staffs, look into virtualisation, they will need more reassurance that they can get support in case problems arise, she said.