Venture capitalists are not the only ones with their heads in the cloud.

Over the weekend, SAP AG scrounged up $3.4 billion to buy SuccessFactors Inc., one of the leaders in a technology segment that's been buzzing louder than a hornets' nest over the last two years.

Yes, we're talking about cloud-based computing. San Mateo, Calif.-based SuccessFactors provides "human capital management" software to businesses - tools to handle things such as compensation, training, and succession planning.

On Saturday, SAP, which has its North American headquarters in Newtown Square, announced that it would pay $40 per share in cash to buy all outstanding shares of SuccessFactors. Given that SuccessFactors closed at $26.25 on Friday, that's a 52 percent pop for its shareholders.

The purchase price is also 10 times the non-GAAP full-year revenue guidance of about $330 million that SuccessFactors provided in October. Don't ask about the multiple based on earnings, because the 10-year-old company has been unprofitable since it went public in 2007.

Built by pricey enterprise resource planning software sales, SAP calls cloud computing "a key pillar" of its growth strategy. In cloud computing, businesses largely dispense with owning hardware and software and access the tools and services they need via the Internet.

Adding SuccessFactors, which has more than 1,450 employees and more than 3,500 customers, gives SAP a "name company," even it's only a name that sets aflutter the hearts of human-resources professionals.

Its cachet is such that the German software giant intends to operate SuccessFactors as an independent company with current CEO Lars Dalgaard in charge and will appoint him to the executive board of SAP. That's a lot of faith in an executive running a business a fraction of the size of SAP, which had total 2010 revenues of 12.46 billion euros, or $16.71 billion.

Take a read of the transcript for SuccessFactors' recent conference call with analysts and you'll hear the bombast of a salesman who says he's trying to remain "humble" while working in what could be "the biggest software opportunity around in this decade."

Bill McDermott, co-CEO of SAP, told PhillyDeals columnist Joseph N. DiStefano that Dalgaard "has cloud DNA. He will run the entire SAP cloud business."

Inevitably, anything SAP does is compared against its business-software rival Oracle Corp., which placed its own cloud-computing bet in late October when it agreed to buy RightNow Technologies Inc., of Bozeman, Mont., in a deal valued at $1.5 billion.

Will it be money well-spent? SAP cited figures by market researcher Gartner that sales of talent-management products are expected to reach $4.5 billion by 2015 of which 75 percent would be cloud-based.

Certainly, SAP has written bigger checks over the years. It bought Sybase Inc., a Dublin, Calif., maker of database-management systems, for $5.8 billion in July 2010, and Business Objects S.A., a business-

intelligence software firm based in Paris, for $6.7 billion in 2007.

Such software has nothing on the hype hitched to cloud computing, which is nevertheless a real cost-saving trend for corporate America. Still, SAP's billion-dollar play for SuccessFactors is a bolt of lightning for a business that's never blue when talking about the cloud.

Contact Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com, or @PhillyInc on Twitter. Read his blog, "PhillyInc," at www.phillyinc.biz.