It’s undeniable that this year has been unlike any other in recent memory. The repercussions of COVID-19 extend into every corner of your business and the applications that run it. Last month, SAP specialists from Dell Technologies, Brian Sturgis and Rob Mclaughlin, laid out the Four Big Ideas dominating interactions with SAP users as the effects of a global pandemic make their mark on everyday business operations.

In this second post, we explore the heightened focus on the cloud and the need to build a cloud-first strategy, a top priority among SAP teams right now.

All in on Cloud: Why Right Now?

Brian Sturgis, SAP Infrastructure Specialist Data-Centric Workloads, SAP Presales North America, Dell Technologies

Brian: One of the major reasons cloud strategy is on everyone’s mind is because the top software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers like SalesForce and SAP Concur have shown customers what is possible with the cloud. They handle your software, infrastructure, patches, and releases so that you can focus most on using the software to add value to your business. There are certainly more challenges and considerations for employing the cloud for enterprisewide applications like SAP S/4HANA as compared with just CRM and T&E functions. But, when you add the COVID-19-driven increase of remote and virtual operations to the highly proven SaaS model, the case for the cloud has certainly been made and the industry is increasingly moving in that direction.

Rob: That’s correct Brian. The uncertainty of on-premise operational staff and physical delivery of infrastructure components has definitely promoted public cloud as the so-called “easy button.” But it’s very important for people to understand that although the initial spend and infrastructure-as-a-service solutions (IaaS) may seem easy, they do introduce yet another silo of infrastructure, with increased security challenges, unpredictable costs, and, in many cases, requiring additional skill sets.

What’s driving cloud concerns for SAP specifically?

Rob McLaughlin, Principal Systems Engineer, SAP Presales Specialty, Dell Technologies

Rob: SAP landscapes, whether they are running on SAP HANA or traditional platforms, are highly complex environments. Multiple production SAP components are typical, and they all “talk” to each other. These environments are prevalent among the customer organizations I deal with. At the same time, there are other non-SAP environments that contribute to the operational side of the business too. The SAP technology platform has evolved, but we still consider this to be a traditional workload. Meaning, a mission-critical application that relies on infrastructure-based capabilities to meet SLAs around agility, availability, security, and TCO. These are the typical challenges in the multicloud world, whether you are working with on-premise, hyperscalers, or hybrid environments.

Brian: Exactly. In many ways, a company’s set of enterprise applications and data—used for capture, processing, output, and sharing—is like a big puzzle made up of discrete pieces. Customers who view cloud as exclusively off-premise and externally controlled have legitimate concerns that they will not have the all the correct pieces available when needed to complete the puzzle, because of missed SLAs by the provider, difficulties in achieving ongoing integration between edge and core applications and data, contract misunderstandings—what have you. For these reasons, many are reluctant to embrace any part of the cloud for their enterprise needs.

What are the options for the cloud and how have they changed?

Brian: We tend to give short labels to the options—public, private, and hybrid. However, options are best categorized by answers to questions like these: Is the infrastructure (that houses the software and data) located off-premise or on? Is the infrastructure, up to the hypervisor layer, managed externally by a provider or internally? Is the software, from the OS layer up into the SAP Basis layer, managed externally or internally? Do the answers to these questions differ for Production versus Non-Production and/or Disaster Recovery instances? Do the answers differ for edge computing versus core? As you can see, these combinations result in a large number of actual options.

The options have changed due to three particular factors:

  1. Increased development by software developers, such as SAP, of cloud-oriented functionality, as compared with an assumption that the software will be traditional/on-premise/customer-managed only
  2. The growing number of large, well-known public cloud providers that have stepped beyond just DevOps into the enterprise application space and,
  3. The requirements and specifications customers have laid out to the industry regarding how they wish to embrace cloud technologies within a model that is suitable for them specifically.

Rob: That’s an interesting point. My customers’ cloud adoption and the models they establish play an important part in establishing an initial baseline but, more interestingly, in the overall long-term road map. Typically, we design environments to be “right-sized.” Start as small as possible with a platform that scales easily. This design can be delivered in a CapEx or OpEx model, depending on how the business wants the finances structured. In addition, our model can leverage both on-premise and public cloud building blocks and functionality where it makes sense.

There’s a lot involved with rolling out SAP. You need to understand the SLAs across each component in a landscape before you determine where things are going to land. Also, you need to treat the management layer, especially in the SAP world, as a three-layer cake: The top layer includes your functional management team. The middle layer is your SAP Basis and application management and development teams. On the bottom is your infrastructure team. These team layers can consist of internal staff and/or provider-managed staff. What’s important is that the underlying platform needs to be agile, delivering dashboard-based capabilities and automation to the different management layers. This streamlines projects and allows the teams to focus on actual milestones without technology getting in the way.

Brian: In closing, I will repeat something mentioned previously, “cloud is not a particular place; it is an operating model.” It is important for SAP-focused teams to consider this and their cloud-related requirements for agility, availability, security, and TCO. They also need to fully research cloud operating model options that are available, to identify the pros and cons specific to them—such as company culture, business and IT direction, in-house skills and resources, regulatory environment, and to develop a comprehensive cloud vision and strategy accordingly. No two cloud options are alike but the right choices and combinations will deliver numerous advantages to your business. We are always ready to help drive focus and engage in such conversations.

ASUG members can register for the Executive Exchange Virtual Roundtable: SAP in the Public Cloud on Sept. 29, 1–2 p.m. CT.

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