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Cloud on the test bench

The advantages of SAP operation in a Microsoft Azure cloud are undisputed - but the SAP community is heterogeneous. Thus, a discourse about the paths to the cloud, hybrid models or an on-premises intermediate step is necessary.
E-3 Magazine
July 2, 2020
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This text has been automatically translated from German to English.

E-3 Magazine invited very different IT providers, but very successful in their cooperation with SAP and Microsoft, to the round table. Thomas Herrmann from NetApp, Peter Höroldt from Libelle and Claus Siepler from T-Systems discuss the challenges and roadmaps of SAP operations in the digital transformation with Editor-in-Chief Peter M. Färbinger.

For a long time, SAP's motto was "cloud first" and sometimes "cloud only". Can this cloud paradigm apply to the entire SAP community, to all industries, functions and scenarios? What does hybrid cloud mean?

Thomas Herrmann, NetApp: SAP's focus on the cloud over the past decade can be seen, for example, in its purchases of SuccessFactors for talent management, e-commerce specialist Hybris, travel expense software Concur, and Qualtrics for experience management.

These acquisitions have pushed the business of enterprise software from the cloud. However, not all SAP customers can pull this cloud option, as the public sector and some industries have regulations that prohibit the use of public cloud services for certain use cases.

On the other hand, those who use cloud services must be able to interact with the local systems and, above all, with the core ERP. This is why hybrid scenarios are crystallizing as the future model for the modern enterprise.

Peter Höroldt, Dragonfly: In our project and operational experience, there is no one operating model that all companies want to follow, today or tomorrow.

The requirements and, not least, the emotional worlds of the decision-makers are as varied as the companies themselves. Some time ago, we carried out an admittedly unrepresentative study with Libelle customers who were rather cautious or even negative about the cloud over the next three years.

Filtered to companies of the entire midmarket from small to large, the result showed that neither project load due to e.g. Hana or S/4 conversions nor functional or technical aspects played the biggest roles, but rather points such as "investments already made in existing systems", "lack of confidence in cloud-related infrastructures" and "lack of experience".

In our opinion, however, companies will only be able to avoid cloud-based SAP operation to a very limited extent in the long term. The foreseeable framework conditions of the application manufacturers, but also the advantages of cloud operation, are simply too great for this.

In any case, the road there will be a very long one. And that is why, in our view - at least as of today and for the time being - all operation models have equal validity, especially in the SAP environment: pure on-premises operation, pure cloud operation (where already feasible), multi-cloud operation and the hybrid cloud approach.

Claus Siepler, T-Systems: If you go to the "new world" of an SAP, then you can't get around the SAP cloud platform. The Digital Core, i.e. the old SAP Business Suite world, should have as little or no individual character as possible.

The individualization that every customer wants and needs takes place in the SAP cloud platform, making the cloud an indispensable component. This is also true if processes from other SAP applications, such as SAP Sales Cloud or SuccessFactors, are to be integrated and extended individually, using agile methods.

Company-specific processes are thus moved to the cloud as a supplement to standard processes. As a rule, this is a mixture of a private cloud and a public cloud, i.e. a hybrid cloud.

The digital transformation towards Hana, S/4 and also Cloud or Hybrid Cloud is widely recognized. What about investment protection, intellectual property, risk control and compliance?

Siepler: A watertight digitization roadmap is crucial, which must also include activities to safeguard intellectual property, compliance, and investments or avoid the occurrence of known risks.

In a detailed preliminary study, the essential strategic cornerstones are defined together with the customer, the actual and target situation is considered and a suitable roadmap is created.

It is thus possible to design the target scenario taking into account the aforementioned topics. In addition, the requirements for data protection and IT security must also be taken into account here.

Höroldt: Hybrid approaches in particular respect investments already made and existing infrastructures. The gradual transition from infrastructures depreciated at different points in time to cloud operation allows the classic hardware cycle to be broken up and capex to be converted into opex.

This proves to be incredibly advantageous, especially in the newly experienced pandemic times, when many companies are clearly reluctant in terms of investment and investment planning. The possibility of dynamic rightsizing is incredibly relaxing.

For the Libelle customers who provide us with corresponding insights, I can only say: It works. And we make sure that the customer can also benefit from this rightsizing within the Libelle automation solutions.

The topic of risk control and compliance is also very interesting: We see infrastructures, physical precautions, certifications and the like at the large cloud providers, which many enterprise customers would also have to make investments in on-premises data centers in order to achieve, and which are very difficult to manage.

Feel free to correct me, but the last number I have in my head from Microsoft, for example, is one billion euros for the expansion of the Azure infrastructure. Month after month after month.

To that end, I saw pages and pages of slides with the certifications from all regions of the world, as well as documentation and pictures of data centers with incredible physical protections.

Herrmann: Digital transformation does not happen overnight. SAP customers will have to continue to operate their existing environments and connect them to the new cloud world.

You are faced with the decision of what information is allowed in the cloud and what is not, which brings us to Intellectual Property, Risk Control and Compliance in the cloud.

These are the most important aspects that are still holding companies back from the cloud across all industries. An end-to-end security concept, developed for a hybrid landscape, eliminates concerns and is the cloud entry ticket.

Höroldt: This "My data will no longer even be in my house, how can I be sure that no one else has access to it?" was a serious point, especially among those who were already critical of the cloud, as was also shown in the study cited earlier.

These are, of course, relevant concerns, especially for those companies that have already had to deal with this kind of disruption. The Dragonfly response to this: if such concerns exist, leave productive systems on-premises for now, but take advantage of cloud operations for non-productive environments and anonymize relevant data.

Even if unauthorized access or data leakage were to occur in the cloud, it would be annoying, but not a GDPR violation. Something like this is then also suitable for first steps into the cloud, for example, in order to build up experience and trust.

What could be "quick wins" in digital transformation for an existing SAP customer?

Herrmann: In that sense, there are only advantages. At the end of the day, what counts for decision-makers is a fast ROI, lower costs, growing sales and increasing profits, which is where they are heading with the digital transformation sooner or later. SAP user companies that do not want to go down this path risk being overtaken by the competition.

Höroldt: The concrete use cases on the part of Libelle: briefly pull up new sandboxes for week-by-week operation. Provide analysis and reporting systems for quarterly purposes with fresh data, turn up the heat for a few days, let the computationally intensive processes run, and then keep them running on a low flame for the rest of the year or put them to sleep completely.

Similar for DR scenarios in hybrid operation, instead of investments in duplicate hardware at different locations that is never fully utilized: productive systems on-premises, DR systems in the cloud with minimal resources in normal operation that are dynamically turned up in case of an incident.

Of course, with geo-redundancy in accordance with BSI recommendations, which is not easy for every medium-sized company to set up on-premises. And so much more.

Siepler: The first steps into the digital world are usually preparations such as housekeeping or the consolidation of grown IT landscapes. Quick wins" can be realized here alone.

By switching to the SAP S/4 Hana platform, there is a huge gain that can be realized quickly due to the drastically expanded possibilities of using SaaS (Software as a Service) from the cloud.

A "release change" to the cloud can still be a manageable step with little Abap modification, but what about operations with development, quality assurance, testing and system copy in Microsoft Azure?

Herrmann: Operating a hybrid SAP landscape with development, quality assurance, testing and system copy would be a real challenge if the two worlds, on-premises and Azure, were implemented as isolated solutions. This can hardly be managed.

Only a cloud-enabled platform like NetApp Data Fabric, which integrates on-premises, cloud, and multicloud scenarios and unifies data management, realizes the flexible back-and-forth movement of data to keep operations running smoothly.

Siepler: In this case, it largely depends on what technology one uses to create system copies. For example, if snapshot technology is used to create the copy, the procedure is not easily transferable.

This means that new procedures may have to be implemented. However, the main effort in creating a system copy lies in the post-copy activities.

However, these can be automated, and there are also ready-made solutions for this on the market. It gets more complicated when you want to create copies across cloud boundaries, for example from the private cloud to a public cloud.

In this case, it is usually necessary to transfer the data completely from one world to the other when creating a copy, which leads to long runtimes for large systems and requires a certain network bandwidth. Snapshot and cloning procedures on a hardware basis are not possible here.

Höroldt: Libelle has already reduced this entire procedure on-premises to the proverbial push of a button with minimal manual intervention, optimally completely automated from the start to the entire preparatory work, the physical copy and all post-processing, including DSGVO-compliant anonymization if required, to the re-release of the refreshed or new system.

Night shift? Weekend operation? Depending on the environment, even a longer lunch break is sufficient in extreme cases, but at least there is a more than significant reduction in throughput times.

Supported by e.g. the possibilities of the NetApp means, which also accelerate the physical copy again immensely, even more impressive effects can be achieved.

At one of our customers, badenIT in Freiburg, we completely refreshed and anonymized an HR system in front of an external audience in a net of 23 minutes. On-premises: without any special adjustments. These are real values and not just marketing.

Such figures are a possibility, especially in the context of migration projects, to refresh test systems or even entire test landscapes in parallel with current data.

For example, we have customers who do multiple refreshes per week in project crunch times, both for the productive R/3 environments and for the S/4 landscapes under construction, simply in order to have a reliable initial status in the environments at all times.

SAP Basis or the project teams use our tools to ensure a regular, clean basis for all developers and testers, easily and with an enormously fast response and throughput speed.

In addition to the competence of the project partners, we believe that these are important components and the best prerequisites for successful migration projects.

Siepler: Therefore, one should very well consider whether and how to distribute the systems in order to achieve an optimum here. Our approach is to use standardized interfaces to the various clouds to make these issues manageable in the context of multi- and hybrid cloud management and thus make the various cloud landscapes operable. This provides customers with a uniform service.

How few or many experts and consultants does the existing SAP customer need for his Hana and S/4 transformation towards Hybrid Cloud and Microsoft Azure?

Siepler: The target platform of the actual transformation should ultimately only be important in the context of setting up the cloud scenario. So - just as with a transformation to a private cloud - OS, DB and SAP Basis experts are needed to support the preparations and implementation of the transformation. Thus, this number should not change significantly, but the necessary skills in relation to the cloud should.

Höroldt: Well, when it comes to the purely technical lift and shift of an existing system one-to-one to the similar Azure system, we are talking about a one-time setup of the Migrate2Cloud solution per system in the scope of one to three days by a consultant.

After that, the button can be pressed any number of times to perform test runs of the move and then restore the original state. These are then in each case efforts that are closer to minutes than days.

Of course, we and our partners are happy to provide support, but finding the right buttons is no longer rocket science. We have been making such moves with the Libelle tools for over 25 years now, so it works correspondingly well with our tools.

When it comes to migration towards Hana and S/4, we prefer to refer to our colleagues, but we are happy to offer the tools described earlier for current test systems and sandboxes, and of course for the Lift and Shift.

Based on your personal experience and expertise: What added value could you promise an existing SAP customer in the transformation towards Hana, S/4 and Azure? And why?

Höroldt: What our customers tell us: technical and commercial dynamism, better basic services vis-à-vis specialist departments, less stress in the project process and in daily operations, more time for more exciting and higher-value tasks for highly paid SAP professionals.

Herrmann: What we are already seeing in terms of added value in practice can be broken down in detail for the user groups as follows: Hana users benefit from high-performance data storage and the processing and analysis of large volumes of data in near real time.

In addition, there are considerable simplifications, for example in the data model. All in all, the company becomes more innovative. With S/4, what stands out most are the shorter innovation cycles, end-to-end process integration, less maintenance and thus lower operating costs.

Those who opt for Azure, on the other hand, not only benefit from the "pay as you go" model, but also from access to unlimited computing power and the rapid provision of resources and technologies at the push of a button.

This group of companies can react quickly to market changes because its projects have a short duration, it has better access to important information, and its data is available everywhere as well as mobile at any time.

Siepler: With the new S/4 Hana platform in an Azure cloud, our customers gain access to a huge range of new services, so-called microservices, which can be seamlessly connected to SAP applications and whose service is charged according to use.

In the pure Digital Core, it's more about simplifying existing business processes and integrating all available digital innovations - IoT, AI, Blockchain, etc.

Last but not least, of course, the performance and scalability of the systems. From an infrastructure perspective, the quasi-immediate availability of resources is certainly a very big advantage of public clouds - and at many locations.

Using the various price models, you can decide whether you need the resources for the longer term or only for a short time, for example to test a new release or to create a project environment. The use of templates to build the infrastructure also makes sense and simplifies the implementation of your own standards.

Thomas Herrmann from NetApp, Peter Höroldt from Libelle and Claus Siepler from T-Systems - thank you for the interview.

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Working on the SAP basis is crucial for successful S/4 conversion. 

This gives the Competence Center strategic importance for existing SAP customers. Regardless of the S/4 Hana operating model, topics such as Automation, Monitoring, Security, Application Lifecycle Management and Data Management the basis for S/4 operations.

For the second time, E3 magazine is organizing a summit for the SAP community in Salzburg to provide comprehensive information on all aspects of S/4 Hana groundwork. All information about the event can be found here:

SAP Competence Center Summit 2024

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Event Room, FourSide Hotel Salzburg,
At the exhibition center 2,
A-5020 Salzburg

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June 5 and 6, 2024

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€ 590 excl. VAT

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Event Room, Hotel Hilton Heidelberg,
Kurfürstenanlage 1,
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28 and 29 February 2024

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Regular ticket
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The organizer is the E3 magazine of the publishing house B4Bmedia.net AG. The presentations will be accompanied by an exhibition of selected SAP partners. The ticket price includes the attendance of all lectures of the Steampunk and BTP Summit 2024, the visit of the exhibition area, the participation in the evening event as well as the catering during the official program. The lecture program and the list of exhibitors and sponsors (SAP partners) will be published on this website in due time.