AWS and Azure rising to meet the SAP S/4HANA challenge

21 June 2016

Chris Kernaghan

Chris Kernaghan


The month of May brought quite a lot of excitement in my house for a number of reasons, not least of which were the announcements from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure about their new Cloud instances for running SAP HANA databases.

At SAPPHIRE NOW 2016, both AWS and Azure announced new instance types. These instance types are designed specifically to support both HANA and SAP S/4HANA. AWS released the X1 instance (2TB RAM, 64vCPUs) and Azure announced a 3TB Instance (not available yet).

These announcements are exceptionally exciting for a number of reasons, but the most important for me is that it sends a clear message to the SAP ecosystem that AWS and Azure are now credible alternatives to either on-premise or hosted deployment. SAP customers run their landscapes usually in one of four configurations and these new instances provide disruption in all of them to varying degrees:

We work with a number of customers who maintain their own data centre (DC) as part of their SAP estate, although it is not a core competency for them. As DC operations is not a core competency of companies, they might, over time, push these operations to suppliers to provide. Depending on the supplier, the support of the SAP estate (including SAP) can be outsourced to the supplier. This model is well understood and is common in the SAP world.

What is also common is the perception that these agreements lead to a less agile and less loved SAP landscape due to the competing pressures of the customers wanting to innovate and having to spend money judiciously. On the other side, you have the supplier who values stability and also has the goal of gaining additional revenue through new services. Not all agreements have these outcomes, but many of them do and it is these dissatisfied customers who should be most interested in these offerings from AWS and Azure. Using providers like AWS or Azure would allow customers to do the following:

  1. Chris-K-Azure-and-AWS-Hana-teaser-picture.jpgMaintain their own Infrastructure competency without the capital expenditure on a DC or hardware.
  2. Manage their applications themselves, or with a selection of support partners, to maximise capability of the differing applications.
  3. Increase flexibility and velocity of projects due to the scalability found within AWS or Azure landscapes - without having to combat the inertia of a traditional hosting provider.
  4. Create Big Data platforms with ease which are fully flexible when it comes to providing compute and storage.

I have always been a big fan of AWS because of the flexibility it offers, allowing customers and suppliers the ability to accomplish great things in the short term. It should also be noted that managing SAP landscapes in AWS or Azure in the medium to long term is tricky. Customers need specialist help in planning their SAP landscape and operations to run efficiently in the Cloud. This is because of two reasons:

  1. AWS and Azure are direct charge models, when you use resources you pay for them meaning any mistakes have a direct cost associated with them and this can be expensive.
  2. As the infrastructure is virtual and not accessible, you do not have the luxury of looking at labels and tracing how things are connected. You have to have a clear strategy on how resources and each resource’s’ metadata is labelled and documented within your landscape.

With the right partner, both of these watch items can be mitigated and provide a solid backbone for your operational processes. Which, whilst reducing your short term velocity, ensures that your overall manageability and flexibility is maintained and even increased over time.

Unfortunately, the reasons above will not be enough to encourage some people that Cloud is a valid deployment option; people who love hugging their servers or those who believe that they cannot forge a meaningful relationship with a service provider who works differently to the traditional manner. I would challenge that thinking with some examples of companies who have decided to put their entire business upon a Public Cloud platform.

On the AWS platform, both Netflix and SalesForce have moved their entire operational infrastructure to the Cloud. Both companies ran their own data centres, they are technology companies who have dealt with reliability and scalability challenges within their own data centres. In terms of running on Azure, pharmaceutical company Alvogen runs its SAP estate in the Azure Cloud, as does the Canadian and UK Air Traffic control bodies (NATS and NAV Canada).

These companies have moved their most critical workloads to the Cloud, entrusting AWS and Azure with workloads that traditionally would have belonged to likes of HP or IBM. Azure and AWS have built a platform which continues to disrupt the market and with the new high memory appliances, they have the SAP market firmly in their sights.

I cannot wait to see how it shakes up the current status quo; how AWS and Azure are continuing their disruption of how infrastructure is consumed. They have provided an entire ecosystem of developers’ places to build amazing products, now AWS and Azure are vying to take the back-end systems of record into their infrastructure.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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