Sometimes here in the 21st century, cloudy means good.
Like most of its counterparts in the IT industry, SAP sees much of its future and that of its HANA in-memory database platform being in the cloud. The accelerating migration of enterprise workloads into the cloud over the past several years has been fueled by the desire to reduce costs, improve agility, increase efficiency, get out of the infrastructure management business, and more quickly adopt modern technologies like machine learning and data analytics, among other reasons. More recently, reluctance to move mission-critical applications or sensitive data into the cloud over security, compliance and management concerns also seems to be disappearing.
A recent study by Forrester Research for Virtustream, a cloud business within Dell Technologies, found that 97 percent of survey respondents were using multicloud strategies for mission-critical applications and almost two-third were using more than one cloud provider or vendor for these workloads. SAP is seeing the same thing, according to Neil McGovern, senior director of marketing at SAP.
In the company’s own surveys, “what came up number one was agility,” McGovern tells The Next Platform. “For provisioning, people see how easy it is to spin out a cloud solution – a username, a password and a credit card, and you’re up and running. That’s the big one, but there are two or three issues that were concerns in the past, and that’s around security and compliance issues. Ten years ago, people said, ‘Don’t put your credit card on the internet or it will be copied around and people will use it.’ Inevitably, you’re safer in the cloud than you are in a dodgy bar late at night. Most people realize a comfort level now with security in the cloud.”
However, SAP’s story around HANA and its cloud ambitions have taken hits in recent months, due in large part to a company-wide restructuring program that the company unveiled earlier this year that includes 4,400 jobs being cut. Over the course of the past few months, the impact of those cuts became more public, particularly as they hit executives involved in both HANA and the cloud. Names like Ken Tsai, whose marketing duties included HANA, and HANA developers Thomas Jung and Rich Heilman. There also were cloud-focused executives who left, such as Robert Enslin, a 27-year SAP veteran who just weeks after leaving was scooped up by Google Cloud.
The changes had some in the industry wondering about the future of HANA, which SAP says has 50,000 customer licenses around the world. McGovern says executive and developer movement within the company shouldn’t overshadow the work SAP is doing as it pushes deeper into the cloud, with HANA leading the way.
“At SAP, we’re continually looking to retool for the future,” he says. “Sometimes there are market trends, either business or technology trends, and we re-evaluate our development and other resources. As we need to invest more heavily in the cloud, the decision was made to consolidate development geographically to focus not just on … our cloud products as well as on-premises. That resulted in some changes. We expect to have more employees at the end of the year than we did at the start, but we want to meet the future needs of our customers. It’s not that we’re deprecating HANA in any way. We’re focusing more on HANA, particularly around the cloud aspects of the platform.”
HANA and the cloud played a prominent role at SAP’s recent SAPPHIRE Now show. Central to all this is SAP HANA Cloud Services, in which SAP is now making its platform a service available on multiple public clouds, starting with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and including Google Cloud Platform. It’s a way of expanding HANA to a wider range of customers and applications. Like any as-a-service offering, it also means removing much of the burden of managing the in-memory database and putting that onto SAP.
“The big idea there is that HANA obviously will be a database available as a service in the cloud, but that’s fairly standard,” McGovern says. “What we’re doing is offering a company cloud services to support HANA so it can deliver enterprise-class business-style use cases … in the cloud. SAP HANA Cloud Services is the foundation vision.”
On top of the database-as-a-service offering, SAP unveiled its Data Warehouse Cloud, the first of the HANA Cloud Services. In beta now, the service is designed to give enterprises a consolidated view of all their analytical, transactional and big data sources. Data Intelligence is an extension of HANA Data Services prepares unstructured data in non-HANA databases for use in other applications, including the SAP Analytics Cloud. Data Intelligence, which will roll out next month, leverages SAP’s Data Hub and Leonardo machine learning offerings to help organizations deploy machine learning models.
“When we moved into this market, what we realized was that the prime movers are the business people,” he says. “The business people are the ones who are trying to solve problems. The IT people are the enablers. So what we tried to do was build a strategy for where business users are today and focus our investments on cloud and machine learning. What we’ve done … is develop our SAP digital warehouse cloud product [so] we’ve introduced three ways that business users can get to their goals faster. Also, we’re going to deliver pre-built templates for common analytics challenges. We’re going to create these templates with partners so users can create a data box for their line of business, their industry, their particular goals.”
SAP also is extending its Analytics Cloud to partners via a software development kit, and is working with public cloud providers, including AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure, as well as strategic service partners for its Embrace program. Embrace is designed to help enterprises migrate to the cloud by offering them a blueprint that includes recommendations for infrastructure, software and services, SAP Cloud Platform services to help integrate and extend SAP systems and third-party workloads running either in the cloud or on-premises, and new SAP MaxAttention and ActiveAttention services to help them run hybrid cloud infrastructures in a hyperscale environment.
In addition, SAP is working with Google Cloud to bring its HANA Enterprise Cloud onto the public cloud as a fully managed service, marking an expansion of the partnership between the two companies that began two years ago.
“We are expanding our product blueprint into the cloud,” McGovern says. “The growth rates for on-prem are pretty much flat. Cloud is growing pretty significantly, so what we’ve announced is a vision for HANA in the cloud. We see these three things as being positive for SAP. We’re betting heavily on the cloud to deliver the technology needed. We’re betting heavily on machine learning technology and other initiatives. Lastly, think about that somewhere in the region of 60 percent to 70 percent of business transactions are done in an SAP system and most of those are happening on top of HANA. When you consolidate these analytic workloads onto your transactional systems, many of these organizations are consolidating these workloads and running them on top of HANA, so much of the momentum that SAP has around data analytic workloads.”