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Stairway to the Cloud

Since I first read about the concept of cloud computing, I have been buisy investigating how business applications, including complex solutions like SAP could be cloudified, too. In this blog post, I am going to inspect the impact of emerging penetration of cloud computing on the evolution of SAP applications.
First of all, let’s see what could be the main benefits of running an ERP system in the cloud. Let’s approach this question from different viewpoints.
– The customer gains on getting rid of expensive servers with operating systems and operational accessories like safe power support, etc. Further, it’s no need to pay for database license, neither to hire special personell to operate the servers and serverside applications. This is the most apparent advantage of cloud computing. But there is more.
– Cloud computing requires no client side applications, but a modern web browser, only. No client application means no dependency on operating systems. The platform for reaching the cloud is the web itself, rather than the operating system. So on the users’ computer it is enough to have a tiny free OS consuming just a few RAM, instead of pricy Windows that eats sometimes one GB… Savings on SW and HW at the same time.
– And there is one more important benefit we should not forget about: in case of cloud computing, users do not need to get used to another application just to reach the ERP. They can use the same browser they spend their free hours with!
All these statements in one sentence: moving an ERP into the cloud saves cost of server SW and HW as well as the supporting personell, and prevents buying expensive client computers with pricy operating systems.
Now let’s see how much cloud-conform SAP is currently, and what are the outlooks.
At server side, SAP can be run in the cloud right now. There are articles here at SDN detailing how to implement SAP Netweaver in Amazon’s cloud. What is more, there have been a couple of announcements by SAP (BI on-demand, 12Sprints, Business ByDesign, etc) in the past few years that promise great development toward a cloud-based SAP design.
On client side, however, they still offer separate applications for different operating systems. I believe this strategy is inherited from the times when web standards did not make it possible to give a platform for complex web applications. So, there is the most widely used Windows GUI. This is a typical SAP product: though it’s not the slickest software we know, it does its job perfectly. For users without Windows, there is a set of Java archives that can be run on the most frequently used Linux distributions, as well as on Mac OSX (… and on Windows, too). These apps are called the SAP GUI for Java. Unfortunately, SAP GUI for JAVA does not offer the whole functionality of the Windows version, typically the graphically demanding transactions will fail, generating a MESSAGE_TYPE_X sort of dump. Being an APO consultant, this still forces me to buy a copy of Windows. There is a GUI for HTML, too, that provides around the same power like the Java version. So currently SAP develops and maintains several client applications for different operating systems, but there is only one full featured version, which happens to run on MS Windows, only.
I wonder if it is economical for SAP to maintain all these GUIs, while Netweaver is designed to and capable of generating HTML code for its transactions. I do believe that this multi-client concept will soon be dropped, by enhancing Netweaver to provide a HTML GUI with no OS-dependent features, so that it can be run in every browser that supports the standards of the WWW, regardless the operating system. It could either utilize AJAX technology, or Flash, maybe HTML5 comes to the stage, too (canvas and svg elements provide great graphic and interactive features). I do believe in it, though one of the latest developments to this direction, namely Business byDesign is still not 100% WWW conform. While the basic transactions I could run even on my iPhone, the majority of the functions is available in IE on Windows, only. Hopefully the new features of HTML5 – like canvas, svg, appCache, etc – will help SAP replace those good old ActiveX controls with current web standards…
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  • I think your comment is well made, UI consolidation seems somewhat inevitable. Although SAP has had the GUI client for a number of years now and it is a mature model, there seems to be a groundswell of interest in moving to workstation OS independent clients as we have for things like webmail and Web 2.0 applications. I think the concern would be that there is some client side processing that takes place and this may not be easily ported completely to server side GUI rendering.
    • SAP has already moved in this direction, WD for ABAP is the language of choice now and big effort is made in making this WD4A competent with current developments. We already have Some Standard Flex, Silverlight controls available in WD4A control library to make RIA interfaces.
      Also SAP is indeed investing a lot ( what we are calling it as Suite Renovation) in which most of the R\3 screens will be converted in WD4A applications.

      This definitely will help SAP products in making them Cloud Worthy.

      • Wow this seems a confidential communication.
        Even google doesn’t know anything about “Suite Renovation” so if you can give us any more infos will appreciate so much.
        Will Suite Renovation delivered step-by-step via EhPs or via a completely new BS release?