We hear a lot about the difference the Cloud will make for learning. Pero Jurisic manages SAP’s global training systems, and I met up with Pero at the Questionmark user conference in Los Angeles and asked him about his experiences of moving SAP Education infrastructure into the Cloud.
John : Can you tell me about how you’re moving your training operations into the Cloud?
Pero : We are transferring our systems for providing environments in classroom training and virtual live classroom training into the Cloud, to give lower cost and more flexibility. We have 400 events every week, around the world, and they need systems to give hands-on experience. Some events use 20 people sharing one server or setup to get trained, and there are some events like upgrade classes where each student has his/her own installation. These servers are what we’ve put in the Cloud – all the environments that people need to practice on.
The old setup was that we had about 1300 physical servers available worldwide, but they were dedicated, one server pool for Supply Chain classes, one server pool for CRM, one for ERP and so on. But in a given week, if the CRM pool was booked fully and we needed one more system, we could not supply it easily. But with the Cloud setup, we are changing this, so that we could teach every class on any system.
John : So if someone wants a particular piece of SAP software to do training on, it’s just available at a touch of a button?
Pero : Exactly. We no longer have dedicated hardware; every course is supported by software in the Cloud.
John : What steps and challenges were involved in moving this to the Cloud?
Pero : We needed to set expectations within SAP internally, to make it clear that this is an end-to-end process we are changing, and that this was a project that would take some time, not just a simple move of servers from place A to place B.
Our first step was to decide – do we need to build our own Internal Cloud or do we rely on a third party supplier? When we evaluated that, we saw a high risk of vendor lock-in if we used a third party, and also that the SLAs were not acceptable for our business. So we decided on a parallel approach: to build our own Cloud, and also play with third party suppliers to get some experience and compare if our approach is still good. Another benefit of using our own system is to remove concerns on data privacy – where the data is located and what the legal impact is. And another challenge is that we have to deal with licenses for the SAP software and third party software we use, and we had to check we had the right licenses, and this involved a surprising amount of work.
On the internal processes, changing to a Cloud setup requires different deployment methods. Previously we’d copied systems; we moved a lot of terabytes of data every weekend. In the new setup, we are cloning; this is much, much faster. But the clone has the same name as the master system. So how do we distinguish all the deployed systems? If you have 10 identical copies with the same name, how do you make them bookable? How does the support team know which one is not working? We needed to find procedures for this, which was quite challenging.
Another challenge was dealing with shared central systems used across our network, for example there is a shared server for email which some courses need to use; before we could easily configure this with each server having a unique name; but now they have the same host name and the central systems don’t like that! So we needed to change some core setups. At first, we moved things without changing training materials and translations; the second step is to optimize our courses for Cloud usage.
As we have people all over the world, a key challenge is communication, to get everyone on board. My favourite saying (from Shaw) is “The single biggest problem about communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. You communicate and communicate, but still you find people you should have reached and still they don’t have the information.
John : Have there been cost savings?
Pero : Yes, already from the setup phase, and we expect to get to 20-30%, perhaps 40%. There is a side benefit too that by optimizing use of our hardware, that means less hardware produced and running, which saves energy and CO2. We embrace this as well, as part of SAP’s Sustainability initiative.
The magic also is we can do much more short term courses, we can now do a half day course very easily as we can deploy a system for this time, which was difficult beforehand.
John : Will you continue to use the SAP Private Cloud or might you move to Amazon or another third party provider?
Pero : We are continuously checking if there is somebody better out there, and if this is the case we would not need to develop everything on our own. The advantage of our own Cloud is that we have full control of everything and have an API to our Learning Solution, so the booking is from a central tool, and there is very little change for our Education team around the globe.
John : What would your advice be to other people who are thinking of moving operations into the Cloud?
Pero : Be sure what you want to achieve. Write it down and try to set the right expectations. Things go slower than you want them to go, because it’s still a very dynamic field and you need to do a lot of things for the first time. You need to get buy-in from higher management, because it does not stop with your own department; we are working with IT, with Consulting, it’s really a cross-company approach, it does not stop at the border of one’s organization. Indeed the Cloud may change the setup of organizations.
John : How do you see the Cloud impacting things in the future?
Pero : I believe the Cloud is to stay, it’s not just a trend. I believe that in the short term, big companies are making Private Clouds and “playing around” with Private and External Clouds and trying to find the right mixture. But in time I believe that there will be Cloud providers with very good SLAs for various business cases. We as SAP most probably will never let our development systems out in a Public Cloud, we will want to have them pretty controlled, but what we do in Education is to deploy a system which will die in 5 days; on a Friday most courses are done, so that might be something you can do safely in an External Cloud. As an example, I would like in 2-3 years to be able to use our Internal Cloud for 60-70% of our demand with full utilization, and then go out for bidding for 300-400 virtual machines with a specified SLA. And I can provide a business pattern: for instance on 1st May I won’t need it as it’s a global holiday, but on certain weeks which are full, I can provide an expectation of volumes. And I can ask external providers to provide a price. But this means that I’ll need to deploy on them, and so I’ll need standards and APIs. So that things become interchangeable, just like electricity. At the moment this is not yet the case.
John : Do you think those standards will happen?
Pero : Yes. I believe they will happen but it will take time. Everyone is trying to dominate the market and be there first. The first ones in have no real business interest to do this standardization, because they want to keep you on their platform. But the market is really too big and all the big companies are coming in right now, and I believe standards like this will come – I look forward to it.