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Earlier this year I analysed the state of SAP’s available mobile apps on the new SAP mobile app store.  One of the challenges I highlighted was the infrastructure demands for the mobile middleware.  I believed that if mobile middleware components such as Sybase Unwired Platform and Afaria as well as apps could be available as a Software as a Service (SaaS) / Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering, this would solve one hurdle for customers looking to adopt the platform.  This idea is not new.  In my research for this blog I found that SAP Mentor Richard Hirsch also mentioned this possibility in an earlier blog (see his Option 3).

Thinking about it more carefully in recent times, I am even more convinced about this.  Here are 7 reasons why … 

  1. A mobile abstraction layer such as Sybase Unwired Platform and Afaria needs to evolve quickly to keep pace with the rapid evolution of new mobile client platforms, SDKs and handsets.  And this rate of evolution is significantly faster than the pace of traditional on-premise enterprise platforms.   This also means frequent upgrades, patches, etc. to keep up with the latest new mobile device, operating system, etc. By way of example in the past few months we have seen SUP move from version 2.1 to 2.1.1 to 2.1.2.  And if we believe in the concept of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), then the timing of upgrades to the mobile abstraction layer will be driven moreso by end users (eg. to support the latest OS versions) rather than by the IT department.  This level of constant ‘up keep’ is something many customers I believe would much prefer to see delivered as a managed service.  
  2. The availability of this mobile middleware layer as a PaaS removes the burden on customers to justify capital spend to commission on-premise middleware.  In this situation customers wouldn’t need to ‘bet the farm’ on purchasing a heavy weight on-premise solution, but rather can take advantage of low barriers to entry with a PaaS offering.  Customers can then attain easy access to SAP’s app store apps, using the PaaS as a runtime platform.  And after using the solution if in future it doesn’t suit customers’ needs, they can find alternatives without needing to decommission systems and hardware.
  3. If we assume that a PaaS provides for more transparency in pricing, then customers will be more readily able to formulate a business case for adopting the service.  This blog by SAP Mentor Kevin Bennedict outlines the challenges faced by customers encountering licensing obfuscation currently.  In an ideal world, the PaaS / SaaS offering would bundle pricing for use of specific apps into a transparent per month / per user charge, inclusive of licensing for SUP, Afaria, and invocations through NetWeaver Gateway. In a perfect world, it would all be free.
  4. Availability of this mobile middleware in the cloud also brings more access to developers, insofar as developers don’t need to source their own local installation of the middleware.  A more engaged developer community brings with it the natural benefits of powering the app store through scale.  I know Dennis Howlett and others have been sending this message to SAP for quite a while.  To be fair, SAP’s SUP Developer Center when made available to the public will help address the skills and access issues.  Interestingly the new SUP Developer Center itself provides developers with their own SUP image hosted on CloudShare rather than using a shared instance.
  5. Mobile platforms hosted in the cloud have a natural advantage insofar as the internet connectivity to handsets can be made available ‘out of the box’.  To some degree this is also why cloud SaaS solutions (including SAP’s) have been able to offer mobile apps so readily (an example is SAP StreamWork).  Of course, organisations would still need to figure out how to connect their on-premise SAP systems securely to the mobile middleware layer.
  6. Mobile Consumer Application Platforms (MCAP) in my opinion belong in the cloud, where they can scale more readily for the consumer populations.  To the extent that SAP has outlined an intent to one day bring together its Mobile Enterprise Application Platform (MEAP) which is based on Sybase Unwired Platform, and its MCAP platform, this in my mind places the unified platform in the cloud.
  7. Competitive pressures from some cloud-based mobile platform vendors may force SAP to move its platform to the cloud.  There are already mobile platform vendors that operate cloud-based platforms, whether for enabling mobile apps or for managing them.  The allure for customers of these types of platforms is high, when the licensing is clear and transparent, and barriers to entry are low.  To be fair, some SAP partners have seen this opportunity and are working to establish this SaaS / PaaS offering for SUP / Afaria themselves.  My hope is that these offerings will be successful and can achieve the scale needed to provide customers with a cost-effective avenue to kick-start their enterprise mobility ambitions.

One thing I haven’t considered is what technical or architectural limitations there might be with hosting SUP / Afaria in the cloud.  There are references to multi-tenant support in the SUP manuals, but I’m no expert in the area of on-demand systems. 

In any case, I hope that my reasoning has some merit.  Tell me, do you see value in the mobile platform in the cloud?

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13 Comments

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  1. Mark Teichmann

    John,

    I think SUP should be available both in the cloud and for inhouse hosting. Many other vendors of similar solutions are already offering this choice. But, as mentioned in Kevin’s blog, without knowing the price you cannot make a good choice.

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  2. Sascha Wenninger

    “In an ideal world, the PaaS / SaaS offering would bundle pricing for use of specific apps into a transparent per month / per user charge, inclusive of licensing for SUP, Afaria, and invocations through NetWeaver Gateway.” << +1. No, make that +10!

    I definitely see value of having your mobile platform in the cloud. Hosting it on-premise actually makes less sense to me seeing that one of the very definitions of a smartphone is their ‘always on’ internet connectivity, and hosting the MEAP/MCAP in the cloud would perfectly align with this.

    But I should also clarify that by “cloud”, I mean PaaS and not simply running the same old software on the same old Windows OS in an AWS EC2 instance. That’s not cloud – that’s hosting. A mobile platform IMHO greatly benefits from “proper” cloud deployments which are from the designed from the ground up considering concepts such as multi-tenancy, logical sharding, as well as the stalwart cloud features of integration with other xaaS services (github, anyone?).

    </rant>

    Sascha

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  3. Simon Kemp

    Hi John,

    I have shared many of the same thoughts over the last 12 months or so. One thing you mention that is of particular interest to me and I see as a potential “barrier to entry” is when you say:

    Of course, organisations would still need to figure out how to connect their on-premise SAP systems securely to the mobile middleware layer.

    For me this integration is key, from both a security and performance perspective. In my mind SAP has a long way to go to get a traditional customer base (which is very used to having On Premise solutions) to moving to the Cloud or indeed a Hybrid-Cloud approach.

    I am all for removing barriers to entry for organizations entering the “post pc” era… I would like to understand more about the technical and legal ramifications of this integration point.

    Thanks for your valuable contribution,
    Simon

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    1. John Moy Post author

      Hi Simon,

      In relation to the “connect their on-premise SAP systems securely to the mobile middleware layer”, I am thinking of a secure VPN connection to the external server.  Where I work this has been done before (for other use cases). 

      I think as customers extend their on-premise systems to edge applications or systems in the cloud, this will become a much more common scenario.

      Cheers

      John

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  4. amit chawathe

    Hi John,

    Thank you very much for the great blog on the topic. here are my 2 cents.

    In the collaborative spirit, I will be very glad for any feedback on the same.

    I definitely see the merit of SaaS & PaaS for SUP & Afaria if the technology platform is viewed on it’s technical & operational merit (software development life-cycle), especially in the commercial sector.

    However, there are key business and data-centric considerations which could make the decision go in a different direction, based on the individual customer’s needs,

    (Please note that these are applicable not only to mobile centric application platforms, but to all applications in the cloud)

    1> ROI vs TCO Graph

    There will come a point in the ROI Vs TCO graph when the Mobile Platform is clubbed with the larger internal landscape (depends on maintenance contracts, outsourcing agreements, etc…

    Vendors competing for lucrative service / implementation contracts from large organizations will change the rules of the game to suit their offering.

    2> User Identity, Financial Data (gets the security blanket based on risk profile; based on the principle: cant be too secure about people’s identities or their money)

    2> Manufacturing / Shop floor Data; Few Manufacturing companies have opened up their plants to the cloud, especially around real-time / near real-time data. However this trend is reversing slowly.

    3> Government / Security Services Data (private cloud helps here too, but not for any data classified confidential and upwards)

    4> Highly competitive industries (e.g.:Hi-Tech / Semi Conductor Manufacturing) which have a very high security requirement (read: paranoid about security)

    To go to market with a successful SUP / Afaria Hosting Service, the vendor will also solve these problems for their customer, and no doubt give the customer what they need  for a great price…

    I have created a poll, which I hope will give us some insight on what everyone has in mind.

    I will be glad to publish the results here at specific intervals.

    Regards,

    Amit

    (as of: 29-Mar-2012: 1100 hrs (ADET)

    4 days: total 18 votes

    Vote: SUP / Afaria in the Cloud?

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    1. John Moy Post author

      Hi Amit,

      Thanks for adding to the discussion.  You raise some good scenarios where companies may want an internally hosted mobile platform.  As an earlier commentor mentioned, there is probably a place for both.

      Whilst there are some partners moving to offer a managed service, it doesn’t necessarily exist everywhere yet.  Capgemini seem to be an early adopter and have an offering in the US and are rolling out their service in other countries, but in Australia where I am, nobody has the service up and running RIGHT NOW (at the time of writing).

      Rgds

      John

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    1. John Moy Post author

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks.  I was already aware of Capgemini being an early adopter in the managed service space for SUP and Afaria.  Thats why I included a link to that partnership in my blog. 😉

      That said, it also looks like other partners are looking to establish similar offerings (at least, those I have spoken to say they are).

      Rgds

      John

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  5. Fernando Pinto

    Hi John,

    Thank you for this post. I would also add that this cloud strategy is very aligned with SAPs overall strategy. From what I have seen from SAP presentations, demos, and the information available in the market the 3 main drivers are Real time Analysis, Cloud and mobile – HANA, SFSF/ByDesign, Sybase.

    Mainly this is where the market is going and I am sure that also SAP, after buying companies like Sybase and SuccessFactors (with a very strong cloud DNA), will want to be the strongest player in the market.

    I am not so worried with the technology side, but mainly with the business model/pricing. Some other very competitive solutions are in the market as well. SAP does not have a subscription model DNA. Will that change?

    I am seeing some move there. I am moving as well, but let’s see.

    Just to share that I have also read about some SUP installations in the Amazon EC2.

    Thanks,

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    1. John Moy Post author

      Hi Fernando,

      Completely agree with your concerns about whether SAP can offer appropriate subscription models.  Indeed, the original catalyst for my blog was dealings I have had with a 3rd party MCAP provider which has its platform in the cloud.  This model takes many roadblocks or adoption issues off the table (standing up hardware etc, as outlined in my blog).  But the other thing I noticed with this vendor was very straightforward, clear and transparent subscription pricing.  I hope SAP can offer the same.

      Rgds

      John

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  6. Tom Van Doorslaer

    Very good points.

    Now you have to convince security. These guys are not happy with mobile access to enterprise resources. They are also not happy with exposing resources to “the cloud”. And they are definitely not happy with making a connection from their protected systems to an external “cloud” party.

    I’m immediately going to tackle one of my own points:

    SUP in the cloud will only temporarily buffer data, so you don’t really store data in the cloud. (minimizes the risk already)

    Any idea to convince them on the other two points? Than I’m willing to go back in discussion with our own security department 😆

    Edit: Someone must’be read your blog:

    http://www.insidesap.com.au/_blog/News/post/Fujitsu_signs_on_as_partner_for_Sybase_Managed_Mobility/

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    1. John Moy Post author

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your comments.  I think the whole issue about connecting on-premise systems to external cloud providers is something each organisation has a different appetite for.  Where I work there are already other scenarios where this is the case.  I could argue that connecting on-premise systems to a single cloud provider via a secure VPN connection is more secure than exposing your own on-premise systems to the wide internet. The cloud provider is then responsible for securing the services exposed to the internet.  But really this gets down to an issue of trust, and whether you trust your inhouse team to secure your systems against security risks better than an external cloud provider.  I’m no security expert, so that decision rests with each organisation.

      With respect to the news announcement in the link you provided, I was not aware of that alliance prior to it being announced, but I am not surprised.  I don’t know if they read my blog, but I have been quite vocal in the local market about the need for a PaaS / SaaS offering for SUP.  The genesis of my thinking actually comes from my experiences with a 3rd party MCAP provider who has its platform in the cloud, and for which all the arguments listed in my blog are a non-issue.

      Thanks

      John

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