Nine months of Developer Center
This blog post was meant to be “Three months of Developer Center”. Then I changed the working title to “100 days of Developer Center”. Next was “Half a year of Developer Center”. Finally, just a bit more than nine months after we launched our offering, I was able to write down the story. It’s been nine months, so it’s quite a long story…
It was in October 2011, when Vishal Sikka, CTO and Executive Board Member of SAP, challenged our group with a seemingly simple question:
“Can we get SAP HANA in the hands of thousands of developers? I want to announce that at SAP TechEd in Bangalore in two weeks!”
Well, at that time, the only possible answer was “No!!!” (with all three exclamation marks):
- HANA was “premium segment” (a euphemism for “very expensive”)
- HANA only ran on certified hardware and the development team had no intentions to relax on the certification process, as they had to guarantee maximum performance
- SAP’s legal frameworks were not designed for mass adoption (another euphemism…)
- SAP’s software delivery processes are optimized around Service Marketplace, which is only accessible for SAP customers and partners.
- Many other potential excuses for the inexcusable…
All in all, HANA just wasn’t accessible for thousands of developers and there were myriads of obstacles to overcome. But “No” is not really an acceptable answer when Vishal (or any other executive board member of any other company I suppose) wants something done. And it seemed like the right thing to do anyway, something we had been willing but not empowered to do ever since we launched SAP InnoJam and SCN Code Exchange. So we replied with “Let’s see what we can do“, and went into Design Thinking Mode straight away.
After just a few days, it had become clear to us that the compromise between desirability (“do we have an attractive offering for developers?”), viability (“can we reach thousands of developers?“) and feasibility (“can we implement this“) was to set up a free test & trial environment together with some getting started material and community-driven support, so developers could check out HANA with minimal personal investment. Together with our lawyers, we worked out a test & trial license agreement, we collected, wrote and recorded Developer Guides and we also asked for a budget to offer each interested developer a 30-day free trial with all infrastructure and hosting cost paid by SAP.
We were able to get ten HANA servers, each with 32 CPU cores and 1 TB of RAM and we decided to install a single-node HANA instances along-side a BI Platform 4 on each of the machines. Not the recommended setup at all, but we had had quite positive experiences with such a setup when running SAP-internal HANA Sandboxes for a few months. To keep the entry bar for such a 30-day trial really low, we worked with our partner CloudShare (http://www.cloudshare.com) on setting up remote desktops with all the client software installed – no user would have to install anything on their local machines.
So a few days before TechEd, it looked as if we had everything in place. Everything? Of course not!
A proper sign-up self service could not be implemented in time for TechEd, so we defined a temporary process that required our team to monitor an email address the registrations were sent to. We took turns in processing the registrations once or twice a day, thanks Gigi Read, Karin Schattka and Rocky Ongkowidjojo for committing to this extremely dull task. Didn’t feel at all like SAP was a business process automation company, it rather reminded me of the medieval ages. But it needed to be done, as neither we nor our executive sponsor felt like waiting for another couple of months until we had a “perfect” solution.
A slow start (by design 😉 )
We knew what resources we had at hand – our ten 1 TB servers. What we didn’t really know at that time was: how many users can we put on a single machine?
The load a developer creates is very different from that of a typical user who runs a query every once in a while. Developers load data, they activate models and they don’t run a query just once, they run it x times in a row until they get the result they want. So we had to expect significantly higher load per user than what the standard HANA sizing anticipates.
And how much would people be using our sandboxes? One hour per day? More? Less? And how many developers would sign up for the trial?
To be honest, we had absolutely no idea. Our approach to deal with our lack of knowledge is a reliable source for confusion until now: Access Codes.
We decided to launch the Developer Center sandboxes in several waves and during the first wave hand out invitation codes to a controlled number of developers only – the idea was to throttle the load on our system by only granting those access who bounced back one of the invitation codes. Sort of a “private beta”. Apparently we failed in explaining what those access codes really meant. Or we didn’t fail and you guys just didn’t bother. Doesn’t matter, checking the access code value quickly became the most amusing part of signing up users. We have seen all sorts of funny access codes such as “I don’t have one, but I WANT access”, “What is an access code?”, “qwerty12!”, “InspiratioN”. Some of you even sent something that looked exactly like a valid access code, but didn’t pass the validation…
It has been said before, but I take the chance to repeat it: at this point in time, if you don’t have an access code, you don’t need one.
At the time of writing this blog post, we can handle the load just fine – but if the number of registrations increases dramatically, we may have to throttle the user creation again until we secure more resources.
Then came the day of Vishal’s TechEd keynote. He announced the test & trial licenses, showed the sign-up page and 20 seconds later, we had the first registration in our inbox. Too bad the network configuration between CloudShare and our servers wasn’t done yet. So it took us a few more days to send out the first credentials – but from thereon, our own experience has been quite positive (and we hope so has yours!). We signed up the first onehundred users, then the next one hundred and after just about three weeks we accepted requests from everybody…
Things mature, let’s add more stuff…
After a few weeks of operating the HANA Developer Sandboxes, things worked quite smoothly – despite some minor hick-ups such as non-responding servers e.g. when some users really tried to get all the CPU resources of a machine for their tests. Oh, and let’s not forget chaos weekend beginning of December, when suddenly all the servers went down and some of the databases got corrupted – not nice at all… But our trial users were very patient with us and the appreciation of the opportunity to check out HANA first hand clearly dominated the disappointment when things weren’t working as desired. Thanks much for all the support and all your patience!
Anyway, things looked good. At any point in time, a few hundred developers were active on the sandboxes. Sometimes they shared their successes with us, especially when they passed the certification as SAP HANA Associate. And they shared their findings with the community – as blogs, answering questions or just by suggesting configuration changes that would benefit every sandbox user.
Thanks to all of you active contributors – too many to mention, but you know who you are!
So after a while, it didn’t exactly get boring, but it was time for the next step. Our idea was to expand the offering in two dimensions:
- Make more SAP Technologies available
- Create more value for developers
Regarding 1., we launched a test & trial environment with similar terms for the Sybase Unwired Platform, SAP’s mobile platform of choice. We also launched Developer Centers for SAP NetWeaver Gateway and SAP’s UI Development Toolkit for HTML5, both with downloadable trial versions of the products. And just in time for SAPPHIRE NOW in Orlando this year, we were able to launch a free 90-day trial on the brand-new SAP NetWeaver Cloud platform known as NEO.
Regarding 2., we surveyed our developers on what they wanted to see. Some of the developers asked for complementary technology, such as SLT or Data Services to load data from SAP Backend Systems into the sandbox. We gave it a try for a small set of users, but had to abandon the idea – it just wasn’t feasible. What works well in an on-premise environment doesn’t necessarily work on the cloud. We’re still watching that track and once the technology is ready for multi-tenancy and self-service, we may try again.
And some of the feedback we received was along the license and sandbox setup.
- 30 days is not enough
We actually extended every developer who asked for an extension for up to 90 days. For a while we were also quite relaxed about people creating several SCN User IDs to get more time on the sandbox. Not that we didn’t know. Not that we weren’t surprised about such behavior. But we felt bad that we didn’t have a better offer. We have a better offer now. We’re not that relaxed any more about people bending the rules, because they bend the rules at the expense of other community members – capacity is limited. Please play fair and don’t try to cheat yourself into another 30-day trial.
- The IP handling in the EULA being too restrictive for “real” development and the nature of a shared sandbox not suitable for development projects, sometimes not even PoCs
Well, we always had the larger plan of expanding the test & trial into a full-blown SAP HANA Developer Edition without the limitations that we had to introduce for the trial. We also had the grand vision of eventually having a full end-to-end story where a developer could learn about SAP HANA (and other technologies) during a free trial accompanied by Getting Started material, then move on to building their own applications and finally selling those applications to SAP customers through some sort of “App Store”.
So for SAPPHIRE NOW 2012, we prepared our next announcement: free individual developer licenses for everyone. Not limited to SAP partners or customers, every SCN user can get a personal HANA environment, download the tools and get started. The EULA grants you the rights to build, test and demo solutions on SAP HANA, and you have full IP ownership of anything you build, so you can use your code/models in projects or even sell it to SAP HANA customers. As HANA still only runs on certified hardware (that is not exactly cheap when you are a developer and you want your personal box) and on Suse Linux Enterprise 11 (which is not exactly the standard OS for developer laptops), we decided to enter a partnership with Amazon Web Services and host developer instances on AWS at relatively moderate cost (starting around .60$ per hour as of July 2012).
Adoption has been quite nice since the announcement, but what’s really overwhelming is the activity on these AWS instances – judged by the uptime of the active instances (~30 hours per week on average), some developers must really be up to something. No worries – we don’t spy on you. The total number of hours spent in HANA instances is actually all we can get…
But I would love to read about what you people are doing, if you want to share – please blog about it, or comment under this post.
NEW: We have just announced the same offering – free developer licenses with the servers hosted on AWS – for Sybase Unwired Platform. And we’re not done yet – there is definitely more to come!
Speaking of numbers – let’s crunch some, for those readers who are interested:
- Until now (July 2012), access to the SAP HANA test & trial sandboxes has been requested by a bit more then 4500 users
- More than 3000 users have actively used the systems.
(I would really be interested in hearing from the other nearly 1500 about what has held them back. We created your users accounts, send you the access information, and you guys never logged on – contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the Developer Center forums, so we can understand how to serve you better)
- The total numbers of hours spent on the test & trial environments is about 30,000 hours
- That means the average usage within the 30-day trial is around 10 hours per user.
But there is significant variance. Some users logged on once for 1 minute and never came back (again, we’d love to understand what scared you away, please tell us!), others have been treating their HANA trial like a second job. 250 hours within 30 days is where the current record stands. Amazing, I hope you got a lot of knowledge about HANA (and confidence in HANA) from it!
Not sure if the community is interested in any of those numbers – or others, such as total sandbox downtimes (we announce all planned and the major unplanned downtimes on the forum). Let us know and we can publish information more regularly.
Call to action
- Have fun on the Developer Center!
- If you want to thank one person for the opportunity to get your hands on SAP HANA, SUP, NEO and all the things to come, thank Anne Hardy. A lot of people have been involved – again, too many to list. But without Anne’s leadership and her dedication to developer enablement, nothing would have come out of it. Every day we hit some wall. And every day, it’s a pleasure for me to learn from Anne when and how to walk around the wall and when and how to run right through it.
- If you want to complain about anything not working, complain to me. I am running this show, so I better know 😉
- Let us know what you’re doing. Blog. Comment. Join us at an InnoJam. Or compete at a Demo Jam.
- Let us know how we’re doing. Blog. Comment. If you don’t want to share your thought publicly, send us an email to email@example.com.
Really great job with this blog as I loved how you explained the challenges behind the scenes as many have/will set the foundation for future initiatives.
Also was great to hear about the numbers (I am a bit of a stat geek) as well as ending with a open invitation to the community to provide feedback. If anyone has any complaints there is no excuse for not having your voice heard.
Thank you for this excellent blog and for all things done around the developer center.
Some years ago I would not have believed that SAP would offer things such as a developer center at all.
Of course my wish list still is not empty:
Nevertheless you all are doing a fantastic job making SAP to a top innovator!
Thanks for the feedback - noted... We are actually in the process of consolidating all those different trial, developer and whatnot license agreements that SAP has created or acquired over time. It's a big pile and it will take some time. But eventually, we want to have simple license terms and developer editions for (ideally) everything.
And yes, Rui is thinking about the next step for Code Exchange, too...
Well this really is a great story and one worth to be told. If anything, the Developer Center and the story behind it clearly shows that the whole theme of the "new SAP" is more than just talk or a marketing campaign...
And while the fact that SAP now has a Developer Center speaks for itself, there's more to it and that's the way you tell the story: including all aspects of it - the good, the bad and the ugly!
Everyone who knows you also knows that you're a developer. You're one of us and it clearly shows in the way you tell this story, which makes it both authentic and inspiring!
Facing the odds you outlined, many would have never taken the challenge. Many would have just deemed it to be impossible - making excuses. Not the TIDE team. You had a vision and a mission and you executed on it, gathering the troops, joining forces with all the teams that needed to be involved and got it done!
For many of us within the company that are tired of hearing excuses why the needful cannot be done, this story is a motivating one. One that encourages us to push every day and make a change!
For that I want to thank the whole TIDE team, @Anne Hardy and you in particular for all the hard work and effort you put into this and hereby demonstrating what a dedicated group of people can achieve! KUDOS!
PS: You write that it took you 9 months to finally get the time to get this blog out. Guess it's because you are a man of action, rather than words! However, I'm glad you took the time to get the word out and share it with the rest of the world - as in: do good and talk about it!"
Great story man...I'm really proud of being part of it...showing people that SAP cares about developers is just awesome...and you my friend, are doing a fantastic job helping to achieve that...
Awesome! I would love to see something like this for the ByDesign studio, too. Maybe you could help us out here 😉
Thanks to everyone in the inmemorydevcenter TEAM. Great job guys! 🙂