The VOID that is PaaS
Platform as a Service is where it’s at these days – no doubt about it! Judging by the news that keep floating in on a daily basis within the enterprise software space it gets clearer that the topic is picking up traction fast: the cloud platform storm is coming!
In the past the harbringers may have been subtler and only noticeable to close observers, yet lately not a single day passes by without a major announcement amplifying the wave. Don’t worry though, while this PaaSnado may get you spiraled up to the clouds, there’s nothing really to be afraid of – the opposite. In fact, PaaS aims to simplify the adoption of cloud computing as I wrote in a previous blog called The Cloud Platform Play.
In today’s post I want to focus more on the provider side and elaborate on four virtues of cloud platforms by picking up on some of the recent news and relating them to SAP’s own PaaS: SAP HANA Cloud Platform.
By definition versatility is one of the primary characteristics of a platform. After all, this is what sets it apart from less flexible alternatives such as frameworks and tools. The later tend to dictate the way they have to be used, while a platform needs to add value in a much broader variety of use cases. In the context of (cloud) development platforms that implies the need to support all sort of development scenarios ranging from smaller-scoped projects being developed with Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools (such as the AppDesigner) up to full-blown cloud solutions integrating with external systems where the complexity of the solution requires the full power of a mature programming language (such as Java).
Taking the next logical step brings us to deployment options. Here, SAP has been very vocal that it believes in a hybrid approach. The cloud is not a one-size-fits-all solution either. Going forward, system landscapes will be hybrid including classical on-premise installations, public cloud applications and plenty of nuances in between such as (virtual or managed) private clouds.
So far, the SAP HANA Cloud Platform is only available as a public cloud offering for a variety of reasons. One of them dates back to the very early days of the project. At the time, the team was evaluating all sort of options to start the PaaS endeavor. Naturally, we looked at existing open source projects such as OpenStack and CloudFoundry. OpenStack was a very young project back then and nowhere even close to where it is now. Nor did the available API cover all of the requirements. Ultimately, we decided to put an infrastructure abstraction layer in place, which allowed us to keep the momentum up without hard-wiring the platform to a specific infrastructure layer.
Two days ago, Randy Bias (CO-Founder and CTO of Cloudscaling) wrote an open letter to the OpenStack community urging them to embrace Amazon’s public cloud APIs:
“We are now seeing enterprise customers demand a hybrid cloud solution: a private cloud connected to a public cloud so they can run workloads in both places and generally have choice and control that drive positive economics and business agility.”
It’s hard to disagree on this particular statement and the flexibility to deploy solutions to both public and private clouds alike is eminent. At SAP, this flexibility is being addressed via the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC), which comprises the SAP HANA Cloud Platform. Through HEC, customers do have the chance to deploy and operate applications developed on top of the SAP HANA Cloud Platform as they prefer.
The key to establish a successful cloud platform is to get mass adoption. The key to win over the current generation of developers is to embrace open standards and open source (see this blog post for more details). Why? Because that’s where the action is! That’s where developers nowadays learn their craft and it’s what they feel comfortable using to get the job done. The days of proprietary stacks or programming languages are counted, as are the days of homogenous system landscapes (IF such ever existed in the first place!)
This rational was the reason for SAP to rebuild its cloud platform from scratch based on open standards and open source software. This is why it was decided to offer support for multiple runtimes enabling developers to use their programming language of choice (aka BYOL – bring your own language). That may sound surprising to some – especially coming from SAP – yet it seems that we’ve been well on track on this one. There have been two announcements this week that indicate that some of the other big players have started to read from the same script:
— Markus Eisele (@myfear) July 24, 2013
“IBM is getting into the platfom as a service (PaaS) market by standardizing on Cloud Foundry” http://t.co/SrW9o2xKjv
— James Watters (@wattersjames) July 24, 2013
The reasons for these decisions are in line with what was stated earlier:
“Having support for a Java platform on Azure is something our customers have been asking for,” said Gianugo Rabellino, who is Microsoft Open Technologies’ senior director for open source communities.”
“IBM’s overarching goal here, according to Diaz, is to accelerate cloud adoption by backing open source technologies that attract the most developers.”
Naturally, the same arguments apply to SAP. Based on the feedback we receive from customers (see recap from a recent cloud event with DSAG) Java is well established and hence makes it an obvious choice to support it as a runtime environment in the cloud. Same is true from an internal perspective: many of the acquisitions made in the past came with a vast amount of assets that are Java-based, presumably that will also be the case for future acquisitions. The fact that all the platform services provided can be consumed via standard APIs makes porting existing applications simple and consequently lowers the entry barrier for people wanting to migrate existing applications to the cloud (see this example).
Last, but not least… open standards and open source tremendously lower the learning curve and ultimately reduce the total cost of development. Looking at the broader vision the platform team started with when developing the SAP HANA Cloud Platform it was always about the value proposition of reaching out to net new customers, partners and developers. Given the open PaaS approach makes it easier than ever before to gain a foothold in the enterprise space!
(That’s not to say that we neglect the existing customer base, by no means. Actually, that brings us to the next topic: integration.)
Referring to what was said earlier about hybrid scenarios makes it obvious that integration is one of the sweet-spots to ensure a coexistence of on-premise and cloud solutions in such a way that they complement each other. In this context, PaaS seems to be the natural choice to enable development oragnisations to quickly rollout new solutions that integrate with other systems (onPremise or SaaS). I’ve started to refer to this type of applications as “Cloud Composites” and the SAP HANA Cloud Platform provides all that is needed to establish a secure communication tunnel to systems located in different networks (see Connectivity Service).
There’s much more though. The SAP HANA Cloud Platform also powers the SAP Mobile Platform Cloud Edition (SMP) that makes the development of mobile applications against SAP backends a charm. Or if one is just looking for a way to easily expose SAP backend services via OData then Gateway-as-a-Service (GWaaS) is the easiest option to achieve this.
But we didn’t stop there either. With SAP HANA Cloud Integration SAP is offering an integration platform on top of the SAP HANA Cloud Platform that facilitates the integration of business processes spanning across different departments, organizations, or companies.
With all the things being said above it may sound like PaaS is sort of a “me too” play from a vendor’s perspective. And to some degree that may holds true, simply because having a PaaS offering is of huge importance in order to remain attractive to a broader ecosystem. So, if all of the cloud platform providers are battling over adoption and they are all embracing the same means to achieve this, why should one chose SAP? Or in other words: what is the unique selling proposition/key differentiator of SAP HANA Cloud Platform?
The obvious one is SAP HANA. I assume most of the readers are familiar with SAP’s in-Memory platform and hence I skip the explanation at this point. What’s more interesting is that the SAP HANA Cloud Platform is the easiest way to get started with SAP HANA. Those who have been closely following some of the recent features we rolled out via our bi-weekly releases will have noticed that we are making good progress in enabling the native development capabilities of SAP HANA (see release notes). It’s already possible to execute SQLScript, use the search engine, create scripted views and with the most recent update it’s now also possible to connect your locally installed SAP HANA Studio/Modeler to your dedicated SAP HANA schema in the cloud (see this blog post).
But we are just getting started and the team is working hard to deliver on the promises being made at SAPPHIRENOW of providing the Extended Application Services (aka XS Engine) via the platform (see Aiaz Kazi‘s blog post The Evolution of the SAP HANA Cloud Platform).
The aforementioned integration/extension features may also be considered a differentiator, especially for those customers that have a SAP-dominated system landscape. Those thinking about using the platform to develop SaaS application may be intrigued by the prospect of becoming part of an ecosystem that counts around 200k customers.
And last, but not least there is this set of commonly raised concerns in the context of cloud computing: information security, data protection and trust. Depending on your use-case and its requirement you may be well advised to chose a vendor that has a proven record of running mission-critical business applications that dates back 40+ years.
Bonus Chapter: Execution
But know what? Don’t listen to me (as I’m biased), but instead listen to someone who has been advocating on the importance of open source and embracing developers for years now: RedMonk. A few days back, Donnie Berkholz, wrote a blog post titled “6 reasons you can’t ignore the new SAP, and 1 huge caveat“, in which he states the SAP HANA Cloud Platform and Open-source citizenship as two examples of why he believes that “SAP’s a company to watch.”
Towards the end of his blog he touches upon a much discussed and sensitive topic, yet personally I couldn’t agree more to the advice he gives:
“However, if SAP encounters issues with its ERP revenue, it could decide to decelerate the transformation I’m seeing. In reality, it should do exactly the opposite — if legacy software businesses are going downhill, it’s time to invest even more deeply in their replacements, where the new opportunities exist.
The sheer number and variety of interesting things happening makes it obvious that SAP’s a company to watch. It’s clear that SAP is looking toward its future opportunities rather than its existing stable businesses, and that’s where its biggest challenges and rewards may lie.”
Given the title of this blog I want to wrap it up with a hat-tip to Hugh MacLeod aka “gapingvoid“. I recently stumbled upon his recent eBook “Authenticity is The New Bullshit” thanks to Dennis Howlett‘s review on diginomica. His book contains a paraphrase from an interview conducted by Tom Peters with Horst Brandstätter (owner and CEO of the Germany-based toy manufacturer Playmobil):
TOM: Hmmm… These Playmobil toys of yours… they do amazingly well, all over the world. So what’s their secret? What do they do that’s so interesting?
HORST: It’s not what the toy does that’s interesting. It’s what the child does with the toy that’s interesting.
Replace ‘toy’ with ‘platform’ and ‘child’ with ‘developer’ and you have a very inspiring guiding motto for any aspiring platform vendor, don’t you think?