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My Perspective on SAP Cloud Computing

SAP Heading Towards The Cloud

SAP is going through a lot of transformation, so everyone has to brace themselves in this period and be on the footprint of change. Cloud computing has become a major thorn and an opportunity in the enterprise world as businesses once again are ready to embrace the disruption, even if it means uprooting their stable as a stone ERP system and migrating to the cloud.

Why does Cloud Computing matters

“Simply because it puts the focus back on the business”

Many companies have become this half baked IT shop in their own right, with massive IT teams and budgets trying to maintain their IT systems. Over the years there has been a disconnect between the value that IT provides to the business and the way businesses manages IT.

Many businesses which make food products, pharmaceuticals or cars do not know or understand or care about the IT system. They just want their job done at the end of day. IT slowly became a liability for them them rather than an enabler for the innovation they sought out of it.

Businesses also wanted a lot of flexibility, but IT systems slowly became inflexible due years of patching and programming, both at the server and business code level, leading to the fear of change of something that is already working. Many a times it has happened that a small change in order to enhance a business processes or functionality has led to unleashing of catastrophic chain of events which harmed the business more then the benefits the change would have brought if gone well. This led to a fear psychosis in many about change management, go live and successive improvements to existing business process.

Also till now provisioning a new server in the data center takes months, as there is hardware to be bought and enabled for software to be installed and configured and then development to be done. This cycle takes a long time as various contracts and activities needs to be done to finally reach to a point where you have functioning server.

Also just to set up clustering, load balancing and databases and application server configuration takes months. Once done the quality system is never really a replica of production system and it is hard to get a quality system on demand as and when required by the developer for testing. This leads to a scenario where developers are not fully sure whether their code would work right in their production and often end up having to revert or tweak code post go live for it work correctly in the production environment.

Will Cloud Computing Change All That

No it won’t. It won’t change your business processes, it won’t make a bankrupt company become profitable overnight, but it would certainly put back the focus more on business than IT and that is what technological innovation is all about. Businesses should keep worrying less and less about technology and more about their “Core Competency” which is to run their business and server their customers.

Cloud computing really enables businesses and developers to focus back on the businesses processes rather than chasing people for provisioning of server. It also standardizes the IT infrastructure as cloud computing makes computing as utility service. If more compute power is required, more compute units could be bought. This ofcourse changes the development landscape as well as developers have to program in a different way rather than sticking to their big monolithic approach earlier. Developers now need to divide their applications into boxes, and see which boxes would need to be scaled up ( eg analytics, heavy computing with less user ) and scale out ( lesser computation but with more users ).

Three Flavors Of The Cloud

     1. IAAS – Infrastructure As A Service

This form of cloud computing is where businesses lease the hardware part from the vendors  ( This is like building the kitchen yourself ).           

     2. PAAS – Platform As A Service

This form of cloud computing is where businesses lease a development platform from companies   ( This is like building your dish based on your     recipes and preferences, Kitchen is given to you )

     3. SAAS – Software As A Service

This form of cloud computing is where business lease a software to be used inside the company

        ( This is like ordering your dish with mild tweaks for your taste and getting it delivered to you for you to eat )

The flavor an enterprise chooses is based solely on it’s need and future outlook, though generally PAAS and SAAS flavors are preferred.

Elephant In The Room – Security

Security is a big concern of all enterprises as they want to move to the cloud. But this can be addressed I believe by the cloud vendors by many ways.

Firstly Cloud does not mean it has to be on the internet. Cloud computing fundamentally means compute as a service. It is just a different approach to look at computing, it is certainly more than virtualization.

Enterprises having sensitive data can have their private cloud in their own Data Center or sandboxed cloud over the data center of Vendor, where it is treated separately. Vendors can also apply stronger onion encryption technologies to their data, also route their data through their VPN over the internet with strong encryption with key rotation ( keys are changed frequently, so that even if hackers get hold of the keys, the keys will be defunct very soon ).

Double authentication, all https routing, strict governance, key rotation policy and onion encryption can all be applied for sensitive data. It is also feasible to decrypt very sensitive data only at authorized client machines and not on the server. Hence keys are never passed over to the cloud server for decryption.

This is an enormous topic, but I believe this can be addressed by vendors, and their could be private cloud or hybrid cloud if the customer information demands the data be in their own data center and be heavily secured. SAP has already been addressing this by building cloud datacenters in various countries which will be governed by that countries laws of security and accessibility.

SAP Positioning In The Cloud

From what I have gathered is that SAP is positioning itself a cloud player in a major overhaul to all its product and services. It is a natural transition but certainly for company like SAP having 40 years of history and many hundred thousands customer, this will be an opportunity disguised as a challenge.

SAP HANA would certainly play a major role in providing High Performance Computing infrastructure beneath it’s cloud platform which is very much required if you need to scale out ( thousands of customers ) to scale up ( each customer doing heavy computing on their data ).

SAP is providing both the PAAS ( SAP HANA Cloud Platform )  and the SAAS ( Various solutions such as Successfactors and Ariba ) layers to its customer.

In due course of time I guess all of SAP solutions would be available on the cloud on an ondemand basis.

Exciting Times

These are difficult and exciting times, there are many doubts, fears and uncertainty about what the future of computing may hold, but one thing is for certain, there will be more of everything and not less. All that is required in my opinion is to keep up with these innovations and disruptions and be in the league.

Change is always difficult but it is always inevitable.

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