Word is on the street; the platform has a new name: SAP Cloud Platform (see Press Release).
Yet, that name change comprises much more than just (another) rebranding, in fact it sets the tracks for a broad transformation of the cloud platform. Let me explain…
Why the name change?
During the last couple of years it got obvious that many people new to the platform primarily associated the name SAP HANA Cloud Platform with SAP HANA being offered in a cloud environment (see Forget HANA. Forget cloud. Let’s talk platform!). And while that is certainly true, it is only one aspect of SAP’s cloud platform offering and as such it falls short to frame the big picture.
During the last five years the product evolved into a comprehensive platform-as-a-service offering that simplifies the development and operation of new cloud applications and building extensions for existing SAP solutions, both on-premise and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). It has become the designated extension and integration platform for SAP’s entire portfolio and the technical foundation for a whole set of new applications and entire new product lines evolving around Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and others (more on that later). In short: it became the central piece of SAP’s technology platform in the age of digital transformation.
In that context it is plain to see that the role of SAP Cloud Platform is certainly more nuanced and of much broader strategic significance than just offering SAP HANA in the cloud and that its strategic role in integration and extension scenarios has been something that was not quite reflected in its name; hence the name change.
The new name clearly addresses that this is THE cloud platform of choice for every company determined to streamline and reinvent their core business processes with S/4HANA and embrace the new capabilities that arise with IoT, Big Data and machine learning. Existing Business Suite customers benefit from the vast integration capabilities provided by the platform and can use it to build extensions that connect to backend systems and SaaS solutions alike.
The value of cloud platforms
The new name says it all and certainly addresses the much broader role the platform plays… and there’s plenty of exciting news to come this year! Yet, before we dig deeper, let’s quickly reiterate on the general value proposition of a cloud platform offering in order to put the new topics into perspective.
In simple terms, the main value of a cloud platform boils down to business agility. Instead of developing new cloud solutions directly on cloud infrastructure, a platform allows developers to concentrate on delivering business value instead of having to worry about all the lower-level technical complexity that is typically associated with enterprise cloud software such as high-availability, disaster recovery, security and so forth. (Note: that concept is very similar to the approach that made ABAP so successful in the past – developers could leverage the vast set of frameworks provided by NetWeaver and entirely focus on writing business logic!)
Digital transformation & Bimodal IT
In the context of digital transformation, basically every company becomes a more and more software-driven company (see Why software is eating the world by Marc Andreessen).
Generally speaking, every company needs to cater to two needs: ensure smooth operations of core business processes (non-differentiating) and to be able to quickly roll-out new innovative software solutions to gain/maintain a competitive edge. This concept has been labelled bimodal IT or IT pace-layering by Gartner and others – see In the Digital World CIOs Need Bimodal IT: Rock Solid IT with Ability for Fluidity. Within that context, Mode 1 refers to streamlining the core business processes based on standardised software and leveraging the real-time insights gained by analytics to optimise how a company is run. Mode 2 focuses on business innovation and lowering the time-to-market to roll-out custom-built, differentiating cloud applications.
SAP Cloud Platform plays a key role in that concept as it allows to literally out-source extensions and needed customisations instead of addressing them directly in the core backend systems. That way, companies avoid the problem of picking up technical debt over time that results in hard-to-maintain, hard-to-upgrade backend systems as seen in the past.
Plus, given the comprehensive set of technical capabilities and business services provided by the platform developers can develop and roll-out next-generation cloud apps faster than ever before. Concepts such as rolling-updates and zero-downtime maintenance provide means to start with a minimum-viable product (MVP) and rapidly update the applications using agile development techniques and a continuous delivery (CD) pipeline (see Continuous Integration (CI) Best Practices with SAP)
As said before, the new name is only the beginning and there are several key topics on the agenda for this year.
Let’s start with Cloud Foundry; as many of you know SAP is working on incorporating Cloud Foundry into the platform (see The road ahead with SAP HANA Cloud Platform and Cloud Foundry). Arguably the biggest benefit resulting out of this is more flexibility in regards to deployment models. By leveraging the so-called Cloud Provider Interface (CPI) it is possible to run Cloud Foundry on various infrastructure. SAP has teamed up with SUSE to co-lead the open-source development of the BOSH OpenStack CPI (see SAP leading Cloud Foundry project “BOSH OpenStack Cloud Provider Interface”) and many of the big IaaS providers provide their own CPI implementations (e.g. Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform). Together these technologies are the foundation for SAP’s multi-cloud strategy going forward, which will tremendously accelerate the roll-out of SAP Cloud Platform into more regions and at the same time, establish co-location of the platform and other cloud assets of enterprise customers within one datacenter. Being co-located with other SaaS solutions, data sets and services will allow for new exciting cross-consumption scenarios that combine SAP and 3rd party services and solutions, which is vital in the context of data gravity (see Data Gravity and Complex Systems by Dave McCrory.)
In terms of technical capabilities being added to the platform the man focus is on IoT (SAP Leonardo), big data scenarios and machine learning (SAP Clea). You have probably heard that SAP plans a multl-billion investment over the next five years (see SAP IoT Connects the World to Enable Live Business). On the big data front SAP has made a strategic acquisition buying Altiscale last year and the merits of the gained expertise will show this year.
Another hot topic in 2017 will be machine learning and SAP has established a brand-new product line called SAP Clea that aims to deliver a constant stream of smart software solutions powered by machine learning.
Last, but not least (the opposite in fact), is the area of business services. SAP is determined to go beyond just delivering a general-purpose platform-as-a-service offering, but rather establish a digital enterprise platform. As such, the SAP Cloud Platform will constantly be enriched with higher-level services that deliver business functionality as microservices. Those services will of course leverage the afore mentioned technologies such as big data processing and machine learning.
One of the hardest parts of my job is to bite my tongue, yet I certainly don’t want to spoil the upcoming shows, so let me just wrap up with saying that there’ll be plenty of exciting announcements to come in the following weeks! Stay tuned…
UPDATE: Please also read Bernd Leukert’s blog post on some of the new announcements made at Google Next ’17 – Flexibility, scalability, speed: SAP and Google announce strategic partnership