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SAP in the Cloud: focus on SLAs over specific infrastructure

(Image credit: Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock)

Steve Lofthouse, Solutions Architect, Symmetry, argues that companies have a lot of options when moving their SAP environments to public or private clouds, but the choice should be driven by the performance and availability needs of their business.

With more than 365,000 customers in 180 countries, SAP is often referred to as the “heart and lungs” of business operations, managing everything from supply chain and logistics to HR and finance. Given the scope of its impact on daily operations, it is understandable that IT departments have been slow and deliberate in evaluating their options for migrating SAP environments – typically from an on-premise deployment to hosted in a private or public cloud.

Historically, IT departments were wary of private clouds because they often were multi-tenant environments, while public clouds were not certified by SAP and more typically used only for development and testing of applications critical to operations.

However, the SAP cloud migration market is heating up, driven by enterprises moving to SAP HANA and S/4HANA, the latest version of the company’s in-memory database and application suite. Faced with a significant capital expense to refresh and upgrade on-premise hardware to support the new database and applications, the time to move SAP to the cloud is now.

Gradual cloud migration

Typically, enterprises look to dedicated or virtual private clouds as an initial migration option. The proliferation of virtualised infrastructure has enabled SAP environments to be hosted in dedicated or multi-tenant platforms with dedicated resources. This ensures they are not impacted by noisy neighbours interfering with throughput or bandwidth, which is important for a demanding application like SAP.

More importantly, with SAP in a managed private cloud, users have direct access to the team managing the cloud and more flexibility to tune the landscape for a customised SAP configuration, all of which is useful for meeting performance and reliability needs. It is also beneficial if users have to isolate parts of the landscape to meet compliance or regulatory requirements.

Enterprises avoided migrating to the public cloud because AWS, Azure and other platforms were not certified by SAP. In addition, there were also the network challenges of remotely copying, building and installing an SAP environment.

Mature technology opens up multi-cloud options

Today, the SAP cloud landscape has completely changed. First, AWS and Azure have matured to the point they are now fully certified by SAP and join an array of managed private cloud providers. With these options, enterprises are starting to realise that it does not have to be an all or nothing decision to put their SAP environment in one cloud. 

A good analogy comes from the consumer world, as people often use Spotify for music, Apple’s iCloud for photos, Google for email, Dropbox for backing-up files and other cloud-based services from different companies. To them, they pick the services they want and are not concerned with the underlying infrastructure delivering them. This “consumerisation of IT” is beginning to be reflected at all levels of enterprise, and more specifically with SAP hosting.

With improving APIs for moving applications and data between different public and private clouds, enterprise IT managers can now deploy their SAP environment across multiple public and private cloud providers, so they can get the best value and performance for specific SAP applications.

New spotlight on Managed Services and SLAs

However, as enterprise IT managers have so many new public and private cloud infrastructure options for their SAP environments – including geographic diversity for back-up and recovery with multi-route, multi-provider networking connectivity – it is putting emphasis on new differentiators: service level agreements (SLAs) and managed SAP services & support.

While these have always been important factors, they are taking on new precedence since SAP HANA has far more demanding hardware requirements than traditional databases creating new complexity in properly configuring scalable infrastructure and the potential for IT teams to monitor, manage and optimise SAP applications across multiple cloud environments. So the key is to look for SLAs that are highly related to SAP performance and not just the underlying infrastructure.

Examples of SAP-related SLAs often include metrics such as: Infrastructure Availability, SAP Application Availability, SAP Application Response Times, Recovery Time objective during Disaster Recovery (DR), Recovery Point objective during Disaster Recovery and Incident Response Time. Similar to the consumer cloud service example earlier, cloud-savvy IT managers are moving away from concerning themselves with how a cloud provider manages DR, or which hardware they run, and moving more to application-specific SLA that can be guaranteed as part of a contract.

For instance, Amazon’s AWS – while it can be tuned and certified for SAP – only provides SLAs at the infrastructure layer and nothing specific to the applications running on it. In contrast, an SAP partner with a private cloud platform designed for HANA typically provides application SLAs and dedicated support on top of its infrastructure.

Whether moving to a single cloud or multi-cloud environment, IT managers need to ensure the SLAs offered on a single hosted platform or across their entire environment address application-specific criteria that are important to their business.

In addition to the SLAs, it is critical that cloud providers have experts in SAP application management and optimisation. It is worth noting that SAP HANA runs only on SUSE Linux – even in Azure – so any customers who do not have SUSE Linux skills in-house or do not have SAP HANA or SAP NetWeaver Technical (SAP Basis) skills in-house, will be challenged to effectively migrate and manage SAP in a multi-cloud environment if their cloud providers are not fluent in SAP.

It’s time: SAP in the cloud

Based on significant improvements in public cloud infrastructure for supporting mission critical applications like SAP, the debate over whether to choose a public, private or a hybrid cloud is becoming less of an issue. The question now is not whether to migrate to the cloud, but rather, how are the specific needs of each organisation best met using one or more cloud platforms for SAP based on applications-specific SLAs and expert managed services?

This is again where the value of an SAP partner’s expertise can be invaluable. It helps organisations move beyond a sense of paralysis when considering all the different options to develop a SAP multi-cloud landscape that makes the most sense for individual organisations and businesses. This could be anything from a virtual private cloud to support for day-to-day management and operations of an SAP environment in a public cloud.

In terms of SAP cloud migrations, it’s time to focus less on specific infrastructure or hosting locations, and more about SAP-focused managed services, SLAs and everything else “as a service.”

Steve Lofthouse, Solutions Architect, EMEA, Symmetry
Image Credit: Everything Possible / Shutterstock

Steve Lofthouse, Solutions Architect, EMEA, Symmetry, with 14 years SAP Basis experience, from multiple perspectives (Pre-Sales, technical consultant, support and end user) with a sound understanding of all required components to deliver an effective Managed Cloud environment for Enterprise solutions.