Cloud Computing in the SAP World !?

The writer is Thomas Runge, Vice President and CISO, itelligence USA

Thank you for taking the time to look at this blog article in which I want to scratch the surface of what cloud computing means, how it fits into the SAP world and how we at itelligence are prepared for it and react to this latest hype. But first, I hope that you, when looking out of your window right now, you will see sunshine and blue skies and no clouds.

The discussion around cloud computing, cloud enablement and “this and that” in the cloud seems to be a topic every time when IT strategies and cost are being discussed. At least when I look at the U.S. market, this is most likely the topic number one since 2010. Small, medium sized and large organizations alike try to take advantage of the various “cloud” offerings from different vendors – either because they expect cost reduction, more flexibility or both – or simply because it is hip to do so. 

Before going a little bit deeper into the discussion, we need to get to a common understanding of what “cloud computing” actually means and what its official definition is. Currently a great part of the confusion is caused by pretty much every vendor defining his cloud offering differently, most of the time in a way that fits best into their traditional service offering or setup. Sometimes unfortunately, it is purely a marketing approach.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has defined cloud computing as: “Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.” It is a larger document http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/drafts/800-146/Draft-NIST-SP800-146.pdf, but well worth reading it and it is written not only for the IT expert.

The key criteria for a service being considered a true “cloud service” are

  • On-demand self-service
  • Broad network access
  • Resource pooling
  • Rapid elasticity
  • Measured Service

So, now that we know what a “cloud service” looks like, well at least should look like, let’s have a look at the different definitions of all the cloud types.

  • First we have the so called “Private Cloud” which consists of an environment that is supporting a single organization. Such an environment has to meet all the baseline criteria, but most service providers call a simple environment utilizing server virtualization like Vmware, Zen, AIX or HP/UX their “cloud”.
  • Then we have the “Community Cloud” which is pretty much the same as the “Private Cloud”, with the difference that multiple organizations with the same requirements share such an environment.
  • Now, a “Public Cloud” service is being provided to the full public, to individuals or organizations that don’t share any common requirements.
  • Last, but not least, there is the “Hybrid Cloud” which consists of any two or more of the just described “cloud” types.

Confusing? I would agree, and ultimately, every service offering following the basic criteria can be called a “cloud service”. But it is not only the different “cloud” types causing that confusion, but also the way organizations loosely (re)define the cloud computing criteria so they can call their own offering a “cloud service”.

Now that we are at a common understanding of what a cloud service has to look like, I would say, let’s forget about the different cloud types and see how the cloud computing requirements per the definition fit into our SAP world.

On-demand self-service

“On-demand self-service” – this is the capability to change (add and remove) computing power by the user/customer as needed. For example an additional application server can be added to the ERP instance to have more computing power for the month end closing, or it could be the automated provision of more computing power in a virtualized environment by flexible CPU assignment. It also can be the automated, on-demand provisioning of any SAP product for testing purposes or an instant snapshot copy of a production system. Key with this criteria is that it is an on-demand, mostly automated process.

Broad network access

“Broad network access” – this pretty much means that there has to be enough bandwidth and that the “cloud” environment actually supports different end-devices (PCs, tablets, phones etc.). In an SAP environment, this is pretty much a “no brainer” as the application itself supports this functionality.

Resource pooling

“Resource pooling” – when looking at a virtualized environment with server virtualization and SAN virtualization, this criteria is being fulfilled by every organization using any kind of server and SAN virtualization. Development, Quality Assurance and Production systems share a pool of disks (typically a SAN) and CPU resources of a virtualized server or server clusters. Currently, the sharing of memory between SAP instances or products is not yet possible.

Rapid elasticity

“Rapid elasticity” ties into the on-demand self service and requires resources to adjust automatically or as requested in a quick way and the elasticity is supposed to be “endless”. In a virtualized environment, this elasticity is always given for the CPU power, but when looking at a typical SAP landscape, this would not be sufficient and for example additional application servers that automatically start in a short time frame would be required.

Measured Service

“Measured Service” – again something that every virtual server software does on its own by monitoring CPU, memory and disk IO utilization of the clients/virtual machines.
As you can see, the scope for fulfilling the “cloud service” criteria can be very broad or can be very narrow, and we should not expect all SAP cloud service providers to be able to provide everything that one can imagined as a cloud service to be readily available. Back to today’s reality, most of the time the automation part is not ready for prime time and in many cases, SAP system landscapes are simply too complex to be ready for fully automatic deployment, short term provisioning and even resource elasticity when it goes above and beyond pure CPU horsepower (just think about the complexity of the communication between SAP products).

At itelligence, we started the discussion around globalization, virtualization and fast provisioning many years ago without even knowing or hoping that there was a “Cloud” discussion coming up.

Virtualization

With being a long term partner of SAP, we sometimes get insights into the strategic direction SAP is moving from a technology standpoint and virtualization has been one of the directions that we saw around the time when Vmware established itself in the market. It has been and still is a great concept to better utilize server capacity and ultimately allow us to provide our services at a reduced fee to our customers as we were using our landscape capacity much better than before. Nowadays, virtualization (with Vmware and other products) is a fully integrated part of our standard offering. Besides the server virtualization, we also implemented storage virtualization products that allow us to utilize different SAN types and vendors in an environment that automatically provides capacity to our customer’s systems and allows easy / automated load distribution in the storage department.

Summary

While currently being a hype, there is a market for more flexible provisioning, better resource utilization and lower TCO and many organizations already have implemented parts of a cloud strategy, are on the way to do so, or simply do not see the benefit for their organization yet. For a large service provider like itelligence, the optimization of operational processes, better and faster services and lower fees for our customers are the key topics of the daily business anyhow and “cloud computing” is at this point not much more than a buzz word for an approach we at itelligence have been following for many years.

In the following weeks we will have a closer look at:
– On Demand – Quick and automated turnaround of requests for landscape adjustments like:

  • Application Server Provisioning
  • Automated Test System Provisioning

– Current virtualization technologies – CPU, Memory, SAN, network
– Measured services offerings – SAPs based agreements and reporting
– Amazon/SAP Cloud offering in the USA – An interesting approach

share you experience with us!

Does your company adopt “cloud computing”, and if so, how does that apply to your SAP landscape? 

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