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SAP cloud embrace helps feed the beast for AWS, Azure

SAP cloud certification for HANA on Azure and AWS extends the software giant's reach, but also provides another means for enterprises to port massive amounts of data to the two cloud platforms.

The two biggest public cloud vendors have found yet another way to gobble up customers' data.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure added capabilities last week to support SAP HANA, opening the door to tens of thousands of I/O-intensive applications to be certified for use on their cloud infrastructures. The partnerships are seen as a boon for the software provider, as well, expanding the SAP cloud reach to meet demand for running applications on platforms its users already embrace.

Microsoft added certification for the SAP HANA in-memory database on Azure, including SAP S/4HANA, with up to 3 TB RAM instances and 12 TB of storage. Not to be outdone, AWS put its X1 instances into general availability, with 2 TB RAM capacity on Elastic Compute Cloud. Amazon also released a list of high-profile customers already using SAP HANA on its platform, including GE Oil and Gas and Kellogg Co.

Nortek Global HVAC in O'Fallon, Mo., was one of the first HANA customers and is looking to virtualize its entire environment as it pulls together several disparate systems across its business units. Nortek has been part of the proof-of-concept work to move its 1 TB HANA application to Microsoft Azure.

With an application the size of HANA, it almost throws your procurement requirements back 15 years because of the amount of disk space that has to be purchased in advance, said Tom Holzem, vice president of IT at Nortek Global HVAC. But this move to HANA on Azure will allow the company to get past those hurdles and add more resources as needed.

"We're trying to get rid of the plumbing," Holzem said. "Why should we keep up with what Microsoft and even AWS is good at doing for you?"

Being a Microsoft shop helped with the transition, but the size limits of running on AWS -- which have since been raised -- led the company to use Azure for its move. Nortek is still in the quality-assurance stage and hopes to have the Azure environment running by the fourth quarter of this year.

SAP finds new homes in the cloud for HANA

SAP, though it has its own hosted cloud with SAP HANA Cloud Platform, is not in the infrastructure as a service business. Support on Azure and AWS allows the company to focus on its applications, while extending its reach to new regions and markets, said Massimo Pezzini, Gartner vice president and research fellow for applications architecture and infrastructure strategies.

SAP represents a huge market for the public cloud providers, as Gartner estimated there are as many as 35,000 medium to large-sized organizations running core ERP processes on SAP.

"They invest billions of dollars to run as many workloads as possible, whether it's from AWS, Microsoft or a third party," Pezzini said. "This is very much in the logic of the infrastructure as a service model to consume as much of your infrastructure as possible."

It also shows a growing acceptance for moving business-critical applications to the public cloud -- not just in bits and pieces of applications, but as entire suites.

"Two or three years ago when I was speaking with CIOs, they used to say, 'When it comes to e-commerce, email [and] CRM, I'm fine going to the cloud, but over my dead body is my core [competency] ever going into the cloud,'" Pezzini said. "Now, we're seeing this attitude change."

The audience for these new services is almost exclusively existing SAP customers, but this isn't a turnkey service to compete with the type of hosting options that have been around for decades, said Robert Mahowald, IDC group vice president for applications and cloud. It may take away some the management below the hypervisor, but oversight still is needed to patch and refresh these applications, and it could take between six months and a year to move the entire system if customers are using older versions.

Many customers will have already gotten their feet wet with Azure or AWS, but SAP's seal of approval that the platforms are powerful enough and cost-effective provides the type of assurances customers will need to make the move with HANA applications, Mahowald noted.

This is part of the rationalization process for many big companies, he said, asking the question: "Does this provide important core value to run this here in place, or is it a drain on resources?"

Besides Azure and AWS, support for HANA is mixed among other cloud providers. IBM added HANA support to SoftLayer in the U.S. last November. Google often is cited as the third major hyperscale public cloud provider, but it was not part of the support rollouts in conjunction with last week's SAP user conference, and there are no indications it plans to add support anytime soon.

This illustrates a continued troubling sign for Google, that it has been unsuccessful in building out its independent software vendor (ISV) and partner ecosystem, Mahowald said. That's important not just because customers want these services available on cloud platforms, but because it provides a level of gravity to bring in related workloads.

"If you're going to be a winner in the mega cloud game, you have to have an application portfolio -- it has to be organic and you have to have big-name customers and big ISV partners," Mahowald said. "Google has an app portfolio, but it's a little bit lightweight."

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at [email protected]

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