Liv’n the Dream at SAP TechED

 A New Era Underway 

I am sitting in my hotel room in Las Vegas. I just packed and I am ready to head to McCarran airport for my trip home. This week I attended SAP TechED. I know “what happens in…stays in…”, but I wanted to take a moment and share some insights I took away.

SAP has made it clear, all bets are on Hana.  Hana is SAP’s vision of a new platform for their landscapes that will reside in memory. Most customers and System Integrators are interested, most are still trying to determine exactly what it is and how it will apply to their specific environments. The concept creates big changes for everyone. Everything will need to be integrated to Hana, both SAP’s products, their partners’ solutions, and customers’  landscapes.

There are a wealth of things to consider and address, like backup, high availability, disaster recovery, systems management, piping data between Hana and non Hana piece parts.  Many things are still unclear as this vision gets realized; it’s really new so it’s understandable. I grew up in North Carolina and have seen my share of Hurricanes. The climate at TechED reminded me of that feeling you get right after a storm goes through. Everyone’s not sure what to do yet, but we’re all in the yard picking up sticks, and working together to make progress. Hana is their future, that much is solidified.  Here’s a write up from ComputerWorld on the same topic.

Ok, I tend to bring “cloud” into the conversation and I want to live up to my reputation…  First let me say, cloud is not the biggest topic for SAP, they tend to talk of terms like “TCO”, “Business Process Realization”, etc. They have traditionally minimized their focus on the architectural mechanisms upon which SAP sits and allowed the world-class eco-system drive this segment. Hana arguably starts to change that. Hana will have more impact on the design of the infrastructure than past approaches.  Then the question is can Hana exist in a Cloud?  I believe it will, but I’m not sure we all know exactly how yet.  And will SAP find themselves deeper in the Cloud discussion out-right.

Much of the official dialog still tends to focus on traditional landscapes where a customer buys and deploys everything as one chunk either on premise or hosted.  However, their customers are innovating.  People are connecting up a diverse mix of on premise, hosted functionality, and cloud offers all within the same environment. Here’s a little taste of what is being realized.

I have to start by saying “virtualization is king”. I estimate in my own discussions virtualization was mention 99% of the conversations. I spent some time with Andre Kemp of VMWare. Andre is a key resource at VMW covering SAP. With Vsphere 5 released, capacities increase and virtualizing SAP is not an interesting idea, I would call it a mandate. Andre is one of the busiest guys in the business right now. I did an informal survey as I talked with customers. My straw poll showed the market is overwhelmingly VMWare, with a notable number of companies using LPARs on AIX. I also heard Citrix and Hyper-V more than once.  I also mentally collected why most were creating initiatives. The top three reasons were:

1)      Reduce hardware costs

2)      More flexibility in their architecture

3)      Improve disaster recovery service levels

Yes I know those are obvious reasons, I didn’t say you were going to be shocked and impressed! It’s the basics that matter and boy do they matter.

Let’s get back to the clouds. There were other interesting models coming out. In fairness to my large and powerful friends who work for the large system integrators and service providers, they tend to make their sponsorship investments in “Sapphire” each spring. Those who attend TechED are there to learn. This year was no different, what we saw in the booths were smaller, specialty SI’s and are the focus for this conversation.  

A few years back Texperts showed up on the scene as one of the innovators driving cloud. Over that time, they have built a full suite of cloud services to help customers understand and integrate private systems; or to buy a service level offering. They were one of the few pioneers driving the message. The notable difference this year was they weren’t alone. I had at least five companies approach me to tell me about their cloud offerings.  The services market for cloud has arrived; the best and brightest are making their bets for cloud in 2012.

Another company who has worked with our customer base quite a bit over the years is Wharfedale Technologies (WFT).  They too have been pioneers on the “virtual prairie”. They specifically have been involved in some of our recent Vblock customer deployments for SAP and have been really helpful to the effort.  They brought, to the show, one of the most innovative ideas I have seen yet. A good friend of mine, Ganesh Radhakrishnan, is the CEO of WFT and demo’d for me his newly released “WFTCloud”.  WFTCloud is a web venue where users can purchase SAP development environments over the web for a daily price of buying a can of soda.  You go on the web, sign up and boom you have an environment that has many profile options for getting the hardware/VMs to look like your environment.  Ganesh was showing me this on his mobile phone and we watched a couple orders come in while we were talking.  This could be a great opportunity for increasing development productivity for many companies and individual contractors.

OK, how about EMC?  Well I could talk a while about all the different solutions we showed and events we held at the show, but I’m not a marketing guy and this is my blog, so I won’t.  Instead I’m going to grab just one moment from it all.  One of our speaking sessions we had Bernhard Schulzki and Bill Reid present.  Can you say too much talent for just one stage?  Based near SAP’s Walldorf headquarters, Bernhard recently became EMC’s VP covering the SAP relationship. Prior, Bernhard worked for Vishal Sikka heading up many of their virtualization and cloud initiatives over the last several years. Bernhard took the packed audience through several key technologies. Duplicate snaps, geo clustering, security, de-duplication, virtualization and cloud where covered. He also shared how we are investing to further integrate with SAP like their new LVM product for managing virtual environments.  Bernhard then introduced Bill Reid. If you haven’t met Bill yet, you’re missing something. I am a big fan of Bill’s. He is Director in charge of our “Project Propel”. Propel is the very large deployment of a green, 100% virtualized SAP deployment and based on my knowledge of the install base, it will likely be the largest, 100% virtualized SAP deployment worldwide when it goes live next year.  Bill drips data when he sweats. The guy is so jam packed full of knowledge nuggets, that I’m not going to attempt a  proper summary of Propel. However, I will  point you to EMC IT’s  blog site that gets into a lot of what they are working on. Let’s just say he’s putting to practice what we preach to our customers and his team is invaluable to our cause. 

In Summary we’re all “Liv’n the Dream”. Big visions, with real payoffs, that are works in process.  There were no head spinning new announcements, we didn’t need any. The buzz was on the progress of customers who are on the move to a new era of landscapes and the organizing eco-system that supports them to get there.


Already Tired of the Cloud?

Mentally I have a multi-tenancy problem. On one shoulder I have a hippie wannabe creative type that bangs on musical instruments, writes, paints, and focuses on the creative process. On the other side, I have a little suit-wearing business analyst. This duality is sometimes maddening. The artist in me wants to poke a stick in my temple when I hear “the cloud” on yet another TV commercial, and the other part of me is excited to be part of the next phase of this technology cycle. Now that I have everyone questioning my mental state… let me provide a diversion and state that duality, diversity, alternating needs are part of what is driving the Cloud movement. So let’s talk about what’s really happening and why everyone is forced to watch those crazy commercials.

“Value of the Cloud Today”
As I describe the value of “Cloud” to companies today, I don’t want to claim authorship on my categorizations. Many have provided inspiration. In an effort to recognize all, I’ll point out Dave Vellante’s iterative work on “Stack Wars” as a good example. He makes many good points about the race to technical dominance among the big vendors today. With that said, I’ll continue on like it’s all my idea. For my discussion purposes, I’ll overly simplify and say we have 4 operative categories of computing today:

1 )Traditional Tech: For this discussion, I am referring to everything from 2009 back, Client Server, Mainframe, etc. Over the years since we first used Hollerith’s Desk to tally the census data around the turn of the 20th century, we have worked to optimize individually owned computing environments and we have spent trillions of dollars on our data centers in primarily a self ownership model. For more info on cost, this blog has some of the details on IT spending ( Information Technology Spending By Country, etherfire,, Published Jul 31, 2010). Because of its dominance, we will not see traditional tech become extinct any time soon, but I do see notable changes in the following 3 categories.

2) Vertical Integration: Henry Ford was a master at Vertical Integration. He owned the rubber tree farm to make his tires, machined his own parts, etc. This is a very traditional model for the beginning of a technology curve (aka automobiles in early 1900’s). Interesting enough some companies are deploying this strategy today in the later, more mature phases in which we are currently. A good example is Oracle’s exa-N product lines. It’s an “all in one box”, single vendor strategy. The focus is specialization and is aimed to increase performance for data analytics and potentially reduce costs from server reduction. There are other examples of “IT appliances” in the market. The company where I work has similar purpose-built appliances. These purpose-built “plug in and go” appliances will continue to gain ground because they are easy to consume, but they need to balance their specialization with their cloud integration capabilities. Why should you care if they connect to the cloud? Because, history proves specialized/isolated assets are more expensive than communal assets. Appliances will likely be “cloud compliant” or they will find themselves as a tangent away from a cloud strategy and obscured from the primary plans of the business.

3) Virtual Integration: This technique leverages the features of Virtualization to blur the lines of proprietary systems into an abstracted layer of logic technology components. With a virtually integrated environment come optimizations for utilization, improved flexibility, notable savings from consolidation and other benefits. Every virtualized environment is not necessarily a “cloud”, but it provides a medium to begin developing systems with cloud attributes. This still requires the individual companies to retain ownership or to bundle managed services as part of their efforts.
4) Hosted Service Levels and/or Functionality: Hosted environments provide a utility type computing environment where the user can consume IT units without a great deal of day-to-day knowledge about what is happening “behind the curtain”. Hosted environments are not the sole domain of the Cloud, but they provide a scaled platform and a financial transactional model to monetize or apply the cloud to IT. In the last decade hosted systems have grown tremendously, albeit not without many customers returning to in-sourced or on-premise systems. These reversals are a mix of growing pains in scaled execution and changing customer requirements. Though I’ll point out change is a function of clouds. Clouds should allow for IT units to “float” between providers.

Within some of these categories you can begin to see optimizations achieved by the abstraction of the physical equipment from the logical functionality and the utilization of service that abstracts the consumer from the technical expertise. Both approaches are optimizing through a function of consolidation. These changes mirror the evolution of electricity production (expertly outlined in “The Big Switch” by Nicholas Carr, a book and topic I plan to cover in a later blog.) These building blocks provide the technical stage for a new business model we call the cloud. Today we have 2 cloud formats “Public Cloud” and “Private Cloud”. A Public Cloud is where a consumer buys the service and uses it paying per use, a monthly or an annual fee. Public Clouds generally imply multi-tenancy. Meaning my stuff is next to your stuff and there is some basic security to protect us from each other.
A Private Cloud provides cloud-like functionality, but is housed in a single instance either owned by the consumer or specifically hosted for that consumer by a 3rd party. Whether a consumer leverages a cloud publicly or in private, there are some basic benefits they are able to leverage:

Utilization – Because your servers for say Exchange 2010 are now virtual, you don’t have to purchase all of them as physical assets, they will co-exist on a large physical server, and this inherently increases utilization as an example.
On-Demand Capabilities

o Performance – Yes VMs do add a bit of overhead, but once again you’re combining strength. Imagine 100 cars on the highway and every car going downhill gives their horsepower to the cars going uphill. This will increase the ratio “performance/dollars spent”.

o Capacity – Similarly, capacity needs fluctuate and virtualization can help level set to an overall optimization of available assets.

Virtual Management– Today Cloud technologies take the fundamentals of virtualization and add management capabilities which are critical to enable the switch to the cloud.

o Separation of duties – ability to define delineation between users and functions. Strong permissions controls, performance controls of the virtual machines, etc.

o Simplification – Example, if you had a box crash 100 miles away, you would have to requisition a new server, wait for it to ship, plug it in, and load it with new software. If that box was a VM, you could send the server configuration like an email to the remote server and enable it with a couple of button clicks. Cloud simplifies, cloud tools provide templates and wizards to increase the utility of the administrator.

Owner to Consumer Switch – With all this new flexibility and simplification, companies can evaluate and execute a more fluid ownership model. Do they own this asset or do they ship it to a partner? Do they allow an integrator to host a developing system and move it back when it’s ready for production, do they own the primary system, but bolt on clouds from 3rd parties? These are options that were non-existent or at least much more difficult to execute just a couple of years ago.

“What’s next?”
Going forward the Cloud will provide greater utilization and flexibility in how we consume IT units. In my discussion, some would say I missed a Cloud category when I mentioned only public and private clouds. That would be “Hybrid Clouds”. I did this because to me this is how the cloud will be applied. “Hybrid” is a mash-up based on the customers financial and risk requirements. For me, the application of cloud will be like a Cloud shopping mall where you have a diverse series of store fronts offering a variety of ownership models and service levels. Figuratively, you may choose to buy a pre-made suit for one need, and the thread and cloth for another. I must assume this will be good for the customer and our collective GDP. My Business Analyst personality likes the options for business going forward, and my hippie side likes the fluffy clouds painted on everyone’s logos these days.