SAP is publicly endorsing the private cloud model, the VCE coalition and the Vblock infrastructure package. They've highlighted the work that the VCE coalition (together with Accenture) has done to validate and benchmark a real-world SAP environment from Levi Strauss.
This announcement is in addition to the recent EMC Information Intelligence Group's tie-up in the content management and workflow space, covered here and here -- a big piece of news in its own right.
And, predictably, there are a lot of interesting angles to the SAP and VCE story -- some obvious, some a bit more subtle ..
To Begin With
Historically, SAP has had a relatively neutral approach towards the infrastructure associated with their advanced capabilities. Indeed, from modest Wintel servers to big mainframes, there always have been many choices about how and where you'd like to run SAP.
But times are changing ...
If you tend to focus on the competitive angle, Oracle is not entirely SAP's friend. And SAP needs a clear, differentiated and attractive infrastructure alternative to a Sunacle-based Exadata (or equivalent) going forward. The recent acquisition of Sybase can be seen in this light, for example -- a very smart move to many of us.
But there's more to it as well ...
SAP Needs Infrastructure
As you look at the corporate IT landscape, there's a usally ton of IT infrastructure associated with SAP landscapes. From test and dev, to migrations, to production, to BI -- add it all up, and it can be considerable footprint.
SAP's business model is largely based on delivering new and powerful application functionality to the businesses it serves. And just about all of those value propositions touch IT infrastructure in a deep and fundamental way.
If done poorly, IT infrastructure gets in the way of delivering SAP's value proposition -- think massive upgrades and expansions just to get to the new, important capability. Not to mention a ton of operational effort.
And anything that SAP can do to reduce the "friction" associated with IT infrastructure helps them, and helps their customers. Indeed, I heard many anecdotal reports during 2009 that this "infrastructure friction issue" became rather topical between SAP and its customers.
Dramatically lower the costs and efforts associated with IT infrastructure, you end up greatly accelerating SAP's business model -- and the benefit it delivers to its customers. A classical win-win.But there's more.
SAP Needs Cloud
SAP's infrastructure requirements within an enterprise -- when taken in aggregate -- are full of dramatic peaks and valleys. Old school thinking was to provision for the anticipated high-water mark -- and hope you guessed right!
Given this inherent variability, it's an attractive fit for some sort of cloud model, if you think about it. But which cloud model?
The answer from SAP: it's a private cloud. Fully virtualized infrastructure under the control of IT. Run in the data center, run using a compatible service provider, or any combination. They get it.
Not only does endorsing a private cloud model help SAP's existing customers (more efficiency, more speed, more control, more choices), it helps SAP enter new markets quickly. It's not hard to imagine dozens of the emerging compatible service providers offering different flavors of SAP-as-a-service: SAP infrastructure, SAP platform or even pre-fab SAP modules -- all with a convenient (and controlled!) consumption model.
Pat Gelsinger does a great interview with the Cube guys here. Definitely worth watching.Details From The Levi Strauss Experience
One of the things we were all dying to talk about at EMC World (but couldn't) was the fantastic work being done to validate and characterize Levi Strauss' SAP environment on a Vblock.
[Note: for some reason, all the interesting and juicy joint deliverables haven't been posted yet by SAP. I'll come back and update this part when I see them. Sorry.]
[Updated May 20th with two VCE-branded docs marked "external" but don't seem to be posted anywhere. One focuses on remote replication on SAP/Vblock. The other talks about building a sandbox and a self-service SAP portal using a Vblock. More coming soon, I hope.]Lots of juicy details once you take a look at them, if you're interested. I came away with a few additional observations.
First, it's pretty obvious in the cost/performance department, the Vblock came out ahead of the alternative compared. And, as we all know, there's always faster, cheaper stuff coming out, so -- while nice -- that can be skeptically be seen as more of a point-in-time comparison.
I noticed the very small portion of a Vblock required to run the SAP landscape. Vblocks can scale very large indeed, and -- based on this data point -- can easily inhale an entire SAP landscape and have plenty of room for other stuff. Again, remember the Vblock proposition: standardized virtualized infrastructure for everything, and not just a specific application -- so I see some validation of that premise here.
I was a bit disappointed in the relatively small reduction in operational cost savings, until I realized that this was a very small portion of a Vblock, rather than a fully blown Vblock, or (potentially using VPLEX) a federated pool of Vblocks. I think those numbers will get far better as more and more diverse workloads are added, and the operational effort remains essentially flat as the environment scales.
I also find myself wanting more details on the accelerated test-and-dev experience. So much of SAP is getting new functionality into the hands of business users as quickly as possible. I know anecdotally that a fully virtualized environment can be far better at this than traditional approaches, but I would have loved to have seen the evidence expressed in terms of time-to-business-value.
Should You Run SAP On A Vblock?
I don't really think that's the right question. So much of private cloud thinking is around standardized IT-as-a-service for *all* of your workloads, and not just one or two interesing ones.
We -- and our ecosystem partners -- are attempting to move people away from the 'build once, use once' approach that has dominated IT infrastructure for the last few decades, and more towards a far more productive "build once, use many" mindset.
And that would include SAP :-)