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The Azure hybrid cloud is a compelling SAP hosting option. Microsoft has innovated rapidly, extending its own excellent public cloud hosting environment to on-premise and hybrid environments, through Azure Stack. Customers can use Azure to create a seamless hybrid cloud hosting landscape that harnesses on-premise investments, with the scalability and the flexibility of the public cloud.

But just because the technology is there doesn’t mean your solution will be. Too many companies have patchwork, multi-cloud environments that are silos. When building a hybrid cloud environment, it’s crucial to pick a partner that doesn’t just understand the technology — they also must understand your business.

The Growth of Azure Hybrid Cloud

AWS had a big lead in terms of market share and adoption, and for years it was head and shoulders above its competitors. Azure has put that dominance to an end. According to a recent 451 Research survey, 35% of IT decision-makers said Azure was their most important IaaS provider, up from 20.2% in the previous survey. That’s just 4% behind the 39% of decision-makers who rated AWS as their most important IaaS provider. And for the first time, Azure was ranked higher than AWS for “understands my business.”

The RightScale 2017 State of the Cloud survey provided even more compelling evidence that Azure is catching up. While AWS enterprise adoption grew substantially, from 56% to 59%, Azure growth grew almost six times faster — from 26% to 43%. In terms of overall adoption, the Azure advantage was even starker. AWS stayed steady at 57%, but Azure grew from 20% to 34% in one year. Microsoft’s rapid growth has driven skyrocketing Azure cloud revenues, which are up 360% over the last two years alone.

There are a lot of factors driving Azure growth. Azure integrates well with the Microsoft software a lot of companies already use, and a focus on security that is reassuring for enterprise users. It has good offerings for SAP HANA customers, including very large VMs, physical servers up to 20 TB to accommodate the largest SAP deployments and growing support for other SAP offerings, such as the SAP Cloud Platform. But for many enterprises undergoing digital transformation, the support for the hybrid cloud is one of the most compelling features.

Azure Stack — a Key Tool for Hybrid Landscapes

Hybrid clouds are a key strategy for modern enterprises, allowing businesses to develop a strategy where workloads can be distributed. There are also a range of use cases where the hybrid cloud is useful as a permanent solution. For example, a media company may need local servers to edit extremely large files with low latency, but also want to harness the cloud for storage, backup or other reasons.

The hybrid cloud is not the answer for all workloads and use cases. Some workloads are cloud native, others are best suited in private cloud or on premises. In many cases, there are multiple workable solutions. There are also considerations around managing multiple clouds, that need to be factored In, alongside the benefits of each individual cloud component. The key is to choose a partner who can help you sort through all the options, and unlock the benefits of your hybrid (or single-cloud) strategy.
Azure Stack can be a powerful asset at leveraging a hybrid cloud. It offers a native hybrid environment that incorporates the best from on-premise, private cloud and public hyperscale cloud. Essentially, you can run your on-premise landscape as Azure, connecting it to Microsoft’s own public cloud platform.

This has all sorts of applications for harnessing hybrid cloud benefits. For example, you can retain data sovereignty using your own Azure Stack data centers, or keep mission-critical or low latency applications on-premise to improve the performance of your landscape. Azure Stack isn’t the only provider offering better integration between cloud and on-premise hardware, but for companies that prefer Microsoft products, it’s an extremely compelling option.

But Like AWS, Azure Cloud Still Has Limits

Azure Stack has been a big step in the development of “any-to-any” computing. Rather than having to laboriously build links between individual cloud and on-premise environments, Azure hybrid cloud users can now freely connect different resources to support their needs, and shift those resources as needed — for example, by adding more cloud to support increased demand, or shifting loads to compensate for outages or performance degradation in a particular region or data center.

However, there are still constraints on how you can shift data and resources around. Your ability to respond to changing conditions depends entirely on the infrastructure and controls you’ve already setup. You won’t automatically have visibility into your landscape, unless you install monitoring software and have an expert team at the helm. You won’t be able to meet cloud compliance goals unless you build an enterprise landscape that effectively segregates sensitive information within your own on-premise data centers. You won’t be able to respond to growing demand or service outages quickly, unless you’ve designed your system to meet those challenges.

Even in Azure Hybrid Cloud, SAP is Challenging

The Azure hybrid cloud is compelling, but at the end of the day, all you’re renting are the tools and infrastructure from Microsoft. However, having the right tools is only one part of the equation. SAP is a complex system that needs to be architected differently when deploying in Public Cloud. Furthermore, monitoring in Public Cloud is most effective when it is used to prevent an event rather than responding to an event. In Public Cloud, scaling is horizontal which does not always work for traditional databases. And understanding that you can’t solve resource constraints by simply increasing resource pools is fundamental difference when transitioning from Private to Public Cloud.

Further advances in Azure aren’t going to simplify the complexities in deploying SAP In Public Cloud. Building and maintaining a reliable SAP landscape will always require Public Cloud IQ, as well as SAP specific expertise. There are no shortage of Cloud partners and there are partners that specialize in SAP. Finding a partner that understands both is central to your Public Cloud deployment.

Your hosting environment isn’t what determines how well your SAP landscape fits the needs of your company, nor is it the most important factor in maintaining ultra-high uptime or extremely consistent performance. At the end of the day, Azure just provides one set of building blocks. Whether those combine into a seamless, reliable hybrid cloud, or a multi-cloud patchwork that usually works has a lot more to do with the designer, builder, and operator than it does with the tools.

Building True SAP Hybrid Cloud

Centralized Visibility and Control

For your Azure hybrid cloud to work as a cohesive unit, you need to architect it as a cohesive unit. First, you need advanced monitoring throughout the stack. A high-level view at the application layer alone won’t get it done.

Secondly, you need to centralize monitoring and control through a single pane of glass. Paging through multiple screens for each data center won’t do — your SAP Basis team needs to have everything laid out in front of them so that they can see how everything is working together in real time.

Thirdly, you need powerful analysis and remediation capabilities. Your Basis team needs the tools to drill down to the root cause and remediate in real time, whether that means shifting resources around, tuning or optimizing an application, or moving a workload off a resource constrained VM.

Finally, you need around the clock monitoring by a Basis support team that understands what’s going on at every level. It’s not enough for them to get SAP at the application level — they need a detailed understanding of how SAP works at every level, from servers and networking on up, and an in-depth understanding of your system. A helpline with escalation-based service isn’t going to cut it — you need SAP professionals already on standby, who can generally spot and fix problems with your cloud before they affect end users

A Strategic Approach to Hybrid Cloud

“AWS or Azure?” “Public or private?” “Cloud or on-premise?” They may be the questions that animate the enterprise cloud debate, but they’re not the questions that decide the success or failure of your landscape. Instead, your cloud strategy depends on a lot of specific questions, such as:

  • What are your goals? Are you trying to cut hosting costs or TCO? Do you want to complement your on-premise landscape with cloud development environments, or are you interested in moving to the cloud? What availability and performance do you need from each landscape? Is latency a concern? Can you tolerate occasional outages or slowdowns? What’s your appetite for risk?
  • What are your competencies? Is your IT team experienced at using Azure or AWS? Public Cloud got complicated. Do your end users have a history of using Microsoft products? If you’re migrating to SAP HANA, do you have a workforce that knows how to run it? What about security monitoring or GRC? Do you have those skills in-house?
  • What are your preferences? Are you happy with your current technology stack? If you’re using Microsoft products integrated with SAP, are you interested in sticking with them? What are other people in your industry using? Are there other technologies that could have tangible benefits?
  • What are your investments? Do you have on-premise hardware, and if so, where is it in its lifecycle? What software licenses have you purchased? What service and support agreements are active, and what timelines are they constrained by? And don’t forget the database. In SAP, it’s always all about the database.
  • What are your industry regulations? Is your company subject to GDPR? 21 CFR Part 11? SOX compliance? If so, what is the current state of your compliance efforts? What strategies and tools have you put into place to address compliance, and how will Azure hybrid cloud (or AWS, or private cloud) affect them? Are there opportunities to support those efforts with managed services or a new platform?
  • How does your staffing model need to change? Are you treating SAP Basis administration as a side job for one of your developers, or do you have a dedicated SAP expert on duty at all times? Are you providing around-the-clock security monitoring, or do you just have someone clocking in, 9-to-5? Does your team have time to apply patches promptly, or are you taking 6 months to patch vulnerabilities? And if you’re falling short in these areas (like most SMEs are), what do you need from managed services to change that?

The Azure hybrid cloud may part of the answer for some companies, not because it’s better than AWS or private cloud, but because it addresses their specific situation. But your hosting platform is only one small part of your technology strategy.

You Need a Proactive Managed Services Partner

The goal isn’t to find the right cloud, or complete the next phase of your digital transformation — it’s to develop and execute on a sustainable technology strategy that will benefit your company on an ongoing basis. You need a partner who can help you evaluate not just the technological choices available, but your entire approach to IT.

For most SAP tenants, that means restructuring how they handle both business transformation, and ongoing operations and maintenance. They need to put “break-fix” ERP behind them, and adapt a proactive approach to maintaining their landscape, where frequent SAP performance tuning prevents performance degradation, and regular upgrades keep the technology stack up to date.

This also means creating stronger connections between all the technology stakeholders in your organization. Your SAP team needs to be able to talk to executives, managers, and the ground floor across the organization to ensure your landscape is addressing everyone’s needs. IT upgrades need to consider not just major strategic goals, but also day-to-day workflow to support the entire organization. Your Azure hybrid cloud team needs to be able to coordinate with leadership to effectively harness new technologies, and meet new challenges and opportunities, such as mergers, acquisitions and regulatory changes.

Symmetry: The Right SAP Hybrid Cloud Managed Services Team

Symmetry is a leading SAP hosting and managed services provider, with the breadth of experience and high-touch customer service required to meet the needs of the Azure hybrid cloud.

With extensive experience and world-class ongoing training in SAP hosting, Basis, migration, security, and compliance, we’re the perfect partner to keep you at the cutting edge of the cloud. Whether you’re just looking for a little help planning your hybrid cloud migrationor a complete provider to design, build, and run your cloud landscape, we’ll help you create a unified landscape to keep your company on the cutting edge.

Jay Graboff, Cloud Product Manager

Jay Graboff is a Senior Cloud Product Manager that has been evangelizing innovation and digital transformation before there was either. With over 8 years delivering Public, Private and Proprietary Cloud, his passion and love affair with technology is rooted in what the Cloud can enable.