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Public or Private Cloud?

With HANA certified in multiple public cloud environments, it can be difficult to choose where to host it. Private cloud vendors have their advocates in the SAP world, but so do Azure, AWS, and other public clouds. With so many SAP hosting options available and so much pressure to make the right choice, it’s no wonder decision makers lose perspective. Yes, where you host is important, but public vs. private cloud is just one factor in the success of your SAP landscape. Here’s what you need to know.

SAP in Public & Private Cloud

The Traditional SAP Private Cloud

The private cloud has traditionally been the safe choice for SAP hosting. Tenants get a single tenant dedicated infrastructure, regardless of where the platform is hosted. For a demanding workload like SAP, it’s hard to argue with placing core production workloads on a platform that has isolation, and can all but guarantee reliability. There is no risk of noisy neighbors interfering with throughput or bandwidth.

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Additionally, if you opt for SAP in a managed private cloud, you have the added peace of mind of direct access to the team managing your whole cloud — something you don’t have on a public cloud landscape. You’ll also have more flexibility to tune your landscape for a highly customized SAP configuration.

Not only is that an asset for meeting your performance and reliability needs, it’s also useful for situations where you have architectural requirements for other reasons besides SAP. For example, if you have to strictly physically and logically isolate parts of your landscape to meet PCI compliance standards or another regulatory framework — the private cloud is always an excellent option.

Traditionally, the downside has been lack of scalability. In the past, the only infrastructure available to private cloud tenants was what they’d invested in, meaning they would have to plan upgrades well in advance. This wasn’t always a big problem, but as the pace of technological change increased, it became a major obstacle. Fortunately, as we’ll discuss below, it’s no longer a limit of the private cloud.

SAP on the Public Cloud

The public cloud consists of multi-tenant shared infrastructure, built around low cost, self-service, and virtually unlimited capacity. By building massive data centers on off-brand commodity infrastructure, public cloud providers can continue to drive down the cost of storage and compute.

The public cloud also offers agility, and the capacity to scale and hyperscale quickly, and has propelled the drive to cloud automation. Although this is not always the case in SAP, the public cloud has an advantage when it comes to TCO and time-to-deploy in many cases, which is why we are seeing Public Cloud adoption rates climb off the charts.

However, traditionally, SAP users had stability and performance concerns around the public cloud. Noisy neighbors could lead to unacceptable slowdowns, and the public cloud was viewed as unable to meet the ultra-high uptime generally required for production. However, it was used for testing and development, as well as non-SAP workloads by a range of companies.

SAP in Public and Private Cloud Now

All the big differentiators between the public and private cloud have started to break down, making the choice complex for SAP users. Major public cloud vendors like AWS and Azure have been certified for SAP production, allowing companies to run SAP production on whatever cloud they chose. Many onsite SAP tenants are moving directly to the public cloud, as businesses see it as a mature technology and safe solution. And they have a point. Public cloud hosting has become more stable, and better able to support SAP, with higher virtualization limits, more types of instances, and an expanding toolset.

In many ways, the private cloud has seen even faster development. Private cloud providers have overcome all the traditional drawbacks of the private cloud, while keeping its strength. With the virtual private cloudtenants can now have the same reliable performance and customization as in a traditional private cloud, but at lower cost and without the limits on scalability.

But the most remarkable story has been the growth of the hybrid cloud. Companies have experimented with multi-cloud strategies, or used the cloud to supplement onsite hosting for a while now, but it was often treated as a temporary stage in the evolution of the cloud, or a niche strategy for bridging and certain other narrow applications. As the cloud matured, major hosting providers (public cloud ones in particular) hoped to lure tenants into committing to their landscape — particularly as the public cloud began to lure in SAP and other demanding workloads.

This is all good news for SAP tenants. You don’t have to choose between stability and scalability, or between low-cost and low-risk. However, for SAP decision makers, it can be a very frustrating state of affairs. Instead of choosing the one right private cloud vendor among a small group, you have an almost unlimited range of options.

On the other hand, there’s a cost to transformation. You don’t want to choose AWS and then find out you should have gone to Azure, or vice versa. You don’t want to piece together a multi-cloud strategy only to learn that you could have gotten everything you wanted cheaper in a single cloud.

How do you choose?

SAP, Public, Private and Hybrid Cloud: Making the Decision

There’s no single, easy answer to the question. It’s going to be a complex decision that depends on both broad strategic concerns, and narrow technical considerations. Let’s start the discussion with a broad question:

What is Your Cloud Strategy?

Are you decentralizing with multiple providers, or consolidating and rallying around a single provider? All else being equal, it’s best to stay simple — you don’t want three providers if you’ll get the same value from one — however, there are a lot of situations that warrant multiple providers.

Your organization may have different needs or investments in different regions, or different divisions. For example, imagine your company has gone through a recent merger. Your EMEA division has been operating in the AWS cloud, using cloud-scale software from a different vendor. Meanwhile, your NA division is using SAP on premise, and has been experimenting with Azure, with positive results. Now, NA is looking to migrate to the cloud.

In this situation, there’s really no reason why NA has to commit to the AWS cloud, just because EMEA uses it. After all, the regions are using different software suites and operating independently. It may make more sense for NA to use what they’ve learned on Azure to formulate their own cloud strategy.

You also may be able to develop an extremely optimized strategy with multiple clouds that a single cloud vendor wouldn’t provide. Let’s say AWS offers a great suite of development tools, Azure has more competitive pricing for certain cloud workloads, and your private cloud vendor has the best offering for low-latency, mission critical applications. Even if each cloud only has moderate benefits for a particular workload, it will still be worth it to stick with a multi-cloud strategy.

What expertise does your organization already have?

With no cloud provider standing head and shoulders over the rest, sometimes the best choice is the most convenient one. Picking the cloud that best fits your internal expertise will simplify your transformation, reduce the need for retraining and flatten the learning curve for your staff. If you’ve got Windows and you’re happy with Windows, sticking with Azure translates into real gains, as you can use your personnel more effectively

Your preferences and biases should play a role too. If you’re an AWS evangelist, or you have a partner who has had a great experience with a particular private cloud vendor, factor that into your decision.

Do You Have Any Unusual Industry-specific or Technical Considerations?

Depending on your use case, there may be a clear winner in the cloud category. For example, companies using the IBM iSeries love their platform, but it’s getting a lot harder to find support, and many experienced iSeries techs are starting to retire. If that’s your platform, Symmetry’s IBM iSeries cloud is the obvious winner. We have the largest team of iSeries SAP Basis experts in the U.S. and a ready-made hosting environment designed for your needs.

Similarly, if you have niche compliance needs, you should factor those in as well. For example, if you’re a life sciences organization struggling to meet 21 CFR Part 11 requirements, different cloud hosting environments may not be interchangeable. You need a transparent landscape with stringent access control, security and authentication measures, and excellent change control and documentation. It may be more difficult and costly to meet those requirements in the public cloud than in a managed private cloud managed by a single vendor.

Companies in high security segments may also require the private cloud for certain applications. The public cloud can be very secure, but you may need certain controls, such a true private cloud, with a physically separated server to store confidential data. In that situation, even a virtual private cloud may not be adequate — you’ll need to be able to evaluate your provider’s data center services, and choose a private cloud that meets your stringent requirements.

How Big Are Your Database Instances?

SAP has very good memory compression. Most companies can keep their databases in any public or private cloud they want, without pushing the limits. However, companies with extremely large instances need to consider the current limitations of various vendors.

AWS has surpassed 4TB for virtualized instances, putting them in the lead as far as private cloud goes. Their roadmap sets ambitious targets for further growth, up to 32TB, but they’re not there yet. However, for the time being, they’ve surpassed 4TB, and have taken the lead over Azure, although that may change in the near future. Azure, on the other hand, can scale up to 20TB for physical servers, although their virtualized instances are nowhere near that.

For extremely large SAP instances, private cloud is often the best choice. In 2015, we built a system capable of rapidly scaling to 12 TB for Karma Automotive — still far ahead of where the public cloud is today. If you need to go even bigger but still want the benefits of virtualization, we can get you there.

What Do the Numbers Tell You?

At some point, you’re going to need to run through a few scenarios, and crunch the numbers for TCO. This is extremely difficult to do, because of the sheer range of factors that go into SAP cloud cost management. Usage patterns can be different than you anticipate, causing unexpected cost increases — particularly for companies that use cloud self-service extensively. You also need to account for other cost components, like cloud integration and SAP administration, which means you need to price out the whole solution rather than looking at hosting in isolation.

And don’t forget opportunity costs. They’re easy to leave out of your TCO calculations because they aren’t directly part of your IT budget, but they can be significant. If you have to do significant retraining of your internal IT staff, or assign developers to help build and manage your public or private cloud solution, that takes a significant toll on productivity. The same goes for any planned (or unplanned!) downtime associated with your solution.

You Need the Right Partner for SAP in Public and Private Cloud

Many companies waste more resources trying to find the perfect SAP cloud than they’ll ever save. And ultimately, it’s only one of many, many factors that together determine the effectiveness of your landscape. The most important thing is having a partner that can help you sort through all those factors and build a sustainable, coherent SAP strategy that fits your needs.

As a complete SAP hosting and managed services provider, Symmetry can help you move beyond analysis paralysis, and start building the right landscape for your business. We serve as a true extension of your team, bringing all your stakeholders together to evaluate the options and choose the cloud solution that makes the most sense for your company. Whether you’re looking for a complete managed private cloud solution, a hybrid cloud or just someone to help you with day-to-day AWS or Azure operations, we’re here to help.



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.