David Whittle is the CIO of Bokanyi Consulting, a Kellton Tech Company. Along with that, David also helps customers make the right decisions for their technical SAP infrastructure.
What drives SAP customers to a cloud decision?
For a new installation, I think it’s an easy decision. To keep the servers on premise, the customer has to identify the servers that are required, size them appropriately, while leaving room for future expansion, procure the servers, rack the servers, and license and install the OS. This is assuming that the customer has a suitable, secure location to house the servers. Of course, you would also like to have them on a UPS with backup generators available and redundant network connectivity. Now, contrast that with a cloud solution. The hardware is sitting there waiting for you when you need it. Since it’s all virtualized, you can adjust the server specs as-needed with a simple reboot. You’ll never out-grow your server, since you can continually adjust it to meet your needs. The OS install is done for you. So the server is ready to go when you get your hands on it. There’s a lot that goes into hosting your own servers. Many of our customers just don’t have the time or the staff for the installation or for the 24x7 monitoring and operations afterwards. The big benefits to the cloud are:
- You don’t have to buy the servers
- You don’t have to worry about the support infrastructure (network, power, cooling)
- You don’t have to staff people to manage it 24x7
You can offload as much of the maintenance and headaches as you want to with the cloud. Even if you decide “not the cloud” but just offsite, that can be a big benefit over having it on premise. It becomes someone else’s problem to provide the network, power, cooling, the physical location, the security, etc. Customers can even take it further by using managed services offered by Bokanyi Consulting, a Kellton Tech Company and the data center.
What are some of the best options right now for customers looking to move their SAP systems to the cloud?
It depends on what they are looking for. We have a great local hosting partner, Westland Bunker. If you want to move physical hardware to a data center and just get things offsite, then they’re a very good option. They have a very secure facility but, it’s only a short drive away if you need to get your hands on the hardware. And it’s not just SAP servers, they’ll host anything--web servers, email servers, general file servers, other applications, whatever you have. If you want to be able to touch the boxes or have physical access to the machines then our partner, Westland Bunker is an excellent choice. Of course they offer cloud services too. Most of our customers will start out with their cloud services for SAP. Afterwards, many of them will start to relocate other physical servers to their data center. The bunker provides great service. These guys are experts and they take very good care of our customers.
Another option is Amazon Web Services (AWS.) They are certainly market leaders in the cloud space with a global presence. One big difference is that there’s no contract; you pay month to month. Another difference is that for a lot of the resources, if you turn them off, then you’re not paying for them anymore. You can provision machines and then just turn them off. For machines that are powered down, you will still be paying for the disk space but not for the computing hours. It may not be an attractive feature for somebody running a production system;but, it’s nice if you’ve got a Sandbox system that is only needed periodically, or a training system, or you want to prototype something. It’s very easy to throw the system up, do what you need to do, then turn it off. You can even delete it and give it back. You pay for what is used, and when you’re done, you give it back. Basically, you have unlimited hardware at your fingertips, whenever you need it, and when you’re done you give it back. That flexibility is very attractive for customers that want to try new things and experiment.
Are there other specific benefits to the cloud, like how costs are managed or disaster recovery?
Some of the other benefits include backups. The cloud providers have a number of different availability options for backups depending on the backup frequency and the level of availability that you require. You can have near real-time backups running constantly, or maybe weekly backups are sufficient. It’s not that these can’t be done onsite but, the cloud providers already have the software and hardware required to implement a solution quickly. So, flexibility with your backups is a big benefit.
You have more options for high availability in the cloud. You can have systems running in parallel. For example, in the Amazon Cloud they organize things by regions. At Amazon, a region consists of multiple availability zones located close to each other geographically but not in the same location. You can have your systems from one region duplicated in another region, and you can configure those to failover automatically if you want to. You also have options for redundant network connections and storage.
Amazon also has auto-scaling so that when you need additional application servers at certain times of the year (end of month/end of year events) or times of day, you can spin up the additional servers as needed. You can set the threshold to indicate that whenever "this parameter" or "that parameter" moves beyond "value A" for a certain period of time, then it will spin up another server dynamically. It requires no interaction from you, so your system is essentially managing itself. As far as the process for auto-scaling, you have to plan ahead. It's just another capability that they offer, so you don’t have to plan your capacity for the worst case and run it at that level all the time. You can quickly react to spikes in demand. If you are a retailer, you have a busy time of year, the end of the year–maybe in the fall–you can have additional resources then. Later, you can shut those resources down for the rest of the year when you just don’t have that demand.
With Amazon, it is a bit harder to do some adjustments because you cannot scale the machine. You can add machines though. With Amazon, you pick the instance type that fits your needs with a fixed number of CPUs (processors) with a fixed amount of RAM (memory.) The instance may be optimized for compute power or memory. If that instance type is not a good fit for your application, you would need to shut the instance down, change instance types, and bring the instance back up. Unfortunately, you may not find the exact configuration that you want.
On the other hand, with Westland Bunker, our offsite hosting partner, all it takes is a phone call and you can say, “Hey I need to add another CPU,” or “I need another four gigs of RAM,” or something. Because of the way that they are running their environments, that adjustment is not a problem and can be implemented very quickly. You have more flexibility to tweak the machine at the Bunker than you do with Amazon. It just comes down to what you’re looking for.
What do you tell customers when they ask your opinion of moving to the cloud?
I think moving to the cloud is a great idea, especially in our space with many small to midsize customers. Many times they just don’t have the staff or the facilities to adequately host an SAP system. Moving into the cloud eliminates most of the need for both. There’s also the benefit of not owning the hardware. Your hardware will never get old. As the technology evolves, so can your server. When you decide that you need more horsepower, it’s just a phone call away. If it’s Amazon, you will move from one platform to another. If it’s the Westland Bunker, they will be upgrading their own hardware or adding more resources to your system. There’s a lot of comfort in knowing that somebody else is responsible for providing network connectivity, power, cooling, a secure facility, monitoring, staff, etc.–all of the things associated with having the systems in-house.