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Throughout history, times of turmoil and disruption have led to a surge in innovation—shifts and breakthroughs that don’t just get us through hard times, but leave us in better shape for the future, too. The year 2020, with all its upheaval and unknowns, provides a clear example of this. Across industries, the rush to transform service models and data capabilities has reshaped the world of IT.

I had a conversation with Rob McLaughlin and Brian Sturgis, SAP specialists from Dell Technologies, about this transformation. They shared four major lessons that they and their SAP customers are learning during this unusual time.

Lesson 1: Focus on cloud and build a cloud-first strategy.

Rob McLaughlin, Principal Systems Engineer, SAP Presales Specialty, Dell Technologies

Rob: In today’s conditions, large volumes of experiential data—from edge devices to customer engagement and mobile and analytical environments—are creating a constantly evolving experience. Within this scenario, data access is taking on a massive role. Edge needs to process and send to the core, core systems need data from public cloud, and public cloud systems need data from the edge.

To deal with this, the data strategy must incorporate security at every level of the design and account for ingress, egress, performance, and availability. Understanding data access requirements and the dynamics of data locality is key to cloud design, but with current shifts toward expanding digital services, data access concerns are driving customer conversations more than ever.

Brian: When you think about that, it is important to also remember that “cloud” is not a particular “place.” It is an operating model that necessitates various capabilities and outcomes that are essential to the current, highly competitive business environment. We believe in developing a cloud-first strategy. Once business requirements and desired outcomes are clearly defined, identification of the most appropriate cloud scenarios—off-premise, hosted, on-premise, private, and/or hybrid—can be best determined.

Lesson 2: Prepare for growth and performance and respond to dynamic shifts with scale and agility.

Brian Sturgis, SAP Infrastructure Specialist Data-Centric Workloads, SAP Presales North America, Dell Technologies

Brian: Given the relatively high cost of memory for an SAP HANA environment when compared with traditional database storage, in this climate we are seeing SAP customers embrace data tiering more aggressively. Data tiering helps customers manage SAP HANA data more cost-effectively by placing “hot” data, that is, the most regularly accessed data, in dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) and Intel Optane persistent memory. Less frequently accessed “warm” data is going to locations like SAP HANA Native Storage Extension and SAP HANA extension nodes, while least accessed “cold data” gets moved to SAP HANA spark controller, Apache Hadoop, and the like. This shift from an expensive, all-DRAM SAP HANA experience can yield significant cost savings as customers prepare for their SAP HANA data sizes to grow. Many out there don’t realize that as they’re trying to do more with data while keeping costs in check, there’s a lot SAP already offers, and that they don’t have to spend as much as they might think.

Rob: As customers continue to look at transforming SAP landscapes from traditional relational database management system (RDBMS) platforms to SAP HANA and to SAP S/4HANA and SAP BW/4HANA, it’s imperative to understand the breadth of the SAP landscape, the transformational project approach, and the overall timeline. SAP HANA environments are all about memory. No matter what’s going on today, the platform will need to evolve over time, allowing for future capabilities to be introduced into the scalable building block according to transformation schedules. Virtualization abstracts the physical constructs and allows for a logical container that can move across the physical layer, without introducing any impact to the application or end users.

Lesson 3: Collapse data silos with edge, core, and cloud integration with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to accelerate data-driven insights.

Brian: The rise of edge computing has been a growing reality for a while, but the events of 2020 have drawn its data management consequences into much greater focus. The need to integrate data across silos becomes extremely critical when essentially all customer and employee access and interaction is taking place remotely. The need among our SAP customers to have modern, dynamic infrastructure foundations upon which to embrace edge computing and cloud integration has become more visible than ever before.

Rob: For decades, SAP environments were architected to care for the “operational” side of the business. Teams were concerned about material management, shipping, accounts receivable, accounts payable, batch jobs completing, etc. Basically, it was all about making sure business was up and running and core transactions were successful and timely. In today’s world, this “operational” business is running on an in-memory platform that affords additional capabilities. That’s why many customers are leveraging the platform to embrace experiential data from the edge, analytical platforms, mobile, etc. This data can be captured and processed to provide additional capabilities and enhancements to the way they do business. It’s a never-ending feedback loop, and the infrastructure platform needs to be agile enough to allow for this evolving framework.

Lesson 4: Maintain a security-first mindset, evolving the data protection and security focus in times of rapid change.

Brian: Data protection and data security are always an area of concern in SAP environments, but when your entire access model suddenly shifts and availability windows expand, you become exposed to new vulnerabilities and uncertainties. Vulnerabilities can arise when customers operate in hybrid or cross-cloud environments, for example. Lately, we’ve been helping address this through a variety of measures, including network virtualization via VMware NSX. NSX provides network segmentation and firewalling that simplifies SAP network and application security deployments.

Rob: Agreed. In addition to that, the teams we typically work with love to have command and control over the data that they manage, regardless of where it’s located from a cloud perspective. Backup, restore, and data replication have always been considered “infrastructure team” tasks, but in today’s environment we’re enabling application owners and database administrators with full data protection capabilities from within their standard operational tool set. Database administrators can back up or restore directly to and from the underlying data protection solution, in any cloud that the environment is leveraging today, without waiting on other teams. In other words, true time to value.

The Journey Ahead for Transformation

It’s impossible to quantify the amount of transformation that has happened in just a few months, yet we can be sure more is on the way. That said, the refocus and retooling underway is putting SAP businesses in a stronger, more agile position for “normal” times, however and whenever they start presenting themselves.

In the next several blog posts, we will explore in more detail each of the four major trends described above, as well as others that may emerge along the way.

This is part one of a five-part series of blogs on this topic. Do you have questions or comments regarding your own 2020 SAP experience? We would like to hear them and may include them in an upcoming post.

Register for the Enterprise Planning Think Tank on Oct. 6 from 10:30–11:30 a.m. CT to share and learn from peers about navigating challenges and opportunities as you transform your organizations. As always, we welcome all ASUG members to submit their ideas for blog posts they want to write.

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