Woman working with binary code, concept of digital technology [shutterstock: 442496227, Merkushev Vasiliy]
Michael Jores, Suse Director Central Europe, and Jens-Gero Boehm, Director Suse Partner Sales Central Europe, talked with Peter M. Färbinger, Chief Editor of E-3 Magazine, about the digital transformation based on open source.
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The launch onto a new path has begun, even if some of the SAP client base still sees the time-span leading up to 2025 as a long one. Topics such as Industry 4.0, IoT, Software Defined Datacenter, DevOps and Big Data require a direct engagement with the latest technologies and, particularly, open source. The advance towards the digital transformation is all-embracing – the challenge cannot be mastered by a change of ERP release or by distributing loads of tablets and smartphones within the company.
Even appointing a Chief Digital Officer only partly does justice to the digital transformation needed. One thing is sure: the digital transformation is a challenge in terms of company-management, organisation, finance and technology. An all-embracing, networked mode of thinking is what is needed.
“The digital transformation crucially influences the IT environments of the future”, predicts Michael Jores, Regional Director Central Europe at Suse. “Existing environments – of a silo-type, non-cloud-capable, and proprietary – are reshaped by the requirements of the d!conomy, so they become standardised, cloud-capable, and open. Because only the latter environments can react efficiently to business needs, both technically and hence also in business-management terms.” It’s no coincidence that ‘d!conomy’ – the digital economy – has already been made the key theme at two separate CeBIT trade-fairs.
“Big-data scenarios are inevitable”, Jores observes, explaining a phenomenon of the ‘d!conomy’. “This is because, by 2020, the data-quantities will acquire an unbelievably vast scale. Similarly, hybrid cloud scenarios make it possible to attain that needed flexibility and efficiency.” With its strategy, based on open-source solutions, Suse is staking everything on providing the necessary flexibility, standardization and efficiency in future data centers. Digital transformation and open source are evidently the two sides of the same coin.
(…) by 2020, the data-quantities will acquire an unbelievably vast scale. Similarly, hybrid cloud scenarios make it possible to attain that needed flexibility and efficiency.
“As an open-source-provider, Suse is in effect predestined to play an active role in this”, Jens-Gero Boehm, Director Suse Partner Sales Central Europe, emphasizes. “In the infrastructure for implementing the digital transformation, open standards are an essential requirement, one that can be met almost exclusively by open source today.”
The central starting-point for current IT projects is based on the requirements set by the digital transformation. “The Software Defined Datacenter, SDDC, describes the future paradigm of IT architecture, one that is optimally supported by open standards” – this is how Michael Jores describes the trend, not only in the SAP community.
A further challenge is to shorten the distance between development and operations, with the so-called DevOps approach. “Two fundamental directions emerge from this”, Jores notes, “big data and cloud. For big data, the Hadoop project plays a major, interesting role. What comes to the forefront in the cloud is hypervisors, such as XEN and KVM, the infrastructure-management framework OpenStack, and Cloud Foundry for producing a platform-as-a-service, PaaS. What these have in common is that the community is banking on open standards.” This trend – of developing software on the basis of an open-source model – began with Linux‘s success and is rapidly growing with that success.
Software Defined Datacenter
The SAP community has had an interesting journey, involving a lot of work: consolidation, harmonization, automation and virtualization are the topics successfully worked-through. The next step is based on open source and takes a bottom-up approach. Based on the available technology, the S/4-Hana future is based on a Software Defined Datacenter. IDC’s market researchers ascertained that the transformation of data centers is in full swing.
The companies understand Software Defined Infrastructure (SDI) and Datacenters (SDDC) as an approach to a solution for implementing cloud computing, for achieving lower operating costs and for operating information technology more efficiently. Although SDI is still in an early phase, companies and organizations are willing to let business-critical applications run on that system. This is the conclusion in the new IDC study “Software Defined Infrastructure in Germany 2016”.
The aim pursued by IDC in the survey, conducted in March 2016 among 252 IT-decision-makers from firms in Germany with more than 250 employees, was to obtain insights into the perceptions, plans for implementation, and the success-factors involved with regard to Software Defined Infrastructure (SDI). The survey was conducted solely among companies that are already engaging with the topic of SDI on a well-founded basis. For 85 per cent of those surveyed, open source plays an important role in SDI.
Open source is thereby in many cases an important enabler for SDI in companies. This highlights the innovation potential that can be tapped into in many open-source initiatives. In many cases, the basis for interest in open-source technology is the prospect both of avoiding being locked-in by a vendor and of reducing costs, and also the need to shape API integration / automation with maximum efficiency.
Viewing this through Suse‘s eyes: is SAP driving the deployment of open-source products or is the market driving SAP towards open source? As Michael Jores put it, “Firstly, SAP recognized early – as long ago as 1999 – the potential offered by Linux. Accordingly, through the close development cooperation, SAP precisely recognized open-source’s added-value for meeting requirements in Linux, jointly and with Suse’s expertise, in a way that is fast and matches requirements. An example is High Availability for Hana. Secondly, Hadopp crucially shapes the big-data market; here, it supplies application scenarios to which SAP reacts with Vora. Likewise, the combination of OpenStack and Cloud Foundry is highly interesting for SAP as a PaaS solution.”
IDC’s conclusion is as follows: many companies are working on the modernization of their data center, to support or to improve the digital transformation. They view Software Defined Infrastructure as a way to make flexible, agile IT resources available to the specialist departments on a favourable cost-basis. The various solution components are at different stages of advancement in their respective life cycles. While virtualization tools have already been in use for many years, Container and OpenStack are still at in an early stage in their maturity.
The companies are willing to use these solutions, thereby operating in a tension-field between innovation and the solutions’ readiness for use in an enterprise. “Software Defined Infrastructure is an interesting approach to a solution, enabling firms to make IT available as a service, in a fast, efficient and agile way: this is done both by decoupling hardware and software and also by comprehensive automation and orchestration. SDI thereby becomes a key factor and a core element in modern IT infrastructures”, emphasizes Matthias Zacher, Senior Consultant and Projekt Manager at IDC.
(..) this is done both by decoupling hardware and software and also by comprehensive automation and orchestration. SDI thereby becomes a key factor (…)
As a development-reference platform for SAP, Suse supplies innovative contributions to technology, taking the form of datacenter-readiness topics for SAP NetWeaver and SAP Hana. “The most exciting developments are the high-availability scenarios for Hana in all their variants”, Michael Jores points out. “Also, with Suse Manager we supply an infrastructure automation for the SAP base.” Suse OpenStack Cloud with the Suse Storage makes an Iaas platform available for an SAP data center.
Open Source paradigm
Why is open-source software interesting? Joseph Reger, Fujitsu Fellow and Chief Technology Officer of Fujitsu EMEIA, addressed this question: “Perhaps I use the term ‘open-source-software’ a little loosely, but I mean the strict definiton of ‘free software’, established by the Free Software Foundation (1985). What is important is freedom to use, share, study and – this is crucial! – modify.
In practical terms this is possible only with open-source software. It is of secondary importance here whether the software must be paid for in some way – there are numerous models. The plurality of meaning in English – free, as in ‘freedom’ or free as in ‘free beer’ – doesn‘t come into play in German anyway.”
In the strategic approach, Michael Jores distinguishes precisely between paradigm and technology. OpenStack, Cloud Foundry, Linux, Hadoop etc. serve as important IT building-blocks but are not the digital transformation itself. “In the way that the market understands the digital transformation, it takes place at business level. The business models change” – this is how Jores defines the transition. “Accordingly, the necessary changes also have ramifications for the infrastructures that form their basis. Here, the optimization is called DevOps, that is to say minimizing the distance between development and operations. This is where new paradigms are found for building up SAP data centers, hyper-convergent infrastructures, and the implementation of the Software Defined Data Center.”
An example of open-source-based digital transformation is BMW in Munich. In the SAP environment there, they base their work on Linux, Hadoop, Hana and OpenStack. By using Linux, the customer gains the openness for the selection of an x86 platform. Hana and Hadoop make a powerful big-data infrastructure available for SAP. And OpenStack brings the flexibility into the infrastructure for implementing the DevOps model.
OpenStack & Cloud Foundry
Taken as a whole, the SAP building-blocks serve as the infrastructure basis for SAP data centers: Suse Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) for SAP Applications, Suse OpenStack Cloud together with Cloud Foundry, and Suse Enterprise Storage. “These layers give SAP customers the opportunity to set up a DevOps model for a PaaS infrastructure when using SAP”, Jores explains.
Suse – the first Linux distributor, also represented on the Managing Board – and SAP are involved in the OpenStack foundation and the Cloud Foundry community. “With Cloud Foundry, it is established as a goal to make an interface for a cloud-service-provider available to those hosting SAP; this is in order to be able, based on Linux, OpenStack and Cloud Foundry, to use a platform as a service for SAP”, as Suse manager Jores put it.
Suse Sales Director Boehm elaborates: “The digital transition is permeating all industries and business sectors. Common to everyone is the significance that IT acquires within this process – also for those who have hitherto not had to concern themselves much with IT topics. Everyone will have to commit to one infrastructure – be it on-premise or at the cloud-service provider – which is superimposed on the basis of a software-defined architecture. For a secure future, independent of any particular provider, the choice to make is in favour of mainstream solutions from the open-source world.”
Everyone will have to commit to one infrastructure – be it on-premise or at the cloud-service provider – which is superimposed on the basis of a software-defined architecture.
In the open-source community, SAP – jointly with its partner Suse – is right at the forefront of this: for supporting open systems and open-source sofware in the cloud, SAP has published the Hana Cloud Platform (HCP), a starter-edition for Cloud Foundry services.
HCP provides support to various Cloud Foundry buildpacks and services, including Java, Node.js, HTML5, MongoDB, Redis, PostgreSQL and RabbitMQ. These services, made available via the HCP cockpit, are intended to help developers in producing new, innovative applications, based on Cloud Foundry and executed on the Hana Cloud Platform.
What HCP makes possible, in practical terms, is shown in an extremely impressive way by SAP‘s EVP, Björn Goerke, in his keynote speech at the SAP TechEd 2015 in Barcelona, and at the DSAG Technology Days 2016 in Hamburg (both key-notes are on YouTube). In the Hana Enterprise Cloud and HCP, OpenStack and Cloud Foundry are tightly-anchored topics. Here these topics will also flow into OpenStack as IaaS and Cloud Foundry as PaaS.
“OpenStack offers an attractive environment for higher layers of the IT stack”, Joseph Reger re-emphasizes. “Everything that the cloud heart desires – virtualization with VMs, Docker or Rocket; PaaS with Cloud Foundry; big-data platform with Hadoop; cluster-management with Kubernetes or Mesos; orchestration with Tosca; service catalogs with Murano; application-monitoring with Monasca.
This can not only be supplied but also operated. This also brings us into SAP domains. It’s no coincidence that SAP is active in some of these OpenStack projects. In particular, there are clear opportunities to use the Hana Cloud Platform and Hana Enterprise Cloud.”
Big Data, Hana & Hadoop
One sub-area of the digital transformation is big data. From Hadoop to Ceph, the open-source scene is well-positioned here. What does this mean for SAP and other providers, such as EMC or Netapp, and what will this ultimately mean for the SAP customer base? “In the future, Software Defined Storage, Ceph, will take over from classic storage”, is Michael Jores’s view. “This disruption is already in progress and will entail a fundamental change. Companies such as Netapp and EMC will react to this – indeed they already have done.”
The individual layers in the SAP stack are given support by the respective manufacturer and distributor; SAP provides the integration of the individual layers. “Those wanting to have everything from a single source can make this happen via an outsourcer”, Jores points out, based on his experience.
“Those providing the infrastructure components have the task of making this challenge manageable for the application-user”, Jens-Gero Boehm observes. “This is an aspect that Suse has always attached much importance to, together with hardware and software partners, especially with SAP. That’s because this is the only way to set a limit on the tying-up of resources for IT infrastructure and to ensure that this doesn‘t diminish innovation in IT in terms of applications.” There is also the option of operating the service-provider’s resources – the latter can make the infrastructure services available with cloud-based product offerings ‘straight out of the power-socket in the wall.
Those providing the infrastructure components have the task of making this challenge manageable for the application-user.
In mid-May, SAP Sapphire came to an end in Orlando, USA. There were also joint announcements by SAP and Suse. For instance, what strategic significance does the app store have? “The app store, also known as Suse Connect, aims at giving SAP customers the opportunity to see all product offerings that other SAP partners are developing, in a single overview”, Michael Jores points out, describing the new initiative. “For instance, Datavard is offering a community edition in Suse Connect – within a certain scope of performance, this enables the customer to use the monitoring for Hana free of charge.”
The search for SAP-compatible software is made easier. With Suse Connect, companies can find open-source solutions for SAP, tailored to their needs. The platform provides users of Suse Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications with an overview of available software, web-services and consultancy services. Time-consuming research work and tiresome compatibility tests are thus consigned to history.
Suse Connect also enables free-of-charge test versions of the software offered to be downloaded. “Considering the speed that companies are transforming themselves at today, those running IT departments don‘t have the time to search the open-source world far and wide, looking for solutions – and then find something that can either only laboriously be integrated into their system, or not at all”, said Dirk Oppenkowski, Global SAP Alliance Director at Suse.
“Suse Connect provides a remedy here. It makes it possible to search comfortably and practically for solutions that function compatibly and reliably. Simpler access to a wider offering of solutions saves time and money, thus releasing capacity for growth in other business areas.“ Gregor Stöckler, CEO of Datavard, adds: “Through Suse Connect, we become part of an expert community that works tirelessly at developing new features and at improving the user experience. The collaboration with Suse has proved to be a great benefit to Datavard. Our customers will also gain from it.”
In concluding, Michael Jores re-emphasizes: “open source makes the infrastructure available; know-how for recurring activities ought to be built up at the respective SAP customer‘s premises; know-how for special projects and peaks in use of capacity can be covered via Suse partners.”