Not long ago, companies often cited the need for flexibility as a primary reason for migrating some or all of their applications or infrastructure to the cloud. The cloud, after all, offers fast time to value: With software as a service (SaaS), a new application can be up and running in no time to help meet a new market opportunity without the traditional delays associated with provisioning, networking, and acquiring new hardware.
Flexibility, though, has taken on a deeper meaning now that the digital, networked economy is here to stay. More than quick response times or speed to deployment, flexibility means making changes to internal business processes to capitalize on sudden market changes and to better serve customers who expect immediacy in everything from transactions to service. In short, flexibility is no longer about having the ability to provision new hardware or software; it’s about having an infrastructure that allows for the ability to change processes on the fly.
A technology platform is useful today in so far as it meets these requirements; its effectiveness can be gauged by whether it is malleable enough to fulfill a specific need at a given point in time, and whether it can support needs that change from one day to the next. Delivering on this flexibility, however, isn’t the only requirement for this new-age platform. Customers also expect the same high service level agreements (SLAs) they’re accustomed to with their traditional on-premise environments.
This is the IBM approach to our cloud business, which includes IBM Cloud Managed Services (CMS) for SAP and non-SAP applications and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings with SoftLayer.
At the end of the day, customers are looking for a platform nimble enough to provide users with instantaneous access to their applications at any time and on any device, and customers turn to IBM as a trusted cloud partner that can deliver on this promise.
Flexibility is no longer about having the ability to provision new hardware or software; it’s about having an infrastructure that allows for the ability to change processes on the fly.
A New Era
Lines are blurring in every industry in terms of delivery models for products and services. In music, transportation, and hospitality, just to name a few familiar examples, long-standing transactional processes have been upended. Competition — including competition from companies in wildly different traditional industries — is a force to be reckoned with. Companies that aren’t prepared to change how they do business, or worse yet, aren’t willing to adapt to a changing market, are likely doomed to be a footnote in history.
The end customer is driving much of the external pressure to change. Customers now expect and demand goods and services to be personalized, and they are not willing to wait. Improved standards of living across the world add to this challenge; a global economy means more consumers, and more consumers means more demand for change to satisfy an even more diverse customer base.
Organizations can best meet these challenges and satisfy these demands in a cloud environment, but they first need to adopt cloud standards to do so most effectively. This serves a dual purpose; by adopting cloud standards, an organization can achieve that first layer of flexibility, and satisfy the requirement for speed to deployment to meet new challenges. But adopting cloud standards can also provide a nimble environment that can adapt to future challenges. In a move to the cloud, by shedding the customizations that are part and parcel of any large on-premise network, the business can better serve its growing customer base and its demands for customization.
This is a difficult but necessary undertaking to truly leverage full cloud capabilities. Legacy IT systems grow in complexity as a company grows, and it’s hard to cut ties, so to speak. But simply transitioning this complexity to the cloud will not yield any benefits — it just puts the same complexity on a different platform. Thus rethinking how a company’s existing IT department operates today and how IT will have to adapt to a new environment is a key challenge and consideration.
Beyond IT, this is a challenge for administrators, for application management, and for anyone responsible for ensuring that applications are available to line-of-business users. The challenge has to be met, because keeping the same formula for delivering new applications or upgrades is no longer the best use of resources, not when suppliers and vendors such as SAP are constantly making updates to keep up with market changes and customer demands. Adopting and adjusting to cloud standards help IT and application managers deliver or even develop the line-of-business solutions that business users need.
A Trusted Partner
Finding a partner that recognizes this dynamic and can deliver a platform that rises to the challenge is imperative, and this is where IBM stands out, especially as it pertains to our partnership with SAP. When C-suite executives look toward expanding their cloud presence, they recognize that outsourcing pieces of their environment to a valued and trusted partner — that can assure the same SLAs to which they’re accustomed — is necessary to experience all the benefits the cloud can deliver.
Many of our clients that have leaped that initial hurdle or overcome that reluctance to part with in-house control and oversight have found success in the cloud because they recognize the true nature of the partnership. It’s not about blind faith in a vendor with a niche expertise; it’s about treating a cloud partner as a valued partner to the business that is in tune with helping the business achieve its objectives.
Conversely, those companies that are reluctant to transition to the cloud because they’re not ready or willing to embrace that partnership, or are hesitant to give up their current level of customization, are not in a position to make changes to their business processes. The entire reason for adopting cloud standards is to provide the business with the flexibility and agility it demands, and trusting a hosting partner and provider is a key step in successfully reaching that plateau.
What differentiates IBM from its competitors is the breadth of vertical and horizontal offerings, service, and experience. From a consulting standpoint, IBM’s expertise as a technology partner and provider predates the cloud, of course, and many clients depend on this deep experience to help answer the necessary business process questions before transitioning to the cloud. We can look at an on-premise environment and determine where to gain efficiencies — and then look at how the cloud can help.
In addition to transforming an existing environment is the question of how to capitalize on trends in analytics, mobile, social, and big data in a net-new cloud environment. How do you take the plunge into becoming a digital enterprise? This is where IBM’s cloud expertise provides value apart from a hosting or provisioning standpoint; we help companies leapfrog into a mature cloud environment that is best in class for their particular industry.
By exploring various cloud options, including SaaS for line-of-business applications, platform-as-a-service (PaaS) to minimize application layer changes, or even IaaS for a full, private cloud infrastructure, an organization is likely to discover an optimal way to move forward to achieve its business objectives (see Figure 1). At the very least, the company will know that if it maintains a traditional on-premise delivery model, it is doing so because it has exhausted other options. Organizations turn to IBM as a trusted partner because it can help make these up-front decisions as well as deliver on the chosen environment.
The New Hybrid
While there is no one specific IT platform that can support all of a company’s business processes and applications, the company must address how to optimally manage all this technology and activity. This is what we refer to when we speak of a hybrid landscape, which is more nuanced than the common understanding of hybrid — cherry picking SaaS-based applications to run in the cloud.
In addition to supporting traditional hardware and software, IBM has invested in scale-up applications within our mainframe cloud, with our IBM AIX PaaS offering, and with our SoftLayer acquisition. With this robust, scale-out environment, a business can allocate only the resources it needs for its various applications, all with one vendor, and make any necessary changes as requirements fluctuate.
SoftLayer’s bare metal server capabilities illustrate how the robust and diverse IBM cloud environment can lead to quick value. We use a hybrid data center, where data can sit in a preferred data center side by side with a virtualized server, allowing for unprecedented scale-up or scale-down opportunity. Many SAP HANA customers are interested in this hybrid scenario because it gives them a managed data center that can spin up as needed into a managed cloud service.
To understand where our offerings are today it’s helpful to briefly explore our evolution as a full-service cloud supplier for the SAP install base. When interest in the cloud was in the nascent stage, organizations that considered cloud at all were primarily interested in one thing: keeping their applications up and running. This is why IBM’s initial focus was to provide unmatched SLAs — a focus that remains today. However, to accommodate this demand for high SLAs, the first IBM cloud platforms were somewhat rigid from a delivery standpoint.
Since then, SAP has made a few important changes that have lessened the need for this trade-off. First, existing and new applications are more adaptable and flexible, which in turn mean they’re far more accommodating of less rigid infrastructure requirements. Additionally, SAP has made serious in-roads as a provider of cloud-based offerings through many of its recent acquisitions, which reinforces the need for more flexibility in its applications.
With SoftLayer’s scale-out capabilities, IBM has expanded beyond what had been a rigid delivery model to provide added flexibility for the applications that need it. Yet within that CMS for SAP applications environment, aside from SoftLayer, IBM is focused on creating a unified network with a management layer that can cover both environments. From the customer standpoint, this means a single point of entry and a single network where the customer has access to various environments — from the scalable SoftLayer bare metal capabilities to a single data center environment. This is the direction in which we are heading, where customers aren’t faced with various decision points for cloud entry, because the IBM cloud network, CMS for SAP applications, modular management through SoftLayer, and SoftLayer as an IaaS will all be part of a singular cloud network.
For large organizations with a mix of SAP and non-SAP technology, the opportunity to provision in the cloud with a single vendor and partner is an attractive proposition. Being able to expand the scope of the SAP customer in the cloud is a key benefit that IBM can provide, and with global expansion this is ongoing. With 40 CMS and SoftLayer data centers, IBM is well positioned to help SAP drive adoption for technologies and solutions such as SAP HANA.
And of course these data centers are all part of a strong data network, allowing customers to move data between data centers, or store copies in various data centers, at no additional cost (see Figure 2 for more detail about various cloud options from IBM). This is a key component to providing the agility to meet a market demand in a specific area. Of course, with more than 30 years of deploying and managing SAP infrastructures, IBM also has the experience to handle security, compliance, and disaster recovery efforts that make us a trusted partner, now properly aligned for a cloud model.
Cloud, Meet the Future
The adoption of SAP HANA serves as a perfect example for why cloud demand is soaring, and why the cloud offers a quicker road to value. As an in-memory database, SAP HANA will be highly susceptible to improvements in technology. Customers therefore are less likely to make significant capital investments to support an application that in the next year or two will net notable performance improvements. With the cloud, customers gain the ability to take advantage of the application quickly, without a major technology investment. IBM Cloud is designed to allow for these continuous technology upgrades, which for SAP HANA customers makes a perfect marriage between the state-of-the-art in-memory appliance and the hosting partner.
Many organizations exploring opportunities to innovate in the cloud often make the mistake of thinking of the cloud as being about a specific type of technology. Rather, the cloud is about possessing the flexibility to accommodate managing changing processes, and doing so on a platform that optimizes application performance and delivers the most value. The digital economy is here, and the companies that are actively reshaping business processes understand that the cloud has transcended the hype stage to become a business imperative. Quite simply, the cloud produces results that companies are looking for to become leaders in their respective industries and shape trends — rather than be shaped by them.
To learn more about how your organization can become trend setters by using cloud technology, visit www.ibm.com/cloud.