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SAP said 2025 is the year it will pull the plug on support for Business Suite, effectively requiring users to move to the next-generation ERP platform, S/4HANA.
It may seem like 2025 is a long way away, but SAP customers who are pondering an S/4HANA migration should start making their infrastructure plans now. Why now? Given the enormity of the task of deploying Business Suite's successor, S/4HANA, not preparing for an S/4HANA migration could leave many organizations far behind the ball.
Every SAP organization varies in complexity, but all should consider their S/4HANA migration strategy now, according to Wes Mauer, director of SAP operations for Rackspace, a San Antonio-based firm that offers infrastructure management and hosting services for a variety of platforms. Mauer's SAP operations group handles SAP Basis administration tasks for customers and assesses projects like an S/4HANA migration. The group also carries out the technical task of moving an SAP infrastructure, whether it's on premises, hosted on private or public cloud, or hybrid.
"Ultimately, we're recommending to people to start the process, even though we're eight years out and it seems like a long way away. But for some customers, even that might be cutting it kind of close at this point," Mauer said. "It depends upon the complexity of the environment and the overall impact, so you can't really have a cookie-cutter assessment; you really have to help them analyze what the overall level of effort is going to be."
Some smaller organizations may be able to hold off and wait for a more compelling reason to move, Mauer explained. But for larger organizations, it's better to start making plans now.
No easy task to switch infrastructure
One of the main reasons large organizations need to take the S/4HANA migration deadline seriously is, in many cases, it involves switching to a different infrastructure, according to Dirk Oppenkowski, SAP global alliance director for Suse, a global infrastructure services provider. Suse makes and supports the Suse Linux Enterprise Server, one of the operating systems along with Red Hat Linux that can run SAP HANA.
"If you look at the overall task of moving every SAP NetWeaver deployment from R3 or NetWeaver 7.3 and lower to 7.4 and above over the next eight years, it's a gargantuan task that no one is really expecting will get done. But right now, that's what you have to look at and plan for," Oppenkowski said.
Dealing with the infrastructure now is important because S/4HANA requires SAP HANA as a database, he continued.
"With R3, you had the choice between DB2, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase and what have you," Oppenkowski said. "With S/4HANA, that all goes away and it's just SAP HANA. And that, in turn, requires Linux, because that's the only operating system that runs HANA."
Get proof before proceeding
The most important thing to do before starting to migrate your infrastructure is to set up a proof of concept (POC). This can help to begin analyzing changes that will be needed in the move to S/4HANA and how to adapt those changes for the organization's specific needs, Mauer said. The cloud is an ideal environment for a POC, even if the organization still plans to run S/4HANA in an on-premises or hybrid system.
"Even if they are running an on-premises environment, it's definitely an option to run a POC in the cloud," Mauer said. "The cloud just tends to be perfect for those kinds of POC environments where they can run it for however many months they need to and walk away from it if they need to; it gives them more options to do that."
Now's the time to decide on the cloud
SAP customers need to make a choice on how they want to deploy S/4HANA before taking any steps to migrate their infrastructure. The good thing is there are more choices than ever now -- including on premises, private cloud, public cloud and hybrid environments -- and Mauer said it's a good time to make the move to the cloud, although every organization needs to evaluate its own needs.
"From a cloud perspective, enterprise applications like SAP don't tend to be in the vanguard of making a move into the cloud, simply because of the importance of it and the complexities that can surround it," he said. "But there's definitely some good news for customers at this point, as more and more players start jumping into the game now and start making those SAP-certified offerings in the cloud with AWS [Amazon Web Services], Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform."
Oppenkowski agreed the decision to go to cloud or not, and whether it's private cloud or public cloud, or which public cloud service provider to use, boils down to an organization's own preferences and comfort level. However, these choices should be made before beginning the S/4HANA migration, and there are factors that need to be considered.
"The migration to a public cloud service provider looks different than if it's an on-premises migration, but that's just a single task," Oppenkowski said. "The more complicated task is who's going to manage the public cloud infrastructure; for example, if you run SAP HANA on AWS and something breaks, who's going to manage that environment? Or, if there's an issue with the HANA database itself, who's going to manage that? Is it you or your managed service provider?"
These are some of the issues that need to be resolved before you choose a deployment option for the S/4HANA infrastructure, Oppenkowski said.
Know your business goals before migrating. Ultimately, the success of the S/4HANA migration depends on how well it fits with overall business plans and goals, according to Mauer. Because the S/4HANA platform does things so differently and has capacities that go well beyond the standard SAP environments of the past, organizations can begin to think of their entire ERP ecosystem in new ways.
"S/4HANA does enable you to do things that were certainly more difficult to do in the standard environment that they were used to," he said. "The speed of the application and these kind of ad hoc queries that you can run against it definitely give you some more options so you can enable a little bit more of a real-time business environment and things like that, so you have to get a good idea of what you have in mind about what you want to do in the long term."
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