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Choosing a HANA cloud provider requires some serious digging

SAP's documentation has been spotty and the offerings can be confusing. Here's some expert advice for cutting through the thickets to find the right HANA cloud provider.

When it comes time to choose a HANA cloud provider, it's important to make sure that key business leaders understand what SAP HANA is -- and more importantly, how HANA permeates the new landscape of SAP application software and databases.

HANA is SAP's in-memory database, and it's used by many of the vendor's newest applications, such as SAP S/4HANA Finance (formerly known as Simple Finance) and the new flagship ERP suite, SAP S/4HANA. Things start to look more complicated when it comes to deployment choices. An enterprise can run S/4HANA in the cloud, on-premises in its own datacenter and even in a hybrid scenario.

Meanwhile, there are even more HANA-in-the-cloud options, most notably SAP HANA Cloud Platform (HCP). This HANA cloud offering is a platform as a service that lets organizations extend or customize SAP applications as well as build new applications. It is also used by SAP business partners who deliver industry-specific add-on software.

In contrast, HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC) is a private cloud offered as a managed service. It was designed to make it easier to deploy HANA-based SAP software.

All of this gets even more complicated, it turns out, because some of these HANA cloud elements can be delivered by third-party providers.

"The vast majority of SAP HANA implementations today is in support of SAP software, like SAP BW [Business Warehouse], SAP Business Suite, and obviously S4/HANA," said Adam Ronthal, research director of information management at Gartner.

"There is minimal use of HANA as a general-purpose database management system, which means that most people who are looking for cloud solutions are doing so because they want to run specific SAP software in the cloud, which largely means they are talking to SAP first," he explained.

But while it may seem natural to talk to SAP first, SAP is not always the best option, Ronthal said. Gartner recommends that potential HANA cloud users look at the complete set of services available from cloud providers because users who employ a broader range of services tend to gain more value.

"We recommend they approach the cloud selection process not just to meet their immediate needs but to meet their potential future needs as well," he added.

HANA cloud details are hard to find

While HANA has been around for nearly five years, details on HANA cloud offerings are surprisingly hard to find. "The amount of information that SAP is sharing around their cloud offerings seems to be shifting from year-to-year -- I mean, if I went to their website two years ago, I could pull up a configurator and it would spit out a price sheet based on what edition I wanted," Ronthal noted.

"Now ... I can't find anything like that. I think SAP wants to have the conversation with their customers more directly to ensure they are advising and proposing the solution that will work best for them."

And this shift, it turns out, speaks directly to the challenge of finding and choosing a HANA cloud provider.

"We see this continuing struggle with clients who want the pre-built, ready-to-go cloud, but they can't really give up their control of uptime or their own upgrades -- and these elements don't go along with a public cloud solution," said Liz Herbert, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Consequently, Herbert recommends that before organizations choose a HANA cloud provider, they should agree on what's important to their organization. "Everyone needs to understand there is this continuum between speed and elasticity -- with a cloud solution -- versus control," she said.

More reasons to choose a single HANA cloud provider

While Gartner recommends that HANA cloud customers look closely at providers who can be there for future needs, not just single applications, Forrester recommends a similar consideration but for a slightly different purpose: savings through simplified vendor management.

"One hidden cost is the overhead of managing multiple vendors," Herbert said. "If you're buying from a one-stop shop, your negotiation and buying power might be stronger. If you're a huge SAP customer, you might have more leverage going straight to the source, for example."

In addition, there is what Forrester calls the multi-vendor tax. "If you have to manage your SAP subscriptions separately from your cloud vendor, there is some [human activity] cost associated with managing both vendors," she explained.

Look for certifications

For an emerging technology like HANA, it's important to go with a certified provider, which can limit your options, Ronthal said. "There still doesn't appear to be a very wide selection of certified HANA partners for the public cloud today."

So where do you look for certified cloud providers? It's not exactly easy, but here are a few resources and tips.

Third-party providers can deliver HANA as a managed service, as a hosted service, as managed cloud as a service and through private clouds.

SAP recommends that third-party providers use certified hardware to run HANA. So while a third party might not be specifically certified to deliver HANA through the cloud, they should at least be running HANA on certified hardware.

SAP's own HCP product also offers HANA as infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and database as a service. Similarly, users can run HANA as a database on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud.

Certified service providers can be found in SAP's Outsourcing Operations Partner Guide. It covers nearly 300 partners and lets users filter partners by services such as "hosting," "SAP HANA," "infrastructure," or "cloud," in addition to filtering by country.

Using a self-service public cloud for an IaaS-type deployment presents the risk that the provider isn't using certified hardware, but it may be an SAP Technology Partner with certifications for SAP HANA One (a HANA private cloud option that runs on AWS), HANA Bring Your Own License (BYOL, for transferring HANA licenses between on-premises and the cloud) or the small-business ERP offering, SAP Business One.

As of early 2016, the only third-party HANA cloud provider with a BYOL option was AWS, but SAP says it is in the process of signing up more providers in 2016. The new partner options will appear on SAP's new Find Certified IaaS Platforms page, but at the time of this writing, the site wasn't yet populated with options.

Next Steps

Choose between HEC and on-premises HANA

Understand HANA Cloud Platform

Learn more about HANA deployment options

Dig Deeper on SAP S4HANA Cloud