Tomasz Zajda - Fotolia

SAP Data Hub debuts at SAP TechEd 2017

SAP bolstered its claim as a cloud-first company with several announcements at TechEd 2017, including Data Hub and ABAP running on SAP Cloud Platform.

LAS VEGAS -- SAP developers got a good look at a cloud-centric future at SAP TechEd 2017.

During the opening keynote address, Bjorn Goerke, CTO and president of SAP Cloud Platform, donned the guise of Star Trek's Capt. James T. Kirk and compared digital business transformation to the "Kobayashi Maru test" of the Star Trek movies -- a no-win conundrum. Because organizations don't see an obvious answer to the problems posed by digital transformation, they are often paralyzed into inaction.

There are three building blocks to getting around this and solving the Kobyashi Maru test, Goerke said: truth through trusted data, agility in application design and development, and a superior user experience.

To help organizations meet these digital transformation goals, SAP demonstrated a number of new products and services at SAP TechEd 2017. One of these was the new SAP Data Hub, a data management system that was unveiled on Monday at a separate event in New York. SAP also firmly committed itself as a cloud-first company with the following announcements:

  • SAP Cloud Platform will be available on Google Cloud Platform.
  • The SAP ABAP development platform will be available in the cloud.
  • SAP is joining the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

One hub for organizational data

SAP Data Hub will help organizations manage data from a variety of sources that currently sit in separate silos, Goerke said.

"The challenge that companies face is that there are various data silos, ERP data, data warehouses [and] big data sitting in data lakes," he said. "The question is, how do you put a consistent layer on top of it so you can make sense out of all those different data sets and correlate them and process them so that you can develop new applications on top of it, do analytics, do data science and drive insights? You need to manage the whole pipeline of data flowing through your different data sets, and this is what SAP Data Hub does."

The partnership with Google is also very important, according to Goerke.

"Google has provided us with the necessary hardware. So, we have certified SAP HANA and S/4HANA and additional products like the SAP analytics portfolio to run on that infrastructure, and we released SAP Cloud Platform on Google Cloud Platform," he said. "With that, we have taken the last steps in completing our picture toward a real multicloud platform. It gives our customers a choice to run their digital transformation workloads in the future -- whether they want to run them in an SAP cloud, or whether they want to run it through us on an AWS [Amazon Web Services], Azure or Google Cloud Platform; that's the kind of flexibility our customers have asked us to provide for them."

ABAP gets cloudy

The biggest cheer from the developer-heavy audience at the opening keynote came when Goerke announced SAP's venerable ABAP programming environment would be made available in the SAP Cloud Platform -- but not until 2018.

"SAP has been around for a while, and ABAP is still one of the key languages and environments that we have to build enterprise applications. S/4HANA itself is built on the ABAP stack, so it's a rock-solid, extremely powerful enterprise environment," he said. "We have a few million ABAP developers around the world who have built skills using ABAP to build applications that extend or enhance SAP ERP. But the question is, what do we do with those developers? Do we take them into the cloud? Of course, we have to, so ABAP will be supported in the cloud."

SAP's cloud credentials were bolstered by its joining the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, which fosters cloud adoption through systems like Kubernetes.

"The foundation has a lot of big names behind it, like Google and Microsoft, who are putting forces together to drive the technology behind a cloud-native computing model," Goerke said. "[Technologies] like containerization of IT workloads, with Kubernetes as an orchestration and management environment for containerized workloads. We are joining as a platinum member, [and] that allows us to not only consume the technologies, but influence the direction the technologies take. And there are a number of things that we can contribute from an enterprise perspective."

Cloud direction is good, but challenge is in details

Gavin Quinn, founder of Mindset Consulting, a Minneapolis-based firm that specializes in Fiori and mobile app development, said SAP's direction is good, but you have to look into the details.

It's a great direction, but the meat is still developing.
Gavin Quinnfounder of Mindset Consulting, on SAP's cloud future

"I saw a lot of promising things for the future; Leonardo is a tremendous idea, and there's a lot of really tremendous things that you can do, in theory, if all this works," Quinn said. "But what does it actually cost? How do you roll it out? And what's the nitty-gritty behind the services? It's a great direction, but the meat is still developing. Our customers love the concept of it and want in on it, but they don't know where to start, and that's where the challenge lies."

The business transformation SAP talks about may still be beyond the capabilities of most customers, Quinn said.

"For many of [of the developers who attend SAP TechEd], 99% of their time [is on things like] how to get an ABAP report, how to build a BW cube, or maybe how to get to HANA. They're barely into HANA, and S/4 is well beyond that. So, for some of our base customers, that stuff is hardly on their roadmap," Quinn said. "There are examples out there, and everyone loves the idea of getting there, but it just takes time. It's going to be a challenge, but they're setting the direction."

ABAP in the cloud is a huge deal

SAP's cloud message was strong, but the move to make ABAP available in the cloud is a huge deal, according to Josh Greenbaum, analyst and founder of Enterprise Applications Consulting. Many CIO's were concerned that ABAP programmers would be left behind in the cloud-centric digital transformation.

"This extends the knowledge and these assets, both human and technological," Greenbaum said. "Many CIOs were asking ... what happens to my ABAP programmers? Where do they go? What do I do with them? How do I reposition them? Now, by having ABAP available in the cloud, you can develop extensions and new apps in ABAP and run them in the cloud. You can be ready for the next generation of apps. They have to be cloud-ready, so this is good news for developers and IT organizations."

Next Steps

Read more about what the Cloud Native Computing Foundation does.

Find out how SAP Cloud Platform extends IoT and robotics for manufacturing applications.

SAP Leonardo is the foundation for digital transformation projects.

Dig Deeper on SAP development and programming languages