Where Does SAP On IBM i Go From Here?
January 15, 2020 Alex Woodie
In Monday’s issue of The Four Hundred, we covered some of the challenges that SAP has created for itself by having two very different mainstream ERP suites (see “SAP Sending Mixed Messages on ERP Platform Support.”) On the one hand, it wants to move forward with S/4 HANA, but on the other hand, it doesn’t have all the features that exist in the older Business Suite. That puts customers who run Business Suite on IBM i in a bit of a bind.
HANA debuted in 2010 as an in-memory columnar database for handling online application processing (OLAP) workloads. In 2015, SAP adopted the HANA name to refer to the entire next-gen suite, under the S/4 HANA moniker. At that time, SAP tweaked its business software to take advantage of HANA’s columnar structure, and because of that, the S/4 software is tied to HANA and requires the HANA database to run, which means it won’t run on Db2, Oracle, Sybase, SQL Server, and any other relational database upon which Business Suite currently runs. And because HANA only runs on Linux, SAP’s S/4 HANA has a Linux dependency.
Some IBM i shops adopted HANA when it referred just to the in-memory columnar database backing SAP’s Business Warehouse product, which could be deployed in a “sidecar” configuration to provide OLAP to the primary online transaction processing (OLTP) workload running on IBM i and Db2 for i.
“But for ERP, which is the bulk of our SAP clients, that’s an OLTP workload, and that’s well-suited for the row-based databases, like DB2 for i and not so much for HANA,” said Ron Schmerbauch, IBM’s technical leader of the SAP on IBM i team. “That’s part of why they came out with S/4 HANA, because they’ve reimplemented a lot of their application to work with a columnar database better.”
BizSuite vs. HANA
If you were to go to SAP today and ask for a new ERP system, SAP’s salespeople would steer you toward S/4 HANA, especially in the cloud. That is what the company is actively selling at the moment, and what its marketing folks are promoting. The bulk of energy and investments are going to enhance S/4 HANA, which is clearly the platform that SAP is betting its future on.
However, S/4 HANA is still a work in progress and does not yet have all the features that exist in Business Suite, which it will eventually replace. That puts the tens of thousands of organizations that rely Business Suite to run their business in a bit of a bind.
Schmerbauch has been watching the drama unfold since 2014, when SAP announced that it will support Business Suite through at least 2025. As we wrote about on Monday, Schmerbauch has been advising IBM i customers to not misread the situation, such as by assuming that SAP will end support for Business Suite in 2025, which many people mistakenly believe.
The fact that SAP is bringing new functionality that was originally developed for S/4 HANA – such as ABAP Core Data Services (CDS) — to Business Suite could indicate that SAP is not ready to pull the plug on Business Suite.
S/4 for IBM i?
In fact, Schmerbauch – who was a big proponent of getting HANA to run on IBM i – says it’s may still be technically feasible to run the S/4 applications on IBM i and Db2 for i, if SAP was willing to commit to it.
“Because of CDS, a lot of the infrastructure is there,” Schmerbauch tells IT Jungle. “There are a few things they did in HANA that aren’t really part of a standard SQL database, so we’d have to figure out what to do with those pieces. But the bulk of it is based on CDS and the ABAP world, so the bulk of it should be able to move.”
But getting SAP to expand its S/4 software to run on any other database besides HANA doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere at the moment. “Customers have asked that question of SAP, in the user groups,” Schmerbauch says. “So far they’ve said no, we want HANA to be our database, and that’s it.”
SAP has on the order of 45,000 ERP customers around the world, making it second in size only to Oracle. SAP has announced that about 11,500 organizations have adopted S/4 HANA. However, few of these appear to be users of Business Suite; the “upgrade” to S/4 HANA is actually more like a new implementation, Schmerbauch says
Wait And See
Many Business Suite customers have stated that they have no intention to move to S/4 HANA, which puts SAP in a tough spot. SAP has responded by essentially saying one thing (“S/4 HANA is the future and that’s where we’re investing”) but doing another (continuing to enhance Business Suite).
“Yes, the messages are definitely mixed,” Schmerbauch said. “The marketing people are definitely promoting S/4 and HANA and have been for a while. But at the same time, they know they can’t ignore the current customer base. And a number of customers have flat out said they don’t want to move.”
Making the matter more complex is the changes that SAP has made to the cloud version of S/4 HANA. SAP has been giving customers the ability to customize their S/4 HANA cloud implementations. Customization was a major selling point for on-prem Business Suite implementations, particular with ABAP source code being available. But more recently, SAP has since moved away from customizations of S/4 HANA in the cloud, with further limits user flexibility, Schmerbauch says.
In the meantime, the relationship between SAP and IBM continues as it has. Schmerbauch is working with his counterparts at SAP to ensure that IBM i version 7.4 is fully supported on SAP Business Suite. That entails extensive testing to make sure that Db2 Mirror works flawlessly in SAP-IBM i environments. The two companies have a number of customers who are reportedly eager to put Db2 Mirror into production to eliminate planned downtime.
Not a lot has changed between SAP and IBM, says Schmerbauch, who has been working with the SAP running on the IBM i platform since 1996, when S/3 and AS/400 ruled the business waters. “We still have a good relationship with them,” he said. “I work with the development team and we’re doing everything we can to keep our existing customer happy and well-performing.”
In lieu of SAP making a big strategic decision – such as by announcing that it will continue to support Business Suite well beyond 2025, or by announcing that S/4 applications will run on databases and platforms other than HANA and Linux or the cloud – it would seem that nothing much will change.
“The broader SAP message is S/4, and they tend to push that,” Schmerbauch says. “The people I work with are in a bit of an awkward spot. They’re in a wait-and-see mode.”