SAP users face key challenges and benefits as they move to the cloud

Some of the challenges include unplanned downtime, data migration, lack of a detailed cloud strategy, and a dearth of training, says Syntax.

Cloud.

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Migrating to the cloud is a step increasingly being taken by organizations as a way to cut costs, reduce internal workload, and offload the management of key assets. But along with those promises come certain challenges, especially for companies and employees that may be new to these types of cloud-based environments. Released on Tuesday, a report from managed cloud services provider Syntax describes both the obstacles and the benefits seen by SAP customers as they move key resources to the cloud.

SEE: Top cloud providers in 2020: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, hybrid, SaaS players (TechRepublic) 

For the "2020 Cloud Survey Whitepaper," Syntax and Americas' SAP Users' Group (ASUG) surveyed 71 customers of SAP ERP systems in April 2020 to better understand the cloud needs of SAP users. As the coronavirus pandemic has forced many businesses to shift to remote working, cloud adoption has ramped up. But the survey found that this rapid transition has created challenges for SAP customers, particularly those who are cloud newcomers.

The top challenge with cloud providers was a lack of in-house knowledge needed to manage the cloud, cited by 47% of all the respondents.

Some 32% of those surveyed expressed frustration with the inconsistent standards across cloud providers, while 31% found the data migration process to be a key challenge. Data migration challenges were mentioned most by customers using SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud and IBM Cloud.

The percentages of respondents who cited certain challenges differed based on experience with the cloud. In the report, a cloud pro is defined as someone who's been using cloud services for three to more than five years. A cloud newcomer is someone who's been using cloud services for one to two years.

The top two challenges among those who identified themselves as cloud newcomers were unplanned downtime and data migration, each cited by 43% of those respondents. The lack of a detailed cloud strategy was mentioned by 39% of the cloud newbies, followed by a lack of available training by 34%.

Other challenges among cloud novices included slow lead times, the inability to find integration support to make the cloud system more functional, and discovering that the advertised features for a cloud provider weren't practical for the user's business environment.

Those who considered themselves cloud pros were much less thrown by the challenges that popped up. The biggest disparities between cloud pros and newcomers were a lack of training, a lack of a detailed cloud strategy, unplanned downtime, and slow lead times. But even among seasoned cloud customers, 23% highlighted data migration as a challenge, 20% pointed to slow lead times, and 20% to an inability to find integration support to make the cloud system more functional.

In the face of the challenges, there are obviously clear advantages to using a cloud provider. Among the respondents, 55% listed the top benefit as the ease at which they could scale workloads up and down as needed. Some 52% said that migrating to the cloud reduced workload for IT staff, 48% said it resulted in cost savings, and 47% said it aligned better with the strategic direction of the business.

The perceived benefits also differed between cloud pros and cloud newcomers. Among those with cloud experience, a far greater percentage realized the advantages of such benefits as cost savings, pay-as-you-go pricing, reduced staff workload, speed to delivery, and the ability to hibernate systems.

About 80% of those surveyed currently use cloud services, a number expected to increase. Among those not now using such services, 63% said they're considering them. Almost half of the respondents said they use two to three cloud providers to run their workloads. The majority said they use the cloud for Platform as a service (PaaS) and/or Infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure were the top providers both in terms of usage and satisfaction. Both companies received high marks due to such factors as providing business value, consistent performance and capabilities, and easy integration with other applications.

"Overall, the survey shows that SAP customers are becoming more and more cloud savvy," Jared Powell, cloud solutions architect at Syntax, told TechRepublic. "As cloud adoption has taken off in the past few years, it seemed that for the most part SAP customers were a little more hesitant to move their mission critical systems. What we are seeing now is that this initial hesitancy is being replaced with more comfort and understanding that each cloud has inherent advantages that if utilized properly can help IT organizations be better aligned with their overarching company directives."

What advice does Syntax have for SAP customers looking to migrate to the cloud?

"Cloud migrations are inherently complex, and SAP customers should expect challenges to pop up throughout the process," Powell said. "There are several steps that customers can take to help mitigate these challenges and lower the overall risks.

"The first item to help lower the risk is to have a better understanding of what their organization's cloud strategy is. Recently, SAP customers have been directed to become 'Cloud First' organizations but have received no further direction or understanding as to what 'Cloud First'  means in practice. Developing a clear strategy internally will help lower the risk to both the systems and teams associated with the migration.

"The second item I would recommend is ensuring that SAP customers have the required resources available to support their cloud migration. Again, cloud migrations can be complex, so ensuring that organizations have the right cloud resources with the proper skill sets for each cloud to support this migration is key."

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