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Just over 25 years ago, Bill Gates and Hasso Plattner met to form an alliance between Microsoft and SAP that has become one of our industry’s longest lasting alliances. At the time their conversation was focused on how Windows could be the leading operating system for SAP’s SAPGUI desktop client and when released a few years later, how Windows NT could be a server operating system of choice for running SAP R/3. Not long after in 1996 we started our own SAP project based on Windows NT/SQL Server and complimented our SAP alliance that has continued to evolve since then, while meeting the needs of SAP customers of all sizes.

That said, with 90 percent of today’s Fortune 500 customers using Microsoft Azure and an estimated 80 percent of Fortune customers running SAP solutions, it makes sense why SAP running on Azure is a key joint initiative between Microsoft and SAP. At the SAPPHIRENOW conference in 2016, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and SAP CEO Bill McDermott were on stage talking about the significant progress of SAP and Azure, especially with the release of SAP HANA on Azure Large Instances. Most of our conversations with large scale SAP customers at the time were about us providing basic SAP on Azure information (i.e. kicking the tires). We’ve made continued progress since then as we released the M-Series virtual machine size (up to 4TB of memory), SAP HANA Large Instances (up to 20 TB memory) and then provided support for the SAP Cloud Platform, SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud on Azure, and Active Directory Single-Sign-On (SSO). Last year we announced our plans to release larger sizes of the M-Series (up to 12TB) and our conversations with customers have also evolved beyond cursory information gathering and into discussions about SAP on Azure productive use.

Today more and more SAP customers are simply choosing Azure for running SAP as we continue to demonstrate successful deployments of SAP on Azure and make progress of Azure as a mission critical cloud platform with features such as Azure Site Recovery (ASR) and Availability Zones. Customer conversations happen at both executive and technical levels as we discuss not just advantages of running SAP on Azure like cost (e.g. shifting from CapEx to OpEx and utilizing Azure Reserved Instances), but also other key aspects such as scalability, flexibility, and security.

As an example of scalability, SAP customers have the ability to scale their SAP environment during a month-end financial closing when more computing capacity is typically needed, and then right-size immediately after month-end for typical operations during the month. From a flexibility and agility perspective, one of the more frequent topics of conversation we’ve had with customer’s SAP Basis teams has been about one of their biggest pains, their current on-premises experience of ordering and provisioning new hardware for their SAP landscape. Typically this is an on-premises process that can take weeks, if not several months depending on size and type of customer, and all the while SAP application teams are chomping at the bit waiting to make progress during their phase of an SAP project. With SAP on Azure agile provisioning is possible by leveraging new features like shared images, and the integration of the provisioning process with automation capabilities like Terraform, Ansible, Puppet, and Chef. This leads to a faster and more dependable provisioning process.

SAP customers also are deploying initial SAP S/4HANA environments by leveraging the SAP Cloud Appliance Library which copies and deploys pre-built images into a customer’s Azure subscription. For example, deployment of SAP Model Companies via SAP CAL has become popular during the blueprinting phase of SAP S/4 projects and this helps application teams by providing a reference S/4HANA implementation to then jumpstart their own custom implementation of S/4.

From a development perspective we’ve also offered more flexibility for SAP developers with solutions such as SAP Cloud Platform on Azure. SAP application developers can now use Azure to co-locate application development next to SAP ERP data and boost development productivity, while accessing SAP ERP data at low latencies for faster application performance. This can be done with Azure’s platform services such as Azure Event Hubs for event data processing and Azure Storage for unlimited inexpensive storage. It’s also been impressive to see customers like Coats,the world’s oldest thread manufacturer, integrate other Azure services like Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities on their manufacturing floors with their SAP environments also running on Azure.

For security and compliance Microsoft spends over $1B per year in R&D on security that typical customers cannot. This has led to Azure having inherent security capabilities such as Azure Security Center and allows customers to have the confidence that their cloud provider meets applicable government and industry compliance standards.

This takes us to the release of an SAP on Azure technical blog series over the next 3 weeks leading up to this year’s SAPPHIRENOW conference in Orlando. With more and more customers having chosen Azure as the cloud platform for running SAP, they’re wanting more detailed technical guidance. This is one of the reasons a new team within our Azure Global Customer Advisory Team (AzureCAT) organization was formed called AzureCAT SAP Deployment Engineering. Our team is focused on working with the largest and most complex SAP customers running their SAP environments in Azure. Working with these customers enables us to provide more direct customer SAP-related feedback to our Azure engineering teams and further enhance our SAP on Azure technical roadmap ensuring we provide the best features for SAP customers of all sizes.

Our first SAP on Azure technical blog post of this series is by my colleague, Will Bratton, who will step you through key technical design considerations for deploying and running SAP on Microsoft Azure. These important considerations include security, performance, scalability, availability, recoverability, operations, and efficiency.

Next week my colleague Marshal Whatley dives into the world of migrating SAP ERP and SAP S/4HANA to Azure, much as our own internal SAP implementation has moved to Azure and is moving to S/4HANA. The week after next my colleague Troy Shane will cover migration of SAP BW4/HANA, as well as a view on how best to deploy BW4/HANA in a scale-out architecture today and in the near future with the new Azure NetApp Files.

Finally, to all of our existing SAP on Azure customers, we thank you for betting your business on Azure and we look forward to continuing to meet your needs as a mission critical cloud platform for SAP. To prospective SAP customers looking at Azure, we look forward to answering all of your questions at SAPPHIRENOW and beyond.

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