Moving Toward a Seamless Cloud: An OpEx, IaaS Model for the Future

Running everything under one cloud where we can seamlessly move workloads on and off premises as we need to and pay for IT infrastructure as we use it—that is the vision EMC IT is pursuing when it comes to its SAP mission-critical applications. As a first step toward that goal, we are in the midst of a pilot program to migrate some SAP applications to an off-premises environment operated by enterprise-class Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) hosting provider Virtustream. EMC acquired Virtustream, a global managed cloud services provider, in 2015.

As part of our ongoing SAP ERP journey, EMC IT will begin leveraging Virtustream’s IaaS model and its unique migration and chargeback technology in a pilot effort which will begin our methodical approach to off-premises expansion.

By the end of-April, we will have migrated our first SAP application—Sales and Operational Planning (S&OP)—to Virtustream’s off-premises hosted cloud environment. Virtusteam will then support S&OP using its unique software solution, xStream, which will also provide consumption-based chargeback capabilities, enabling us to more accurately track our utilization costs and more accurately bill business units for what they consume.

This pilot will help us evaluate plans to use IaaS and xStream across our SAP portfolio to bring more flexibility, added efficiencies and better serve the business units we support.


Solving the Capacity Crunch

Being able to shift SAP application workloads off EMC premises and into a managed cloud will help alleviate downstream infrastructure capacity challenges.  EMC IT implemented a ground-breaking SAP ERP solution over the past several years and has largely leveraged VCE Vblock converged infrastructure (CI) to support a growing number of SAP applications.

While we have continued to scale for expansion of business capabilities and user enablement within the SAP solution on the same CI platform, we see potential capacity limitations on the horizon. Our options are to invest more in IT infrastructure or to move some of our SAP workload off-premises. We have chosen to explore the latter.

Using IaaS for some workloads where it makes sense will let us free up on-premises capacity for workloads that are less suited to off-premises location.

We are in the process of identifying key criteria to determine which applications are best suited to be moved off-prem and which should remain on-prem. Among these criteria is the nature of application integration:  the more tightly integrated the application is to the other legacy applications, the more risk we would incur in migrating it off-prem. On the other hand, applications that are integrated on a batch basis and don’t require real time, frequent updates are good candidates to be moved off-prem.

Beyond the migration to IaaS, we are keen on adjusting to the new operating model.  Working with an off-prem IaaS provider is not the same as going down the hall and knocking on the door of our own cloud platforms hosting team. There will be new roles and responsibilities, as well as hand-offs and escalation routines that we are working on adopting as we continue to evolve our IaaS consumption strategy.

Ultimately, our goal is to be able to seamlessly move workloads between on and off-premise infrastructure as needed.

Embracing an OpEx Model

Among the advantages to utilizing IaaS is a more strategic financial approach to funding IT infrastructure; one that many IT departments are currently exploring. If we can pay for IT infrastructure “by the drip” or as we use it, we can shift our IT investment in those resources from capital expense (CAPEX) to operational expense (OPEX).

Using an OPEX model means we pay an incremental IaaS bill rather than dealing with a lump-sum capital infrastructure expenditure that requires an annual budget item and more complex bookkeeping for things like depreciation. However, in order to have an effective OPEX model, we need to be able to accurately charge IT users for what they actually consume, rather than charging them based on infrastructure allocation.

Think of it as the difference between paying your electric bill, which is based on how much power you use (consumption), and paying your cable TV bill, which usually has a fixed monthly fee regardless of how much TV service you use (allocation).

A key feature of Virtuastream’s xStream is that it has a patented consumption-based chargeback solution that offers a much more granular and accurate calculation of the resources the users consume.

So our second step in utilizing Virtustream is to begin leveraging its xStream software on-premises within our own data centers, on the same converged infrastructure that is currently running SAP.  The idea here is to provide more consumption-based visibility throughout our SAP applications landscape, ideally driving down our internal chargeback costs. Besides gaining some budgeting benefits, we will also provide our users with more accurate costs and will be able to better track and address their specific consumption needs.

Using xStream on-premises is expected to also allow us to more seamlessly migrate workloads back and forth between on-premises to off-premises infrastructure. This is the focus of our third step in our Virtustream project—the creation of one single managed cloud encompassing on-prem and off-prem assets letting us have the flexibility to run SAP workloads as we see fit based on business demand, business cycles and project cycles.

Admittedly, the vision of achieving this seamless cloud has a series of reality checks we’re working on getting through as our IaaS approach and strategy evolves.  However, the Virtustream pilot program is a good first step to gain insights into how to leverage IaaS to more flexibly manage our SAP workload to get the best of both worlds—on-prem and off-prem—and use the best financial model to fund it.

About the Author: Michael Harding