Hello Azure: unpacking how Microsoft moved its SAP workload to the cloud

Feb 20, 2018   |  

Microsoft is heavily invested in SAP applications—it uses them extensively to run finance, human resources, global trade, supply chain, and other parts of its $89.5 billion global business.

Doubling down on that investment, the company just finished moving its entire SAP landscape—an estimated 50 terabytes—to Microsoft Azure. The last, most important systems moved over the weekend, ending a fast-moving yearlong journey.

“Moving to the cloud will save us money, but this is really about becoming more agile and innovative,” says Mike Taylor, manager of the Microsoft SAP program in Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO). “This means our teams can stop worrying about keeping our infrastructure up and running and focus on innovating without a lot of heartburn. They can run experiments, learn, and then use those learnings to take us in new directions—and if an experiment doesn’t work, they can easily shut it down and move on to something else.”

Estimates are that moving from on-premises to Azure will slash the Microsoft SAP budget by 10 percent to 20 percent, cost savings that come from fine-tuning usage, snoozing systems at night and on weekends, and by leaving behind old processes that aren’t needed any more.

“We’re 100 percent in the cloud, and since Azure is the trusted cloud provider, our entire SAP landscape is now more secure than ever,” says Taylor, explaining that the employees who manage the company’s SAP many instances now have new tools to work with. “Now we can start using machine learning and artificial intelligence to look at the data underneath our entire landscape, and to start learning from that.”

Microsoft is committed to its partnership with SAP, Taylor says. Officially and publicly, SAP has adopted a “multi-cloud strategy” where it supports all hyperscale cloud providers to enable customers to use their preferred cloud. However, SAP recently announced it has selected Microsoft Azure to run many of its internal mission-critical SAP business systems.

Making the move to Azure

The Microsoft SAP team had been thinking about moving the company’s SAP systems to the cloud since 2013, but it was only last year that Azure added virtual machine SKUs big enough to handle a Microsoft-sized SAP ERP system, says Hans Reutter, the CSEO engineering manager who led the cloud migration.

“It’s not just the size, it’s the complexity,” he says, giving the example of several independent enterprise-scale purchasing processes needing to come together seamlessly at the point of purchase so the customer has a good buying experience. “All of these production landscapes are highly dependent on each other because of the traffic that flows back and forth between them.”

Azure developed the M-Series specifically to address the enterprise market demand for larger virtual machines capable of running SAP landscapes at companies just like Microsoft.

“We just happen to be one of the enterprises waiting for the M-Series,” says Reutter, who manages the CSEO engineering team that did the migration work. “It was exactly what we needed to make our move to the cloud.”

With Azure’s M64s and M128s SKUs in hand, Reutter’s team migrated the company’s largest and most complex SAP systems to Azure over the weekend. (The team used smaller virtual machines to move most of the Microsoft landscape over the last year.)

To understand how they did it, Reutter says think horizontal and think vertical.

“We started with the low risk stuff—the low-hanging fruit,” Reutter says. “First we moved the sandbox systems because we knew that there wouldn’t be any impact on our customers if something went wrong.”

That was the base layer. Then next came the next least important layer, and the next, and the next. The team worked up layer by layer until it eventually got to the most important stuff. That was the horizontal approach. “If you miss anything, you’ll find out really quickly—before you get to the really important systems,” Reutter says.

The team wrote migration scripts, found landmines, and worked out kinks while working in the base layers, which allowed it to get everything down pat by the time things got serious.

Now to the vertical.

The team also did end-to-end vertical testing, migrating a few systems—from development all the way to production—all at once. “We tested the whole stack to make sure there were no gaps or surprises,” Reutter says.

By getting it right in both dimensions, they were able to migrate the mission critical systems seamlessly. “It’s one thing to move some small stuff,” Reutter says. “You want to make sure the crown jewels land in a safe spot.”

And while the migration wasn’t without bumps, it went smoothly, and the crown jewels are safe.

Getting it right at home

Juergen Thomas hears it all the time. If a customer is considering moving his or her SAP systems to Microsoft Azure, they always ask the same question.

The ask?

“Does Microsoft run its landscape in Azure?”

Thomas, who manages a team in Azure that helps SAP customers move to the cloud, is happy he can now answer with a resounding “yes,” and even more importantly, that he also now has a good answer to their inevitable second question, which is “how did you do it?”

“Then they immediately want to get into the details, which is a good thing,” he says. “It’s very important to be able to say that Microsoft is leading again and is ahead of the mass of companies.”

Thomas says the story of moving the Microsoft ERP systems to the cloud will become a key showcase for the Azure team because it shows Azure can handle the biggest and most complicated SAP instances.

“It’s proof that the Microsoft Azure platform can carry and sustain such a complex SAP platform on our Azure infrastructure,” he says. “We will talk about it in customer briefings and conferences—it will be our poster child. Running our own backend business processes with SAP in Azure is a main differentiator between us and our competitors who don’t run SAP at all, or not in their own clouds.”

Return to the IT Showcase website in the coming months to see that showcase story unfold, including a healthy conversation about what worked and what didn’t. Also learn more at the Americas’ SAP Super Users’ Group Conference in June, where several Microsoft SAP experts will be speaking.

SAP cloud migration tips list

Getting ready to move your SAP systems to the cloud. Here are four quick things to think about to help you get started.

Clean out your closet: Moving to the cloud is an opportunity to throw out the stuff you’re not using. When you already owned that old on-premises server, it didn’t matter how much old stuff you had buried in there. When you’re on the cloud, the cost of carrying around a lot of dead weight can add up fast.

Avoid disasters: When you move all your stuff to the cloud, the temptation is to move it and forget it. Not so fast—you need to make sure you have a backup plan. Azure has 42 regions around the world. Make sure your profile is backed up in a region that’s geographically separate from the one you’re physically located in. This will make sure your systems keep plugging even if something goes wrong in your region.

Use the cloud you already pay for: As much as you can, move your systems into cloud products that you already pay for to keep your costs down. Many companies already use products like SharePoint and Dynamics and often are already subscribing to their cloud products. Often your best move is to move those systems to SharePoint Online and Dynamics 365 versus moving to Azure.

Snooze so you don’t lose: Slash your costs by taking advantage of one of the cloud’s best benefits, which is to snooze your usage of Azure when your teams are out of the office on nights and weekends.

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