Containers are rapidly emerging as the primary mechanism that SAP will rely on to integrate its growing portfolio of applications running inside and out of the cloud.
Speaking at the SAP SapphireNow 2016 conference, Steve Singh, a member of the SAP Global Managing Board and CEO of Concur, a unit of SAP that provides a business travel expense application delivered as a service, told attendees that containers and microservices will change the course of business applications going forward.
The primary container mechanism SAP will rely on are native to the SAP HANA in-memory computing platform. But SAP is also in the process of implementing the Cloud Foundry platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environment on top of the OpenStack cloud management framework as the foundation for the next release of the Hana Cloud Platform (HCP). Designed to be the primary framework for integrating SAP applications, HCP makes use of HANA and open source technologies to create an integration engine that organizations can deploy on premise, in a public cloud or invoke as a service managed by SAP.
While SAP is committed to the native containers and microservices architecture it is building around HANA, support for Cloud Foundry will make it possible for HCP to run containers from Cloud Foundry, which in turn means that Docker container images will eventually run on HCP. SAP, however, has not made any commitment to a third-party container management framework.
In addition, SAP this week announced that it will make available an SAP API Business Hub on HCP that is based on the API management platform it currently licenses from Apigee.
While SAP is committed to providing an integrated suite of applications, the way applications services within that suite and external SAP cloud applications is about to fundamentally change. It’s too early to say what new applications will emerge from that shift, but the days when ERP applications from SAP could only be invoked as a monolithic entity are clearly coming to an end.
By way of example, SAP this week revealed it is working on an SAP Connected Health platform in collaboration with CancerLinQ, Castlight Health and Dharma Platform that will make use of containers to make it possible to build and deploy medical applications that by definition need to share massive amounts of data.
To help drive the development of these and other applications SAP is making HCP available in perpetuity for free to developers building applications that invoke SAP backend HANA and Vora services. Vora is an SAP implementation of the Apache Spark framework that SAP positions as a complement to HANA.
Obviously, SAP is not the only provider of traditional enterprise applications to discover the more granular integration potential afforded by containers. The debate now will quickly shift to what degree those application providers will rely on homegrown container technology versus open source containers such as Docker. Regardless of the approach, the one thing that is for certain is that the enterprise application experience will soon never be the same again.