IBM and SAP are betting that a combination of IBM's hybrid cloud infrastructure and long history and expertise with SAP systems will entice customers to move SAP workloads to the IBM Cloud.
IBM Cloud is now available as a cloud option for Rise with SAP, an initiative to migrate customers to the cloud by providing S/4HANA as a service under one contract with SAP. Rise with SAP's other cloud infrastructure options include AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).
IBM also launched Breakthrough with IBM for Rise with SAP, a portfolio of consulting services for planning, implementing and managing S/4HANA. The two developments, unveiled this week, expands IBM's long partnership with SAP.
The new services may position IBM as a competitive cloud provider for SAP systems, but the company faces considerable challenges in denting the cloud infrastructure market dominated by the public cloud hyperscalers, according to analysts.
One-stop shop for S/4HANA cloud transformations
IBM Breakthrough is designed to be a single source for customers that want to move to S/4HANA in the cloud, according to Hillery Hunter, CTO of IBM Cloud and general manager of cloud platform and solutions at IBM.
"IBM can now be a one-stop shop for the overall challenge of enterprise IT modernization," Hunter said. "This means being able to have a vendor provide [SAP S/4HANA] on cloud, but also do all the accompanying thought innovation and application modernization."
Deploying SAP workloads on IBM Cloud, which offers a hybrid cloud model, may provide an alternative strategy for global customers, especially those that operate in regulated industries, she said.
"Taking everything around the SAP estate and moving it to one single location and one data center on the public cloud may not be the right thing, given that companies are international and have instances and data locations in multiple countries," Hunter said.
Rise with SAP is aimed at simplifying the journey to the cloud for SAP customers, and IBM's Breakthrough initiative simplifies that journey even further, she explained.
"Customers can effectively have IBM as their end-to-end transformation and operations partner now," Hunter said. "IBM Consulting can advise on overall transformation of SAP and can operate that instance of SAP on IBM Cloud then and operate all the surrounding capabilities around that as well."
Customers 'desperately needed' simpler path
IBM Breakthrough will provide a simpler road to the cloud, which is something that SAP customers desperately need, said Peter Rutten, research vice president for infrastructure systems, platforms and technologies at IDC.
An S/4HANA cloud migration is a major undertaking, given the time involved, the tools needed and the significant cost, which SAP is attempting to address with Rise with SAP, Rutten said.
Rise offers a simplified contract and the choice of cloud infrastructure provider, but customers also need advisory services and implementation and application management along with the freedom to choose an IaaS offering, Rutten said. Customers can get this from systems integrators (SIs) like Accenture, Deloitte, Capgemini or Tata Consultancy Services; IBM is now offering to address all of those needs in one package, he added.
"Having talked to hundreds of businesses that are on SAP cloud journeys, and all the pain that they experience, I think is something that a lot of businesses will respond to," Rutten said.
A downside IBM will need to address is potential customer reluctance to get locked into one contract with a single vendor for these services, he said. The only way to do this is to be completely transparent about the services provided and their pricing.
"The contract has to be very straightforward. It can't be like the old-fashioned mainframe contracts used to be, when you basically had no idea what you were going to be paying at the end of the month," Rutten said. "That is not the kind of lock-in people want. [IBM] has to be very transparent, very straightforward, and then businesses will see that there is a benefit to working with one vendor."
Beating the hyperscalers is a challenge
IBM Breakthrough should make things easier for customers to move SAP systems to the cloud, but the initiative will run into competitive headwinds, according to Len Riley, IT sourcing advisory practice leader at UpperEdge, an enterprise applications advisory firm in Boston.
"IBM is definitely filling a need on the back end with the application support and the technical support that they're putting in," Riley said. "If it's on one set of paper -- an all-in-one, fully encapsulated Rise agreement -- IBM's absolutely found a niche for themselves, and people will take a serious look at it."
However, many enterprise customers are not just worried about their SAP workloads when considering their cloud transformation. Public cloud hyperscalers have enormous influence across the entire enterprise IT landscape and are partnering with the major SIs to provide similar services across the board, he added.
"In various situations, Microsoft might partner in one place with Accenture and in another place with Capgemini -- and the same with GCP or AWS," Riley said. "People are looking at their entire estate at the enterprise level."
IBM will also need to prove that it can manage the front-end work of the cloud transformation -- like application rationalization and transformation -- as well as the back-end infrastructure deployment and management, he said.
"In my opinion, Accenture has more credibility at the front end," Riley said. "But if IBM can establish themselves on the front end and increase their credibility to the degree of Accenture, and also get the back-end piece, you now have an apples-to-apples comparison in terms of capabilities."
Overall, IBM may find an appreciable niche with Breakthrough, he said.
"The good parts are that IBM is filling the gap in Rise with SAP that the others haven't," Riley said. "So, this could be a good fit for many customers if this is really a single-stop shop."
Jim O'Donnell is a TechTarget news writer who covers ERP and other enterprise applications for SearchSAP and SearchERP.