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Countless SAP employees, partners and customers walk by the SAP Co-Innovation Lab (COIL) located on the first floor in Building one at SAP Labs in Palo Alto, California. If you visit anyone in the building or the SAP Executive Briefing Center (EBC) you will surely not miss it. It’s a glass enclosed room that is home to multiple racks of computational, storage and networking equipment dedicated to enabling co-innovation projects originating not only in Palo Alto, but from our other labs located around the world too.

For most passing by this lab, few will realize that in the nearly 6 plus years since its inception, the SAP Co-Innovation Lab Global Network has expanded to now reside in all of the BRIC nations as well as Tokyo, and Singapore where it continuously enables hundreds of projects spanning the topics of Cloud, Analytics, Mobility, Manufacturing, Healthcare, Security and many more.

This persistence of co-innovation project enablement is largely provisioned by COIL’s own cloud and it is from its six plus years of I-a-a-S, P-a-a-S and S-a-a-S delivery experience which most prompts the interest to share some insights into the COIL Cloud. The COIL was implemented as such from its beginning. What is COIL’s prime motivation to enable co-innovation using a cloud approach?

There are a few reasons but for the COIL team, which is chartered with proficiently and securely provisioning a wide spectrum of SAP landscapes to several concurrent and yet disparate co-innovation projects, such an architecture is fundamental for a relatively small team to successfully create, deploy and then to manage all of it in a scalable manner. 

From its very beginning, the COIL team has never been in a position to solve a problem relevant to enabling co-innovation work by adding more servers, more storage or more head count. As we watch migration to the cloud from the Enterprise continue to accelerate, it’s clear that even companies with substantial capital and IT resources are now keenly focused on what it takes to source IT solutions from the cloud as a way to reduce costs, lower operational risk and to abstract away a legacy of complexity that comes with deploying and managing Enterprise class data centers to support the business.

SAP Co-Innovation Lab Cloud-

For COIL, building out the lab infrastructure as a private cloud was both logical and essential to its success at least with respect to how COIL technically provisions and manages project landscapes.  The COIL model does not however compare with respect to common or expected cloud provider business models.  While our model does include project cost recovery, our cloud service does not include direct charge back based upon consumption. What I’m introducing here is the technical framework and implementation of the COIL Cloud.

Diagram 1- COIL Architecture

It is interesting to consider COIL’s own cloud deployment within the context of the current trends in cloud computing and where we can observe through some of the recent and current COIL project work, that traditional Enterprise (private entities and the public sector) is moving steadily to cloud. In the last 12-18 months the COIL team in Palo Alto has definitely seen a shift in interest towards more cloud-centric projects and cloud POCs. For more than two years, COIL has served to physically enable the SAP Cloud Frame project where outcomes from a variety of COIL Cloud Frame projects directly contribute to SAP HEC development.

COIL is still without question, a "crash and burn" lab where we expect failures as much as we expect to see real results. Project teams know from the start that they will likely be working with new configurations or performing a number of tests that can introduce instability in the landscape. It comes with the territory of attempting new things.  Our cloud is therefore not designed to deliver to SLA governed cloud provider production requirements. It’s in every way a working lab where project participants can problem solve and capture meaningful project results. Its worth mentioning though that perhaps as a testament to its good architecture and design, the COIL is an agile yet stable computing environment to the extent that aside from a very small number of planned outages, we've only had a single unplanned outage in Palo Alto when two years ago, where a small plane crash disrupted local service.

Our enablement of COIL projects remains such that we can perform tests and take observations of various POCs or performance characterizations in environments similar to those where the outcome or solution resulting from the project work could be implemented but we are not saddled with provisioning projects that are on par with enterprise production standards.

We can also describe COIL using industry terms we've all become familiar with in the cloud market such as Infrastructure-as-a-Service,

(I-a-a-S), Platform-as-a-Service (P-a-a-S) and Software-as-a-Service (S-a-a-S) where we can design and provision several layers of services.

Depending on what you  read and when, these defined terms in some ways can seem cloudy not only from oftentimes being incorrectly used by writers, but also from the fact that so many cloud providers now strive to provide hybrid capabilities to the market further blurring the lines. I will make use of them here to describe COIL cloud architecture. For the longest time in my own effort to try and remain informed on the topic, I’ve worked from what the U.S. Department of Commerce and NIST states as acceptable working definitions for describing cloud computing.

Since S-a-a-S is a superset of P-a-a-S and this again includes I-a-a-S; COIL can largely deliver to all three:

The smallest set of working services you can get from the COIL Computing Center is an empty Project Landscape. Here COIL provisions Network and Access using a secure Project Gateway (pGW)

·   This corresponds most to I-a-a-S with pGW only enabling secure access to the project vlan. Provisioned in the fashion, the project team might also require the hosting of 3rd party VMs (including the virtual layer) or physical components like a network appliance or rack server. Of course this basic infrastructure supports these physical computing center resources in terms of the required power, cooling and even an ability to manage and measure these dimensions for any project.

·      COIL’s broader service scope is largely at the P-a-a-S level, where COIL additionally provisions SAP Netweaver, Gateway, SUP, BI or SAP HANA.  The various platforms are configured and enabled so as to support the development of new applications on top of or adjacent to them. P-a-a-S, abstracts away hardware and stack management issues for a project team. The project's focus is essentially applications. The operating system is all but invisible to the developer or application administrator.  Developers can view
P-a-a-S the same way as how a sys admin would view virtualization.

·     In a stretched sense, COIL can even provide S-a-a-S if the project uses pre-configured systems without adding functionality (as in using ERP IDES just as a data container or a predefined process.)

COIL is a globally available resource, responding to co-innovation project requests from many sources coming from within SAP and from its ecosystem of partners. While many of the landscapes provided are fully provisioned from COIL cloud resources, the origin and nature of COIL’s projects do vary to the extent that projects can additionally consume resources outside of COIL infrastructure.

Using Palo Alto as one example, and where we recognize our adjacency to the Silicon Valley and our proximity to several of SAP Technology Partners and COIL lab sponsors (Intel, NetApp, Cisco and Vmware), leads some projects in this location to emphasize the value of the infrastructure within a given SAP Co-Innovation solution.  Many of these projects now examine how such infrastructure solutions can be designed with cloud delivery of SAP landscapes in mind.

COIL can observe firsthand from the cloud projects pursued, the trend of SAP being delivered relative to cloud. There is now an increasing number of projects being proposed emphasizing the topic. Because COIL itself must embrace the underlying technologies and methods to effectively serve co-innovation requirements from the cloud, it has developed some useful skills and insights into what works for enabling co-innovation landscapes and it has gained a sense for how we think about how cloud-based solutions are best designed, implemented and managed for SAP. As we learn ourselves we in turn share this knowledge with project teams interested to build and test new cloud features and capabilities.

There have always been a variety of platform project work pursued at the COIL in Palo Alto; we’ve built a large scale out BI 4 platform using Sybase ASE and IQ and additionally with SAP HANA. We have multiple projects (nearly 30) focused upon SAP HANA examining everything from scale out capacity to 3rd party dB encryption within the cloud to SAP HANA High availability and Disaster Recovery (HA/DR) or exploring the features and functionality of SAP HANA and Intel’s distribution of Hadoop.  We continue to watch with interest as some of the platform landscapes turned up in COIL today begin to evolve new project work that focuses upon creation of big data and cloud applications of new value for multiple industries.

I’m excited to not only see COIL host this latter project but even more so to already see a community of SAP data scientists getting an opportunity to explore the platform and identify potential new applications and solutions that can harness the aggregate capability. We saw similar interest and exploration when COIL first deployed the Sybase Unwired Platform, again with SAP Gateway and we even now keep an eye out for projects that might benefit from leveraging the Cloud Frame environment underscoring SAP HEC. In the weeks ahead we will also begin to explore and build out a suitable project environment focusing on the adoption of Fiori.

Just from having described at a high level, the types of project work being pursued in the COIL it is not so hard to understand why COIL has evolved a cloud-driven approach to enabling SAP Co-Innovation as it is something we have found that not only helps us balance finite resources against such a large pool of very desirable and potentially fruitful project work, but serves to enforce a mentality of pushing the envelope with respect to provisioning in ways that don’t simply default to sourcing, configuring, powering and cooling discrete hardware in order to enable every approved project. We are therefore fortunate to be fed a steady diet of opportunities for exploring dimensions of SAP Cloud which only serves to fuel our own innovations delivering co-innovation as a service.