If the reasons to partner are legion, they generally coalesce around the desire to fill a gap – the opportunity to learn and adopt new skills or technology, access to resources or adjacent markets, the sharing of financial risk and cost, scale enablement and the ability to focus on core strengths while developing broader product/service scope are all good reasons to engage in relationship building. But sustainable partnerships should address an additional requirement – the need to deliver mutual benefit to participants – and successful partnerships feature yet one more characteristic – a new value proposition for customers, developed out of the combination of individual capabilities. The agreement reached between SAP and CenturyLink this January, according to which CenturyLink will offer supplier services for the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud (HEC), offers a case in point.
The key outcome of this partnership announcement is essentially a white label, managed service offering from CenturyLink and SAP, the HEC, which represents an extension of CenturyLink’s ongoing relationship with SAP and a key component in the evolution of the company’s Big Data strategy. Under the terms of the agreement, SAP will leverage CenturyLink infrastructure services to support delivery of its HANA platform, while CenturyLink will add SAP in-memory and analytics capabilities to its growing roster of enterprise class, cloud-based services. While CenturyLink’s reference architecture, which enables the deployment of new mission critical cloud infrastructure in days – rather than the months that are more typical in on-premise implementations, can support accelerated SAP deployment – customers can also take advantage of the CenturyLink global IP network, cloud and managed hosting infrastructure to quickly deploy SAP application workloads on a global basis. For CenturyLink, the addition of Big Data service capability will help position the company for what is expected to become a significant market opportunity: according to the most recent (March 2016 reporting) Techaisle survey of US-based SMBs, analytics users in the smallest size cohort (1-9 employees) allocated 45 percent of their total IT budgets to analytics, while analytics users in the largest (500-999 employees) segment studied dedicated 15 percent of total IT spending to analytics initiatives. At the enterprise level, by 2020, research firm Gartner predicts that 75 percent of organizations will have deployed advanced analytics to support decision making.
Jinesh Jain, VP, Delivery & PMO, CenturyLink Cognilytics, has outlined five distinct components of the new offering that define the scope of the HEC and underscore the value of the partnership:
- CenturyLink will assume complete responsibility for assessment and advisory services around HEC for SAP customers.
- CenturyLink provides ISO compliant, mission critical cloud infrastructure services for HEC, as well as a complete suite of implementation and maintenance services to support a range of SAP applications, including HANA, CRM, BWRM, and supply chain. Jain noted: “SAP HANA in-memory capability plays like a platform, but this suite of products are part of the scope of HEC.”
- The company also provides additional, optional service offerings that may extend to SAP deployments, including application management, customer services, onboard and migration services. With customers established as SAP platform users, CenturyLink will be able to develop these relationship through the layering on of additional services, Jain added.
- SAP works with five partners for delivery of HEC, including IBM, Virtustream, Freudenberg IT, the NTT Group and now CenturyLink. In Jain’s view, CenturyLink occupies a unique place among SAP partners in its ability to provide end-to-end services, including networks, infrastructure, colocation, Metro DR, data centre capacity, cloud architecture and application management services, which work together to deliver a total cloud solution. “In terms of HEC,” he argued, “I don’t think there is any other partner that can provide this total solution – infrastructure management, application management, database and OS management all under the same roof through subscription licensing.”
- Jain describes this partnership as a “win-win for all parties,” but for customers in particular who can purchase HEC on a monthly fee basis, rather than invest in on premise infrastructure, as is normally the case with SAP HANA deployment. “These are important services that any SAP customer is likely to want, though no want wants to invest capital expenditures up front to get them. Everyone is looking for monthly recurring cost, which the company accommodates with a bundle of services under one CenturyLink umbrella… As a mother ship working with SAP, we provide a critical end-to-end oversight on HEC to give the customer confidence that their SAP implementation will work properly.”
Jain’s list of partner benefits is impressive, extending to management of technology gaps, service focus for partners, more rapid customer adoption of HEC, and better CenturyLink access to new and growing analytics markets. A caution in partnering, however, lies is the potential for overlap in service delivery; SAP is a large, established vendor of analytics and Big Data solutions with sophisticated vertical modules, and CenturyLink, since acquisition of Cognilytics in December 2015, also a provider of predictive analytics, decision science and Big Data management solutions. But as Gary Garuba, president of CenturyLink Cognilytics, explained, the company capabilities are complimentary, not competitive, and combined offer a critical resource for innovation on key challenges. “My relationship with SAP goes back almost two decades,” he explained, “it was very active in the R2, R3 days [SAP ERP] and there is a deep relationship at the gold level and at the CXO level.” At the same time, the Cognilytics union with CenturyLink is enabling development of a new service area: “It has been an amazing journey over the last 13 months, and we are coming to understand some of the amazing assets that CenturyLink has around cloud, data centres and the network and how we can leverage those assets to shift up the partnership to another level. A good example of this is our relationship with SAP and what we will do with SAP in Big Data-as-a-Service.”
Rather than overlap, SAP HANA has served as a development platform for Cognilytics capabilities for the past six years and is now baked into the way the Cognilytics team works – and will do the same for customer analytics deployments, supported by CenturyLink infrastructure. As Jain explained, the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud consists of in-memory, but it acts simply as a platform on which all other SAP products reside, whether this is the ECC transactional system, or the SRM supplier management solution or SEM supply chain, or CRM. What Cognilytics brings to the table is deep expertise with in-memory engines, and HANA in particular. “We have been working with SAP since HANA was just getting started in the SAP ecosystem – in the labs, five or six years back,” he said. “That brings us in close to how the engine works, and how extensions to the engine work in the analytics space. So for customers entering the decision, business intelligence space, signing up for HEC, we can provide the HANA journey, where HANA is more than a platform, where it can serve as a data mart providing customers with real time analytics.” As example, Jain pointed to supply chain, where the data mart can identify where the bottlenecks are, what the system performance is, according to KPIs for financial markets, as well as anomaly detection around micro or macro-economic systems: “we can do this using our functional and code expertise. When you combine this with the [in-memory] strong platform, that’s what customers are looking for today.”
Garuba highlighted other areas where the combination of enterprise infrastructure services, accelerated in-memory processing and predictive analytics are driving innovation and new efficiencies in custom deployments as well as repeatable use case applications. For example, Cognilytics has developed a number of vertical solutions on top of Hadoop (the SAP Vora in-memory computing engine for Hadoop), such as a readmissions solution for hospitals that leverages demographic and diagnostics information from patient histories to create models for predictive analytics around factors influencing a patient’s readmission, providing real time information that can be used by healthcare practitioners. “What we have done in the healthcare sector is just a tip of the iceberg,” Garuba noted. “Here we can help providers save money, but for me, healthcare is very important because we can make a difference in terms of saving lives.”
The same approach, which relies largely on anomaly detection and model building can be applied, he added, to supply chain, manufacturing, financial services and ecommerce. Cognilytics currently has 70+ use cases for analytics and is building products for resale on HANA in certain areas, working with SAP to leverage its Model Controller, a Cognilytics platform designed for the banking vertical that allows clients to house and manage all their models in one place, operationalizing analytics capabilities. Other areas of collaboration for SAP and Cognilytics are cyber security and Big Data analytics solutions that the company will build with customers and jointly bring to market – and deliver more quickly based on an accelerated, HANA enabled development time frame. “Think about the 50 billion connected devices in IoT,” Garuba urged, where CenturyLink is creating a smart fleet management solution for preventative maintenance of its 15,000 vehicles that it will eventually take to customers. “In areas like this, we will leverage a combination of HANA and Vora, which essentially is a Hadoop HANA, and the basis for what we will roll out as Big Data-as-a-Service to drive more value for clients.”
Garuba also sees the 50 billion devices as a source of security risk in IoT that can be addressed through the use of data and analytics. “People think IoT is a really interesting area, and everyone who can spell IoT is talking about it. But what people don’t understand is that there are 50 billion connected things that could cause a lot of serious issues. It could be the wild, Wild West if we don’t tame it. If you don’t secure each of those devices, bad guys can get into the system much more easily.” To this end, the company has entered yet another partnership (with security solutions company WISeKey), to enable device verification, based on use of a cryptographic key at the object or hardware level.
When a Dreamliner (Boeing airplane) takes off, he added, it generates a terabyte of data that can be used in real time to predict – and make timely repair – of any problems with a part. Better safety and better customer satisfaction is the result – a goal that Cognilytics CenturyLink is looking to extend into new areas. “There are a lot of things that can be done, and here is where we are unique: we have the network, we have the data centres, and we have the capabilities around Big Data, and we have the partnership with SAP,” Garuba concluded.