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At one time or another, most people have heard Henry Ford's famous quote about his revolutionary Model T automobile: "Any customer can have a car painted in any color so long as it is black." Today, we look upon his inflexible, non-customer service-oriented attitude as quaint, a mindset from a bygone era that would never fly today.

But the reality is that attitude is still very prevalent. Not in our vehicles, thankfully - you can get a car or truck painted in just about any crazy color, or combination of colors you want. Instead, it's the common mindset for IT hosting in the SAP world.

By now you've probably seen all the articles and heard the Webinars talking about IT infrastructure as a commodity rather than a strategic advantage. They tell you how, in this day and age, managing your own infrastructure makes about as much sense as manufacturing your own electricity on a day-to-day basis, and that you'd be better off moving to a hosted model. And they tell you how IT costs to manage SAP average three percent to five percent of revenue, whereas an integrated technical managed services solution incorporating hosting reduces this figure to only one percent of revenue. All of which is true.

Unfortunately, they tend to leave out one small detail. The act of moving your infrastructure to a 20th Century-style hosting provider can be very expensive and time-consuming, especially for a mid-market organization, before it ever becomes smooth and cost-efficient.

The reason is that Henry Ford mentality. The typical 20th-Century hosting provider has a giant server farm full of equipment onto which it will move your applications. Essentially, they tell you that you can run your applications on any hardware you want - as long as it's the hardware they already have. If you're running on the same hardware - say your current system is IBM and so is the provider's - that part will probably transition fairly smoothly. But if your applications are set up to run on HP servers and they're using IBM, it's going to take a lot of work to make the changeover. And guess who has to make the change?

The other big problem with the 20th Century model is sharing resources. Back in Ford's day, when running water was still a rarity, families often shared bathwater (or even baths) because filling a bathtub was a time-consuming, labor-intensive task. They didn't want to waste the effort on providing clean water for each bath.
In the traditional hosting world, the resources you're sharing are servers. In order to operate as efficiently (and profitably) as they can, hosting providers try to fill every micron of disk space on every server with data. That means they'll often mix data from two or more organizations to increase utilization.

It makes sense from their standpoint. But it's not so good from yours. If a problem with some other organization's application takes down the server you're sharing, you are just as out of luck as they are - even though your applications are running perfectly fine. In addition, if you're working with a government agency and have to show compliance with laws requiring separation of data, it's going to be pretty tough to prove when your supposedly secure data is running alongside that of an organization with different (or no) compliance requirements.

There is a solution, however. Rather than settling for a "Model T" type of hosting environment, look instead for a provider using a 21st Century hosting model.
With a 21st Century hosting provider, you don't have to make your applications fit their hardware. Instead, they will host your applications on whatever hardware you want - whether that means purchasing all new hardware of your choice as part of an upgrade, or actually packing up and shipping your current hardware to their locations. If you're buying new hardware, a good hosting provider will even give you a choice of procuring it yourself or taking that burden off your hands - whatever method works best for you.

Moving to a hosted system dedicated specifically to your organization instead of one that is carved out of a general storage area network also solves the concerns regarding data separation. Since your hardware operates as separately as if it were in your own facility, there is no chance someone else's application problems will affect your business. It also makes proving separation of data a very simple task.

A 21st Century hosting provider will also tend to be more specialized. In the early days, hosting meant setting up equipment and running whatever applications its customers sent its way. There was little on-staff expertise to draw from if there was a problem with, say, SAP or another complex system. In the new world of hosting, providers specialize in particular technologies and have deep expertise on staff, which allow them to do what you really want them to do - manage and maintain the system completely, including overcoming any issues immediately rather than having to call an outside specialist.

While moving to a 21st Century hosting provider makes sense for virtually any organization, it is particularly well-suited to mid-market organizations that are increasingly finding more time being spent on IT maintenance and less on actually deriving more value out of their applications. It's a lot like those early Model Ts. Back then, if you were going to own a car, you had to know how to fix it, too. Today, most car owners don't know what's under the hood and don't want to know. They just want to get in and drive. Rather than adding IT staff (and finding themselves in the IT business instead of whatever business they're actually in), these mid-market organizations can stay focused on the reasons they installed their applications in the first place.

When it comes to hosting, why settle for a Model T mentality? Using a 21st Century hosting provider will give you complete control over your environment and keep your data separate, all while saving you as much as 30 percent over traditional hosting. Even Henry Ford would approve of that.

About the Author

Dan Wilhelms is President and C.E.O. of Symmetry Corporation (www.sym-corp.com), a SAP hosting partner that provides technical managed services, security administration and project consulting for SAP customers in the U.S. and around the world. He can be reached at dwilhelms@sym-corp.com.

More by Dan Wilhelms

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