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Why SAP developers can't have nice things.

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy September 14, 2020
Once again SAP developer licensing is causing a stir in the SAP community. Will this topic ever go away? It needs to.

show me the money
(Jerry Maguire)

Over the last few weeks influential voices in the SAP developer community have been smoldering about why they can't get a 'free' SAP Cloud Platform developer account. Instead, developers are stuck with a free trial that expires in 90 days and then is nuked. As in gone completely, including any code and data and cannot be renewed. This is not a new problem but one that stretches back many years and to this observer lies at the heart of why SAP is not considered a 'cool' place to do development.

On its face, developing for SAP should be a no-brainer. The company claims to run north of 77 percent of the world's transactions, it reaches pretty much all the world, has the board level brand recognition that 99.9 percent of the rest the developer world would die for, has a deeply experienced and vibrant developer community that is supported by SAP's CTO and CEO, AND it almost (but not quite) guarantees a long and lucrative career. Yet still, the company manages to take all these assets and shoot itself in the head with an outdated licensing model that is an immediate turn off for today's budding developers. Here is the history from my perspective. 

During my time as an SAP Mentor, (somewhere in the 2008-11 timeframe) developer licensing was always close to top of mind and a frequent topic of conversation with SAP's executives. At that time there was a way to effectively extend the then ABAP developer account pretty much indefinitely but even so, it represented a barrier that stuck in the craw of the developer community. I recall a TechEd meeting with then CTO Vishal Sikka and other Mentors where the topic came up. Sikka asked me to meet with his legal team. He understood the frustration but didn't know how to resolve it. 

That meeting was a waste of all our time. Legal were very polite, listened intently and said they'd look into it, which is SAPanese for 'go away, we're not touching this.' It's the slightly more polite version of 'we'll take this under advisement.' The argument was that SAP needed to protect its IP and therefore having an open ended developer license could be abused, leading to production uses that would go unlicensed. I saw that as an insult to developers and still do. SAP conducts regular customer audits for licensing purposes so there is no need to worry on that score. Even if there are concerns I argued they could be resolved in software but no, that wasn't a good enough answer. The fact that the license could be extended more or less indefinitely didn't fit into the legal least in my eyes. 

Fast forward to today and the situation is arguably worse. Tobias Hoffman explains the situation well as it relates to SAP Cloud Platform:

The SCP trial is a separate offering from SAP. When activating a trial account, you get a “special” account. With Neo trial, SAP directed you to their trial data center. With CF trial, you get a 90 days limited trial. While both are free and allow easy onboarding for developers, they do not reflect the reality when you want to develop in SCP: be prepared to talk to sales. Don’t expect to be able to use SCP immediately. 

The big cloud players offer no special trial environments. They offer a free tier. Getting started as a developer with Azure or AWS means that you start like you would as any customer, in any project. You register, select the services you want and start developing. You can start in the free tier. After your app attracts more users, you move up in the tier level to a paid level. If you need services for those without a free tier available, you can simply add them (and pay). In the end, you may have a productive solution that uses some services that are free, while paying for others. The free tier level is the lowest entry level at those cloud companies. 

At SCP, the trial account is not the lowest entry level. It is designed as a dead end. Once you want to scale up, you cannot. You have to start from scratch with a real SCP CF account. While the free tier lowers the entry barriers and lays the foundation for continuous innovation, the trial account at SCP is the opposite. Before you can start to innovate, you should talk to an SAP sales person and see how to onboard you to SCP. 

One outcome is that customers can innovate faster when not using SCP. A small development team can start at zero costs in Azure, and show the value their solution can bring in an MVP, while with SCP you may still trying to figure out to which sales person you have to talk to.

Influential former and current SAP Mentors are weighing in on social media and in additional stories posted either to their own media properties or in the SAP community. Particularly worrying is this Tweet from Gregor Wolf and retweeted by Jelena Perfiljeva:

SAP SCP licensing
(via Twitter)


It is worrying because @JuerMueller - aka Juergen Mueller is CTO and an executive board member. You'd have thought that he'd have sufficient clout to encourage change. Sound familiar? We know Anita Riegel is a big fan of the Mentor community and in my experience has always been enthusiastic in supporting their efforts. So let's go back to the root of the problem. 

If, as I suspect, there is a 'legal' angle to this issue, then I argue that while legal teams serve to protect boards of directors from themselves, this is a case where CEO Klein and product engineering head Saueressig might choose to remind legal who they really work for in this instance. If Google, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft can overcome 'legal' issues to provide free access for developers, then so can SAP. As others have observed, there is a disconnect between developers, partners and sales. Inserting a sales element into the equation makes the process of getting developer access more difficult but more to the point, represents a 'step' with which developers are unfamiliar and find unwelcome. 

I don't know about you but any service that points me to 'call our sales team' or 'call for a demo' is a red flag. It's almost always a sales related call. In the modern world, sales are who I invite, not those that insert themselves into a decision process that is in the early stages oof discovery. 

At the time I was arguing with SAP for open access, there was a sense that SAP had done its best in what was predominantly an on-premises world and where access and deployment control was arguably more difficult. Those times have long since passed. We know that today, many SAP shops prefer on premises solutions but that's not the direction of travel and hasn't been for some time. If SAP is truly serious about embracing cloud culture, micro services and open source - as it has repeatedly claimed over the last years - then a free for use developer license isn't just a logical step, it represents SAP's commitment to the modern way of development, experimentation and innovation. Tying access to what is really a sales call is so 20th century.

Let's be clear - this is not all one way traffic. Greg Misioriek puts an alternative view as to why the time limited trial has appeal:

1. keeping my code clean and local as it may become deprecated when your account finally expires.
2. upon expiration, i will be getting a brand new, latest and greatest (within reason) cloud platform from SAP.
3. once the account expires the deal is off, for both parties.
4. SAP have never asked for my payment details and have so far been paying for my pass-through AWS instances, procured in the background.
5. AWS keeps my other little instances which unfortunately do not fit the free tier, so i end up paying for them, only as a backup to keep cloud current
6. the suspense of not being sure that when the next 90-day quarter starts my entitlements, space allocations, subscriptions, services, and the out-of-the box sample SAP code are still available the same way as before the deletion. – ok. this is not really a benefit, but i can always come back here and complain, right?

Will SAP's board (finally) take action? I have no idea. But it's worth remembering that in in recent meetings I've had with SAP board members, they have been very clear that the developer community is seen as vital to SAP's interests both now and into the future.

Now is the time to consign this particularly bug bear to history. 

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