Are You There, SAP? It’s Us, Developers

Folks,

Several years and executive shuffles ago, we heard a strategic message from SAP: developers are kind of important. It manifested itself in a variety of ways: the keynotes where the charismatic former CTO was coding live on stage, special developer passes to TechEd, the creation of Developer space on sap.com, ABAP development trial becoming widely available, etc.

The advancements in Cloud infrastructure, open source development transforming from quaint grassroots movement into mainstream, and necessity to utilize other languages than ABAP (gasp!) created the “perfect storm” not only to shake-up the SAP development world but for many other developers to enter SAP ecosystem. Heck, even to me the idea of creating the Angry Birds equivalent of the enterprise world in Cloud and then retiring early seems very appealing.

The first step for the potential SAP Angry Birds creator would be to learn and start using SAP Cloud Platform (SCP). For that, they could use free 30-day trial account that can be later extended 2 more times to 90 days total. This appears very generous of SAP but only until we look at how it actually works and how it compares to the competition.

Fellow SAP Mentor Alum Tobias Hofmann explained the issue with SCP trial very well in his recent blog post. I encourage everyone to read it in its entirety but my TLDR version is: after 90 days, your development gets deleted; the trial account is a “dead end” that does not easily extend to the paid tier.

By comparison, the providers like Amazon, Oracle, and even IBM offer a free tier of their services. Unlike a trial account, free tier (a) never expires, meaning you don’t have to worry about the trial counter ticking; (b) if your SAP Angry Birds app takes off, you can easily expand to the paid tier or even just add additional paid services a la carte.

What Do Others Offer?

After reading Tobias’s blog, I went to investigate the free tier offerings. By using Google with “<name> free tier”, I found the corresponding web pages for Amazon AWS, Oracle, and IBM Cloud very easily. The information checked out: all free tiers were not limited by time and easily upgradeable with paid services or higher, paid tiers, if necessary.

Since IBM already has my personal information anyway, I went all the way and registered a Lite (free tier) account there. For a company that is casually criticized for being slow and old-fashioned, I have to say it was unexpectedly simple and easy process. I entered my name and email address, received a confirmation email, and in less than a minute had this:

Oracle was a bit more needy, wanting my cell phone and, for some reason, payment information upfront. Amazon required only email and phone for personal account.

What do we get from SAP? Top link in Google search is a 9-step tutorial that, among other steps, includes registration of 2 separate accounts and “Understand trial counter” step.

Sorry to say but it is embarrassing.

What’s The Big Deal?

One might say, “but you can just keep extending the trial over and over, so what’s the big deal?” Well, if it’s so easy to extend the trial perpetually then why does it even exist? Why is it not a permanent free tier? Why do the developers have to deal with the risk of losing their work? I’ve been an SAP developer for 15 years and I have no plans to leave. Relationship with SAP is not a “trial” of anything for me. It’s discouraging to see SAP having commitment issues when it comes to our partnership .

Also, the nature of “trial” suggests that it’s “try before you buy” option for someone who is interested in purchasing full product but is unsure about decision. If this is the goal of SAP SCP trial account, then, as Tobias points out in his blog, it is not actually set up like that.

History Lesson

While randomly browsing Reddit, I stumbled upon animated infographics showing how the mobile OS market share changed over time. It caught my attention that Symbian, the name I haven’t even heard before, once held almost 40% market share and then quickly faded into oblivion. I went to read more about it out of curiosity. This OS was used by Nokia and Sony Ericson phones that also practically disappeared for a variety of reasons, but this passage on Wikipedia sounded chillingly familiar:

“Despite its sizable market share then, Symbian was at various stages difficult to develop for: First […] due to the complexity of then the only native programming languages […]; then the obstinate developer bureaucracy, along with high prices of various IDEs and SDKs, which were prohibitive for independent or very small developers; and then the subsequent fragmentation[…]. All of this discouraged third-party developers, and served to cause the native app ecosystem for Symbian not to evolve to a scale later reached by Apple’s App Store or Android’s Google Play.”

Without the applications, without the support from the wide developer community, SAP platform is destined to become Symbian of the enterprise software world. If SAP is indeed serious about the developer relationships, it is time to commit and “put a ring on it” with not a trial but a permanent free tier of the Cloud Platform.