SAP on the iSeries: No Longer the "Best Kept Secret"?
Published: May 30, 2006
by Alex Woodie
If one were to draw up a list of the iSeries platform's most successful ERP systems, chances are good that list would not include R/3 or SAP's mySAP.com. While the world's biggest business software maker has supported IBM's bullet-proof server platform since 1996, and has racked up more than 1,100 satisfied iSeries customers, news of the success of SAP on the iSeries never seemed to get farther than Armonk or Walldorf. Now, the pair say they're working to change that.
Michael Koerner, the SAP global business development manager for IBM systems, acknowledged that few people were aware of SAP's prowess on the OS/400 platform, even though SAP on the iSeries constituted a "very large, loyal install base."
"iSeries for SAP was one of the best kept secrets before," Koerner says. "I think we had some deficiency communicating all the good things we have for our customers. That's why we sat together with SAP and had some very good discussions on how to get SAP applications on iSeries back on track."
Those discussions resulted in some joint road shows and customer events held all around the world, Koerner says. The momentum has also carried over into an informal SAP on the iSeries user group that meets every year before the annual SAP TechEd event. The group is planning to meet before TechEd in Las Vegas this September, although those plans haven not yet been finalized.
The discussions also resulted in the delivery of a special i5 550 server pre-loaded and pre-configured for SAP's software. Koerner says the SAP Solution Edition, which is available in two-way and four-way configurations, has been a success. "It was probably one of the most successful programs that I initiated since I've been in the position. We overachieved our business case by 47 percent," he says.
The SAP Solution Edition also broke some misconceptions users hold about the iSeries and SAP. "The iSeries has a reputation as being expensive, as SAP does, and being difficult to set up," Koerner says. "When customers saw the solution edition, they got interested. It opened up the door to the customer." In actuality, the Solution Edition's role was as teaser, as many of these customers bypassed the Solution Edition and went on to buy bigger eight-, 12-, and 16-way systems.
SAP also brought OS/400 support up to parity with the other operating systems. "It used to take four or five weeks, or up to two months, before the new release available on Sys i, but we have fixed this," Koerner says. "Now the GA of a new release means the GA on the iSeries as well. SAP and IBM are putting a lot of effort for doing the porting activity in parallel." This means that the new mySAP ERP 2005, which SAP unveiled two weeks ago, is available for the iSeries now.
IBM has also worked on SAP for the iSeries marketing and benchmarking figures. Last fall, IBM put together a slick four-page brochure touting the System i5 as the "easy way to SAP." Earlier in the year, an i5 claimed the top spot on SAP's BW benchmark.
IBM also commissioned a study of 61 iSeries SAP users to see why they picked the OS/400 server over Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems Unix machines, and what they liked about the iSeries. The report, titled "IBM iSeries Initiatives for SAP Deployment," was conducted by Los Angeles-based International Technology Group, and released in December.
ITG's study, which is not available online, found that, over the course of three years, the IT costs for running SAP on the iSeries averaged 45.5 percent less than running it on Sun Fire machines, and 42 percent less than running it on HP's Itanium-based Integrity machines. In almost each case, the hardware, maintenance, software, and personnel costs were lower for SAP users running on the iSeries than for SAP users running on other platforms. When the effect of planned an unplanned downtime, or what ITG called "business costs," were factored in, the iSeries users saved even more.
In regard to the aspects of the iSeries they liked most, the responses from these companies--which were mostly manufacturers with a smattering of retail, wholesale, and healthcare operations, ranging in annual revenue from less than $500 million to more $12 billion --pointed toward the iSeries reliability, its low management overhead, its integrated backup and recovery facilities, its dynamic LPAR capabilities, and the capability of the companies to leverage their existing iSeries skills. In short, they mirrored the attitudes of the iSeries shops as a whole.
ITG concluded the strengths of the iSeries are a very good match for SAP applications. "The key strengths of the iSeries all contribute to reduced complexity and risk. They thus map directly to the core challenges facing organizations seeking to realize the value of latest-generation SAP solutions," the group wrote in its report.
Koerner says the success companies like these are having is starting to break the misconception than SAP doesn't run--or doesn't run well--on the iSeries. From the beginning of 2005, the installed base of SAP on the iSeries has grown by about 100 to 1,100, and the total number of sites where SAP is running on the iSeries has increased from 2000 in May 2005 to more than 2,500 today.
While SAP on the iSeries numbers are trending up, they still trail the pSeries installs by a fairly significant margin, according to Koerner, who's also in charge of the SAP relationship as it pertains to the AIX server. And while Unix used to be the favored platform for all SAP implementations, Unix installs now pale in comparison to SAP's business on Windows, which make up by far the majority of SAP implementations. HP, for example, recently boasted of more than 50,000 SAP installations, most of which it obtained in its acquisition of Compaq's Windows-based server business.
There is also the fact that practically all SAP implementations are going to require at least one Microsoft Windows Server running SQL Server, as some modules only run on Windows and SQL Server. "There are some SAP modules that are not supported on OS/400 native. But that's the same for Unix based," Koerner says. "Some of the SAP modules required the SQL database running on Windows Intel only. It's no problem for the iSeries customer because we support the Windows application by either using the IXS or attaching the System x server to a system i box."
Despite these hurdles, the prognosis of SAP on the iSeries is good, Koerner says. "Yes, it is more difficult. But I think SAP has done a lot of work over the last one-and-a-half to two years to improve their reputation," he says. Hopefully, the work will dispel the reputation of SAP on the iSeries as the best kept secret in business software.