SAP On IBM i: The Best Alternative?
August 27, 2012 Dan Burger
IBM considers SAP to be one of its top independent software vendors (ISVs) on the IBM i platform. As such, SAP gets preferred treatment. If SAP suggests certain features for the operating system or the database that would help its game, it is likely to get done. Technical advice from IBM that benefits its SAP software development is part of the living arrangements. Some of the best brains IBM i has work with SAP customers.
How’s that working out?
A lot of people would rather slow dance with a half-starved grizzly bear than mess with an existing ERP system. What makes companies want to bring in SAP on i if they never ran SAP or IBM i? What gets the deal done?
Here’s what I got from a conversation last week with Alison Butterill, IBM i product offering manager; Jim Effle, manager of IBM i top ISV development support; and Ron Schmerbauch, technical leader of IBM’s SAP on i team.
SAP customers, at least the ones that Schmerbauch works with, are technologically savvy and willing to take on more than a hardware-software-operating system upgrade. The projects involve independent ASPs, external storage, solid state drives, PowerHA clustering, PowerVM virtualization, and even live partition mobility. Not all the projects are wrapped in all these technologies, but this panorama is indicative of the business discussions Schmerbauch and Effle are having with SAP and SAP’s customers. These are all important aspects when preparing an infrastructure, Schmerbauch points out.
Infrastructure that supported an ERP foundation that is 20 years old or more is not the infrastructure that is built for the next 20-plus years. At some point, old tires will blow out. However, the cost of infrastructure upgrades has to be covered somehow within budgets that, if increased at all, have only inched upward. For many shops budgets have stayed even or retracted as part of the “do more with less” philosophy that haunts IT initiatives.
The infrastructure integration capability of IBM i is one of its strengths and it is emphasized to a large extent when companies are comparing whether to run SAP on IBM i or another platform.
Schmerbauch works exclusively with customers that run SAP on IBM i and DB2 with Power hardware. These are constants. They can be a big deal when attempting to add new levels of effectiveness to infrastructure. When SAP runs on other platforms, he says, the typical scenario includes a variety of operating systems and databases, which complicates integration and frustrates infrastructure upgrades.
To make some points in budget discussions, IBM i has some built-in assets that require getting beyond initial cost. Savings on the infrastructure side, projected over several years, have been a part of the IBM i story since the days of its ancestors. The integrated database has been a factor. Simplified system management is another. But lately there is more attention being paid to subsystems capability and its impact on server consolidation and the savings that brings in terms of hardware and the people who manage systems.
The IBM i operating system’s use of subsystems is an intrinsic advantage emphasized by Schmerbauch. “Subsystems allow a consolidation to fewer footprints,” he notes. “They allow more money to be spent on the SAP side (software features and functions) because less is spent on the infrastructure. When customers move from Windows to i, they typically move into fewer LPARs because they are taking advantage of subsystems. SAP systems install to subsystems. It’s how it works. Customers set up multiple SAP systems within an LPAR. We have some that are using 10 to 20 SAP systems in the same LPAR. On other platforms, it is usually one SAP system per partition or server.”
From the IBM i perspective, this lowers SAP implementation costs and allows companies with IBM i skills to move to an SAP solution as an alternative to whatever legacy ERP system they are struggling with.
An example of how this can work is illustrated by AriZona Beverage Company, where the core SAP distribution business ran on Intel X86 servers, while IBM i on Power ran other SAP business applications.
According to a case study on the IBM website, capacity limits on Intel-based processing side led to reliability and performance issues. It was estimated that the existing 80-core Intel architecture with 10 TB of external storage would require an additional 48 Intel processor cores to provide development, quality assurance, and SAP services.
Taking into consideration memory, disk, operating system, database, and virtualization, along with the savings in maintenance and license expenses it was determined that a three-year savings by moving to IBM i on Power would be close to $100,000.
The replacement SAP architecture supports 200 users, on a single instance running on one logical partition (LPAR) on an IBM Power 720 Solution Edition server, which has the processing capacity of the previous six-server Intel set up (that’s because the Power system is running at very high utilization). It also includes 9.2 TB of integrated storage. It’s the kind of integrated system that other platforms are working to create and maniacally market as ground-breaking technology.
The migration and upgrade work was accomplished with the help of IBM Lab Services connected to the SAP on i Center of Excellence. This is a four-person team specifically organized for this type of assignment involving optimized software and integration. The CoE is one of those things that result from being a top ISV.
I get a little uneasy because no one will provide estimates that could lead to even a sniff of the frequency with which these projects are occurring, but it’s probably safe to say a few have been completed during the past five years or so, and a few more are under way.
In addition to the AriZona Beverage case study, which was published in 2012, there are four others to support the SAP on i migration: Pentair, 7-Eleven Stores, Movado Group, and Border States Electric. They date from 2008 to 2010.
“We have [SAP on i] customers that are running on two cores with only a handful of users and customers with thousands of users and running on 795 machines.” Schmerbauch says.
One of the topics that came up in the discussion was the introduction about one year ago of SAP’s real-time, in-memory, data analytics appliance called HANA. SAP is marketing HANA (pronounced like Honda without the “d”) for business intelligence workloads, but says it will eventually replace any underlying relational database.
In the original announcement of SAP HANA, it is described as “an integrated database and calculation layer that allows the processing of massive quantities of real-time data in main memory to provide immediate results from analyses and transactions.” I added the italics to emphasize the marketing language that tends to over-promise all new product announcements.
“HANA is used as an appliance to ERP in certain situations,” Schmerbauch says. “It can connect to any SAP platform as an accelerator appliance and it can be used as a business warehousing database. But there still needs to be an application server on top of HANA, and that application server can be IBM i.”
I got the impression IBM is not worried HANA is destined to replace the DB2 relational database in SAP on i implementations. In its present form as a business intelligence/data warehousing appliance, it certainly has a long ways to go. IBM has time on its side in this regard, but I suspect there are watchful Big Blue eyes on the progress of HANA. And the fact that Oracle has a similar device, called Exalytics, has not gone unnoticed.
Working with existing SAP on i customers to move forward with operating system upgrades is where much of the IBM interaction with SAP is these days. With the end of support for V5R4 established as September 2013, companies are reacting.
“We see a lot of activity and it is increasing,” Butterill says in regard to IBM i upgrades to 6.1, and much more frequently to 7.1. “Features and functions in the operating system get people to upgrade and so does end of support. Some newly added ISV functionality, particularly in the area of compliance, sparks end users to upgrade. Companies are very careful when it comes to compliance and industry standards.”