Keeping The Lights On In An SAP Environment

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How do you keep your SAP costs under control in the modern data center?

As much as vendors like to think you spend all of your time planning architectural changes and your next purchase, the reality is more mundane. Mostly, data center personnel work around the clock to keep the lights on and business processes operational and fine-tuned to meet required service-level agreements (SLAs).

Keeping business processes operating at peak performance includes keeping mission-critical applications with their dependencies in good working order. Service-assurance for key applications such as SAP involves trained skilled staff, up-to-date database technologies, well-equipped test/dev environments, and effective data protection schemes. Maintaining service-levels thus costs money, which is not always plentiful.

Taking the right approach to data protection can not only ensure application availability but also keep personnel and licensing costs reasonable. Fortunately, for SAP environments, there is an approach that works well for physical and virtual environments today. So, in a brief departure from discussing the Software-Defined Data Center and clouds, this post focuses on keeping the data center lights on in SAP environments.

Heart and Soul of the Organization

The Germany-based SAP is one of the largest software companies in the world. SAP is known for their enterprise resource planning (ERP) software which is the heart and soul of many international companies.  SAP solutions like Enterprise Data Warehouse, Business Warehouse, and BusinessObjects encapsulate mission-critical data and business process and form the core of many organizations’ IT systems, from Web front ends, and online stores to general ledgers and complex inventory systems.

SAP architecture is complex, however, which can make it time consuming to manage, maintain, and replicate.  Because it is so vital to an organization’s operations, SAP can never be down. So, whatever your strategy for managing your SAP environment, production cannot be affected or impacted.  Because of this need to be available around the clock, SAP administrators typically maintain non-production or test/dev systems to help them validate the quality of changes before rolling them into live production environments. This approach is common for many mission-critical applications, though additional costs and problems particular to SAP come with maintaining a non-production environment which mirrors an SAP production environment.

 Keeping SAP Costs under Control

SAP is dependent on databases such as Oracle and database licensing costs increase as implementations scale. Storage costs can escalate too, with the size of the databases. The time it takes to manage SAP increases as well because skilled personnel are required. Typically, SAP administrators with specialized skills are highly paid. For example, glassdoor.com lists the average annual salary of an SAP administrator at $120K ($US) compared to $58K for a general IT administrator. 

In previous posts, I have discussed addressing multiple storage challenges in the cloud and the Software-Defined Data Center with a nod to the phenomenon of exploding data growth. These posts discussed the challenges of running heterogeneous storage systems with disparate management tools while attempting to deal with large amounts of data. While applicable to SAP, this time around, the focus is on tools and strategies to lower storage and administrative costs by improving SAP administrator productivity.

SAP provides tools and APIs to simplify the workflow and achieve an automated, repeatable SAP backup or replica process. The SAP SPLITINT interface enables a split mirror backup where production database host disks are mirrored. Then, the mirrored disks are split and mounted on the backup host. BRBACKUP runs on the backup host to back up the mirrored disks. This saves processing power on the production host because the production system is unaffected by backup. While all well and good, setting up the backup process can be time consuming and daunting.  What you need is a tool to integrate into the SAP backup process that saves you many hours by automating the process of preparing for a backup copy.

Savings through Automation

EMC Replication Manager provides a single replica management solution for creating and automating copies of SAP. It allows you to use its GUI or CLI to customize copy processes and streamline workflow especially when making copies of databases.

Replication Manager creates split-mirror copies supporting common SAP configurations such as Oracle in a Linux environment. The SAP-certified Replication Manager (i.e. tested by SAP and approved for a specific SAP use case) automates many of the time-consuming steps required for SAP backup. It integrates with BRBACKUP and uses SPLITINT to create split mirror copies of SAP data to create a repeatable process to reduce the number of steps in the SAP database replica workflow to:

  1. Set up a share directory between the SAP production and mount host
  2. Create a SAP-aware application set in the Replication Manager GUI for Oracle databases being backed up
  3. Copy the split-options parameter from the Replication Manager GUI to the BRBACKUP init file
  4. Complete the job creation
  5. Invoke the Replication Manager job from BRBACKUP from the backup host; this step invokes SPLITINT which creates split mirror copy of Oracle databases

Once you have created this job in Replication Manager, you will have greatly simplified the workflow in preparing SAP’s Oracle databases for non-disruptive replication.  Every time BRBACKUP runs, the Replication Manager job will create a split mirror copy using SPLITINT. The benefit is that you now have a repeatable, documented workflow to save you hours of what would be an otherwise manual preparation.  One EMC customer who currently uses Replication Manager as part of their SAP replication workflow is saving 12 hours of tedious administrative manual work every time they create a copy, which is approximately 3 times a week; 3 times 12 hours equates to 36 hours per week or almost one full time SAP administrator. In this scenario, automating the backup process provides this customer with a potential annual cost savings of $108,000 (36 hours/40 hour work week) x $120,000) or roughly almost the cost of one SAP administrator (excluding benefits).

 Best Practices for Today—and the Future

There are other options to automating the SAP backup process, including in-house developed scripts. But, with data center automation a common tenet (almost a battle cry) these days especially for virtualized data centers (VDC), a single tool like Replication Manager that spans multiple application use cases (e.g. Microsoft Exchange, SQL) not only improves administrator productivity, it contributes to reducing training costs and the number of tools and associated software maintenance fees in the data center. Additionally, it is a best practice for today’s physical and virtual data centers, as well as cloud deployments.

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