Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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Powering Enterprise Resource Managament Applications

Over the course of the past few months we have been looking at various ERP packages including FreeBalance, SAP and PeopleSoft. This month I thought that we'd abandon the discussion of the software for a while and examine required infrastructure in support of ERP initiatives.

So you've gone through the RFP process and have selected the best enterprise resource planning package on the market to address your needs... if you haven't paid very close attention to the demands it will place on your existing IT infrastructure, you may have just shot yourself in the foot. It won't matter in the least to frustrated users just how easy you've supposedly made their lives with the new system if it takes all day to run simple processes because your network is bogged down under the weight of an ERP behemoth. So what does it take to power these bloated applications?  Well of course it depends on your individual situation, but there are always good examples which may be drawn upon for infrastructure reference as well as their "best practices" value.

A great example of how ERP should be implemented may be found in the world's largest SAP installation running on Windows NT and SQL server. Microsoft, after a lengthy evaluation process, selected Deloite and Touche Consulting Group / ICS to shoulder the mammoth project. D&T completed the Canadian and US phases of the implementation on time  and on budget... a seemingly rare event in these undertakings. Empowering the project team with the ability to modify existing business processes to coincide with SAP's inherent functionality instead of attempting to redirect SAP's natural flow in support of dated processes significantly reduced the implementation cycle. With 1700 users posting upwards of 600,000 transactions per month, the SAP R/3 system, running on SQL Server 7.0, has recorded a very impressive 99.3 percent availability rating. Following Microsoft's upgrade from version 6.5 of SQL Server to 7.0, several dramatic performance enhancements were realised:

  • An over 83% increase in user screen refresh speed,
  • backup times were slashed from 4 hours to 45 minutes,
  • a 75% reduction in database size,
  • and an over 700% increase in asynchronous database update speed.

Clearly there are some definite gains to be made with this upgrade... an option well worth considering if you are scoping out an ERP solution. Now let's take a look at the hardware involved. At the time Microsoft undertook this initiative, they utilised 7 Compaq Proliant 4500's (Quad Pentium 166's, 512MB RAM, 16GB hard disk storage) in the role of application servers and a single 4500 (Quad Pentium 166's, 1GB RAM, 144GB hard disk storage) as a database server with a duplicate serving as backup. Compaq, currently enjoying its status as leading hardware vendor for SAP solutions with an installed base of over 5000, now offers significant performance improvements over this configuration with it's new line of enterprise servers ranging from the Proliant 5500 to Network Magazine's "Enterprise PC server of the Year" the Proliant 7000. Available in both Pentium Pro 200MHz and 450MHz Pentium II Xenon processor configurations, the 7000 is an ideal platform for today's ERP solutions. Key features include:

  • Kick butt performance: 18,127 tpmC @ $27/tpmC
  • Quad processor support - with future expansion planned to 8 processors.
  • Support for up to 8GB of memory
  • Support for 218GB internal disk storage (hot swappable)
  • Support for up to 14.2TB of external storage
  • Hot pluggable PCI slots
  • 6 removable media bays
  • Integrated internal Dual Channel Wide-Ultra SCSI-3 controller - delivering throughput at 40mb/s per channel
  • Integrated management display which provides key information without the requirement of a monitor
  • Integrated remote console which allows the administrator to perform server reboots from remote locations
  • Redundant power modules

Perhaps the most valuable (although often overlooked) feature of all is Compaq's comprehensive pre-failure warranty. This program enables administrators to replace memory, hard drives or processors that are exhibiting indications of premature wear or malfunction in advance of an actual component failure. Compaq will ship you the new part immediately enabling administrators to just swap it in, virtually eliminating costly network downtime.

Of course, servers aren't the only consideration when examining infrastructure for ERP appropriateness, nor is Compaq the only vendor in the market. IBM has over 2700 RS/6000's in the field running R/3 (more than any other server) on AIX: IBM's award winning flavour of UNIX. Selecting the right server operating system is definitely of paramount importance in ensuring mission critical application availability. Choosing the best database for your applications is also a weighty decision. Network segmentation, server redundancy and backup, and whether or not to employ clustering are additional key considerations. Next month we will delve into these subjects as we continue our examination of ERP infrastructure and implementation strategies.

Originally published in Government Computer Magazine IT Awareness column, by technology columnist, Ray Richards.

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