Because of increasing demand for its mainstay solutions, SAP sought ways to feed the market with skilled workers to accelerate the adoption and implementation of its products. In 1996 it launched the SAP University Alliance (UA) Program to facilitate the education of students and to have students use the SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software to enhance their learning of business processes and other areas of ERP.
The first university to join the program was California State University, Chico. Founded in 1887, Chico State is the second oldest of 23 campuses in the California State University (CSU) system. The inaugural location for this SAP UA program, based in the College of Business at Chico State, would become known as the Chico SAP University Competence Center (Chico UCC) and acted as a model for the five UCCs throughout the world.
With an impressive and growing number of customers worldwide relying on its hosting services, the SAP University Competence Center at California State University, Chico can’t afford downtime. The center hosts services for 267 global institutions that can have up to seven SAP systems each term, and each system supports up to 1,000 students. How could the Chico UCC maintain its extensive hosting strategy and ensure zero uninterrupted hours for thousands of students worldwide? It found the answer in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.
Hosting services for SAP education programs around the world
The Chico UCC has been incredibly successful for students involved in the SAP program in the College of Business. Graduating students with SAP course work have 100% job placement. Recruiters from Fortune 500 companies come from all over the US, skipping over the likes of UC Berkeley to hire at salaries that often climb over $100,000 within the first five years after graduation.
The center also provides hosting services and technical support to nearly 270 institutions throughout the Americas and India, all of which are participating in the SAP University Alliance.
“It has been stable for us, and it has worked rock solid. It fits like a glove. It is comforting, you can go in and know what is going on, and if you change something, you know that it is not going to mess everything up. SUSE gives you the options. I just feel comfortable when I am in there.”
The Chico UCC embarked on a journey of digital transformation to improve student experience, guarantee stability, secure a resilient system, and potentially reduce costs, but it quickly realized it would achieve much more with a SUSE-based, modern operating system. When the project started around 10 years ago, the IT team aimed to accelerate the pace toward an agile future. It started to think of introducing an open source Linux ecosystem and chose SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) as its base operating system (OS).
The team wanted to use the available resources as efficiently as possible to provide sophisticated services with low operating costs at an attractive price, while supporting traditional SAP databases and the SAP S/4HANA business application. Tom Wilder, executive director at the Chico UCC, reflects on his experience with SUSE: “We knew SLES was going to save us money in the long run. It was easier to run. It was going to return the investment of our IT structure cost, as our server footprint was becoming smaller. Now, our servers are becoming more powerful. And if smaller, they are easier to manage. We used to have multiple racks. Now we are down to only two racks.”
The team also wanted to gain the trust of peers with an SAP-certified, futureproof and scalable solution that supports a wide range of workloads — from one-off, short-lived environments to permanent solutions supporting extensive courses with hundreds or even thousands of students simultaneously.
Jon Strait, SAP Basis administrator at UCC — Chico, states that having a SUSE license changed his workload drastically. “We initially had a partnership with SUSE’s former parent company, Novell, from 2005 and, for a short time, we tried running various open-source operating systems. We found that utilizing SLES enabled additional savings through its ease of use, maintenance and support.”
Ultimately, having SLES as an OS enables the Chico UCC to provide reliable services without a large team of system administrators. Moreover, the team does not need to worry about downtime and emergencies, which is crucial for hosting online courses for nearly 270 institutions.
SUSE fits like a glove to any system of choice
The team uses Cisco blade servers which are all running SLES. “We have 24 blades that are housed in a Cisco UCS system. They all have SLES as their base OS,” Strait points out.
SLES is certified on Cisco UCS servers and integrated with Cisco’s UCS Manager to help create a single, streamlined system. SLES also provides reliability with next-to-zero downtime for the business and seamless interoperability. Strait reflects: “It has been stable for us, and it has worked rock solid. It fits like a glove. It is comforting — you can go in and know what is going on, and if you change something, you know that it is not going to mess everything up. SUSE gives you options. I just feel comfortable when I am in there.”
Building upon its SLES operating system, the team also virtualized their environments to reduce the time required to build, test and deploy new services and substantially improve agility. “We utilize VMware for our virtualization and have images of our SUSE and SAP instances allowing us to quickly build the systems that the colleges will be using,” Strait explains.
What’s next for the Chico UCC
The Chico UCC is currently working on expanding its program to community colleges. As for its technology pipeline, one of its projects is to work on the SAP Ariba solution, designing curriculum for a global rollout. SAP S/4HANA Cloud is also part of the plan. As Wilder states: “I am looking out long term, and one of the things that I see coming is cloud solutions. And, of course, there is going to be the SAP S/4HANA cloud solution.”