CLAAS is a family business founded in 1913 and is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of agricultural machinery. The company, with headquarters in Harsewinkel, Westphalia, is the world market leader for forage harvesters. CLAAS dominates the European market in another core segment as well — combine harvesters. CLAAS also holds the top spots in global agricultural technology with its tractors, agricultural balers and grassland harvesting machines. CLAAS employs more than 11,900 staff worldwide and in 2021 generated a turnover of 4.8 billion euros.
CLAAS’ success is no longer based solely on the company’s comprehensive mechanical engineering expertise. Today, the product range also includes state-of-the-art agricultural information technology. CLAAS connects machines and work processes, helping customers to optimally manage their fleets, saving time and money. Data also plays a decisive role for innovative solutions, such as precision farming. Sensors on the machines detect differences in natural soil properties and enable farmers to differentiate the cultivation of each individual area. For example, fertilizer and sowing rates can be adjusted automatically. This ensures maximum yields while protecting resources and the environment.
With advanced machines and intelligent digital services, CLAAS is developing groundbreaking solutions for the agriculture of the future. To securely and efficiently deliver the IT applications required for this, such as SAP systems and new containerized applications, the company relies on SUSE.
The journey to open source
In order to bring innovative products and services to market as fast as possible and to be able to respond quickly to new customer requirements, CLAAS has consistently digitized its internal processes in recent years. “Our goal is always to establish universal standards,” says Holger Hartmann, head of corporate IT infrastructure at CLAAS. “That’s why we try to design our software landscapes with as few products as possible and work with selected strategic partners.”
One of these partners is SAP. CLAAS has long relied on the company’s ERP software and has introduced many additional functional modules over the years. CLAAS’ entire production and all goods movement — from purchasing to machine delivery and customer service — is controlled via SAP solutions. The modules used include FI, CO, MM, SD, PP, ME, EWM, GTS, BW, BO, SRM and HCM.
Until a few years ago, CLAAS operated its SAP landscape on an IBM infrastructure with the IBM AIX operating system. “However, the investment costs for the infrastructure were continuously increasing,” reports Hartmann. “We also had the feeling that the platform’s further development was stagnating. When SAP began to rely more and more on Linux as an operating system in the development of SAP HANA, we also felt the time had come for a strategic realignment. By switching to an open source operating system and x86 servers, we expected not only cost savings, but also a faster pace of innovation.”
“To exploit the great potential for innovation in agriculture, our IT must be able to operate with agility. SUSE solutions help us deliver new digital services quickly — without compromising stability and availability.”
When it came to choosing the new operating system, CLAAS was guided by the current market situation. Today, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) for SAP Applications is the leading Linux platform for SAP HANA, SAP NetWeaver and SAP S/4HANA solutions. 85% of SAP HANA deployments are currently running on SLES. “Of course, we were also convinced by the fact that SAP itself relied on SLES for the development of SAP HANA,” says Hartmann. “We therefore had very great confidence in the platform right from the start.”
The operating system was not entirely new to those responsible at CLAAS at this point. Initial experience with SLES had already been gathered since 2009. On several occasions, the IT organization also turned to SUSE’s enterprise support and was very satisfied with the quality and speed of the technical assistance.
A successful proof-of-concept and extensive consultations with SUSE reassured CLAAS that it had made the right decision for its future SAP strategy: “We realized that SUSE understood the requirements of global SAP users. SLES for SAP Applications minimizes the risk of downtime, enables rapid updates and patches during ongoing operations, and significantly simplifies operational processes,” says Hartmann.
CLAAS now benefits, among other things, from the ability to apply patches at very short intervals when required for security reasons. In the previous environment, systems were patched much less frequently because the administrative effort involved was considerable.
“Today, we can also use innovative technologies such as Ansible and Saltstack to automate workflows and make new systems available very quickly and with consistent quality,” adds Jan Ove Steppat, open source infrastructure architect at CLAAS. “This also takes an enormous amount of pressure off our team on a day-to-day basis.”
Benefits of the new infrastructure
High stability for business-critical applications
Since migrating to SLES for SAP Applications, the SAP infrastructure at CLAAS has grown continuously. The company now runs 50 SAP HANA databases alone, as well as a rapidly growing number of SAP application servers. The entire infrastructure runs in the two data centers at the headquarters in Harsewinkel and is used by staff at all company locations worldwide.
All SAP systems must therefore be reliably available around the clock. “Even a short failure would bring our production processes to a standstill, and we would no longer be able to continue processing our customer orders,” emphasizes Hartmann. “SLES met the high availability requirements right from the start. We haven’t had a single operating system-related outage in recent years.”
Following its positive experience with the SAP infrastructure, CLAAS implemented other business-critical applications on SLES, including Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform. The company uses solutions such as CATIA, DELMIA and ENOVIA to manage its entire product development process — from design and engineering to production and service. Around 700 employees distributed worldwide at CLAAS work together on innovations via the digital engineering platform and always use consistent data for their projects. “Here, too, high stability and availability are crucial in all process steps,” emphasizes Hartmann. “Smooth operation with SLES is the prerequisite for all users and systems to be able to access the product data of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform at any time.”
Secure provisioning of new digital services
Meanwhile, CLAAS also operates systems required for communication with customer machines under SLES. “The latest machines transmit around 300 measured value signals via the cloud to our data centers in a time interval of five to 15 seconds, “ explains Steppat. “Telemetry data such as the driving speed, the GPS position, the diesel consumption or the harvest volume of the machines are sent to our TELEMATICS system, where they are evaluated. If, for example, the front wheel of a tractor spins on wet ground, we can immediately detect and analyze this in the recorded data.”
CLAAS uses the Hortonworks Data Platform (HDP) based on Apache Hadoop to store and process the large volumes of data. This platform also runs on a SLES infrastructure in the data center in Harsewinkel.
The TELEMATICS service opens up a wide range of possibilities for CLAAS customers.
Via the solution’s online portal or mobile app, they can call up a wide variety of data and trends on the productivity of their machine fleet — including detailed yield mapping of all farmed areas. Data on the wear of individual machine components can be automatically transmitted to CLAAS sales partners. This enables them to provide suitable spare parts in time. “From our SAP infrastructure to CAD and PLM applications to solutions for Big Data analyses, we now run very different workloads on SLES,” summarizes Hartmann. “This is precisely why we value the modularity of the operating system so much. We only install the components we need in each case and can thus keep the system’s footprint as small as possible. This also helps us minimize the frequency of updates.”
Future-proof foundation for agile application architectures
The next generation of business applications at CLAAS is based on container technology and microservices. The customer portal, CLAAS connect, for example, is already provided in the cloud via a Kubernetes cluster. More and more containerized applications are also making their way into the data center — such as machine learning tools for the preaggregation of telemetry data.
“In the data center and on various cloud platforms, we now run around 1,500 to 2,000 containers — and the trend is rising sharply,” reports Steppat. “We were therefore looking for a container management platform that would allow us to centrally manage our Kubernetes clusters across all environments. After extensive testing, we decided to go with Rancher Prime.”
The 100% open source solution supports any CNCF-certified Kubernetes distribution and enables unified cluster management — from core to cloud to edge. Administrators can monitor any cluster at any site, update Kubernetes versions, perform backups, as well as restore compromised clusters from one console.
“Given the wide variety of applications we run today, it is essential that we have consistent security standards,” says Steppat. “Rancher Prime provides us with the tools we need to do that. We can work with our security teams to centrally define how users are allowed to interact with managed Kubernetes clusters and how containerized workloads should be run. Once policies are defined, we can instantly assign them to any Kubernetes cluster.”
What’s next for CLAAS
The rollout of Rancher Prime at CLAAS is currently in progress, and the IT team has high hopes for the new platform. “Our container landscape is growing at a tremendous pace,” says Steppat. “That’s why it’s so important that we make all operations around running our clusters as simple and consistent as possible — from provisioning and version management to monitoring and diagnostics. This is the only way we can truly support approaches like Continuous Delivery and Continuous Integration efficiently.”