For parent company Greenply, the demerger meant that it would need to set up a new, resilient landscape—including disaster recovery options—for SAP ERP applications. Prior to the demerger, the consolidated company had been running SAP with IBM DB2 databases on the IBM AIX operating system, which runs only on proprietary IBM Power Systems servers.
Greenply saw an opportunity not simply to replicate the previous landscape but to optimize its whole approach to running SAP ERP. On the business side, the company was keen to cut its manufacturing costs and improve service levels by strengthening the supply chain. The key aim was to improve the integration of the supply chain with manufacturing, so that the company could avoid manufacturing too much or too little of a given product as demand levels fluctuated.
Dr. Vineet Bansal, CIO of Greenply, explains: “It was clear that gaining real-time stock visibility would improve our control over manufacturing and reduce our costs. We recognized that the SAP HANA in-memory database technology would give us this real-time capability, and this became the cornerstone of our plans for the new SAP landscape. This was a great opportunity for Greenply to take advantage of new technologies rather than just continuing down the existing path—which would also have been more costly.”
The company is keen to be as lean as possible in all areas, so total cost of ownership was an important consideration for the new SAP landscape. Setting up new SAP ERP applications on the same kind of IBM platform as its existing SAP landscape would be a low-risk, low-disruption option, but Greenply was concerned that the cost of acquiring and maintaining the AIX and Power Systems stack would be high. The company would then also be locked into this combination of proprietary operating system and hardware.
Greenply compared SUSE Linux Enterprise Server with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and concluded that the SUSE operating system was better suited to its needs. “In terms of performance and stability, the combination of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and SAP HANA was the best,” says Dr. Bansal. “Equally, it was simpler and more cost-effective to ensure high availability, because the SUSE Linux Enterprise High Availability Extension is included as an integral element in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications.”
The SAP-certified SUSE Linux Enterprise High Availability Extension enables Greenply to attain 99.999% availability. It incorporates not only a clustering solution for application servers, but also solutions for high-availability storage and network load-balancing. “Choosing the SUSE operating system gave us a single, integrated route to high availability; with Red Hat, achieving the same would require us to license and deploy three separate products for the OS, the storage and the network components,” says Dr. Bansal. “Another important reason for going with SUSE was that it offers a distribution of Linux that is certified for SAP ERP and finely tuned to its demands.”
SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications is a tailor-made distribution of Linux specifically tuned for SAP software. SUSE runs a completely separate update channel for this distribution, pretesting all new and updated packages and reverting to the last good version of any package that is found to create problems in SAP—whether in terms of performance, security or stability. The company then works to fix the faults in the package so that it can be safely added back into the main branch of the distribution.
Greenply is taking advantage of a kerneltune option in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications to optimize performance for its large SAP workloads. As standard, the Linux kernel swaps out any application memory pages that are rarely accessed, using the freed-up memory pages as a cache to speed up file system operations. However, some SAP applications need large amounts of memory to ensure fast access to business data—and some of this memory is only rarely accessed. If a request from a business user requires the application to access memory that has been paged out by the kernel, this will naturally mean poor response times. The kernel-tune option tells the kernel that once the page-cache is filled to the configured limit, application memory takes priority and should not be paged out. Using this feature, Greenply can limit the amount of page-cache used by the Linux kernel whenever there is competition between the application memory and the system page-cache, thereby avoiding the possibility of degraded response times.
As an early adopter of the SAP HANA technology in India, Greenply faced some implementation challenges, particularly around the creation of a clustered HANA landscape—because HANA does not use a shared storage model. With assistance from SUSE support, the company successfully set up four HANA servers, three in its primary data center and the fourth in its disaster-recovery site. At the primary site, one HANA instance is dedicated to testing and development, and the other two are clustered to act as the production database for the entire SAP ERP landscape.
Greenply migrated its SAP ERP landscape from AIX to clustered instances of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications hosted on VMware vSphere on Cisco blade servers. The company runs a full suite of SAP applications, including financials, costing, sales and distribution, materials management and quality management.
In order to migrate to SAP HANA, Greenply had to move up an Enhancement Package (EHP) level in its SAP landscape. This upgrade would have been easier to perform if the company was not migrating to a new operating system at the same time, but the company was sure that moving to the SUSE operating system was the right option.
“There was certainly risk and complexity involved in our SAP migration, which really highlights the advantages we saw in adopting HANA and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server,” says Dr. Bansal. “It was clear that the benefits would heavily outweigh any initial challenges.”
Another driver for Greenply’s selection of SUSE technologies was the SUSE Manager solution, which the company uses to manage the entire virtualized environment for its SAP ERP applications—some 60 instances. SUSE Manager simplifies provisioning and IT compliance, helps ensure server security, and provides extensive automation around the management of servers.
The combination of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications and VMware enabled Greenply to pack its large SAP landscape into a small physical footprint based on eight highly cost-efficient Cisco servers.
“Including the initial acquisition costs for all the hardware and software, the total cost of ownership is roughly the same as before— and we now enjoy real-time access to business insight thanks to SAP HANA,” says Dr. Bansal. “Looking to the future, our operating costs are now clearly lower because the SUSE technologies make it easy to manage our SAP landscape. For example, SUSE Manager makes it fast and easy to monitor and schedule patching across our 60 operating system instances. We have a single console and we can easily access the patching status of any machine—this saves a huge amount of time and effort for systems administrators.”
The adoption of SAP HANA in-memory database technology for the entire SAP landscape has produced significant benefits for Greenply. The company maintains between eight and ten years of business data in HANA, enabling business users not only to gain real-time visibility into the supply chain but also to run comparative reports on current versus past business performance.
“Reports that took an hour to run previously are typically now done in a few minutes with HANA,” says Dr. Bansal. “With real-time visibility of manufacturing and distribution, the business can work on optimizing our output to match the changing patterns of demand in the market, so that we can run in a more lean and agile way.”
SAP HANA also brings benefits on the technical side; full data backup now takes just 15 minutes versus up to ten hours for the old DB2 environment. A full restore takes only 20 minutes, which means that the company would be back up and running quickly in the event of a disaster.
With SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications, Greenply has a stable, secure platform that also offers low licensing and running costs. “Our SUSE operating system is easy to manage and gives us the freedom to choose the best-value hardware, rather than being tied in to a particular vendor as we were previously,” concludes Dr. Bansal. “We also have the cost benefits of not needing to license a separate high-availability solution.”