SA Power Networks is the major electricity distributor for the state of South Australia, which has become a world leader in transitioning to a net-100% renewable energy system.
The company is responsible for building, maintaining and upgrading the poles, wires and substations that power around 900,000 homes and businesses. SA Power Networks’ 2,000 employees also operate a 24-hour faults-and-emergencies hotline and maintain street lighting for local councils and government.
For many years, the electricity distribution business was fairly static. However, in recent years, the rapid uptake of new technologies, such as smart meters, rooftop solar generation, IoT smart appliances and home batteries, has transformed the landscape. In response, SA Power Networks is thinking proactively about its customers’ future needs and working on a transformational operating model.
As new technologies such as smart appliances, rooftop solar and home batteries, and electric cars become more common, SA Power Networks must adapt to changing patterns of electricity generation and consumption. To support this business transformation, the IT team aims to provide smarter and more flexible services on a consistent and reliable platform. With SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) for SAP Applications, SUSE Manager and SUSE Linux Enterprise (SLE) Live Patching, the company enjoys high availability for its mission-critical SAP applications, with significant reductions in effort and downtime associated with patching. The high manageability of the SUSE solutions frees up skilled technical staff from low-value support activities, making them available to support vital business innovation.
Introducing SA Power Networks
As SA Power Networks evolves in line with changing customer needs, its IT infrastructure team must also adapt to meet the changing needs of the business by offering smarter and more flexible services. This can only happen if the underlying infrastructure is both adaptable and highly reliable, enabling the team to focus less on low-value maintenance and more on high-value innovation.
SA Power Networks relies on SLES for SAP Applications to run the mission-critical SAP HANA databases that support its SAP ERP landscape — on which the entire business depends for most daily operations.
Pino Lascala, server technical engineer (Unix) at SA Power Networks, comments: “We used to run SAP applications and Oracle databases on Solaris, but when SAP decided to standardize on its SAP HANA database, we realized that it would make more sense to follow their lead and choose SLES for SAP Applications. In any case, we had already decided to standardize on SLES for most other Linux requirements, so that was an easy decision.”
“We’re completing four full patching cycles a year with very few issues thanks to the reliability of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server. Even though we’re constantly changing the environment, the SUSE technology works pretty much faultlessly.”
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Seamless cloud migration
SA Power Networks is migrating its SAP landscape to the Microsoft Azure cloud, where its SAP HANA databases will continue to run on SLES for SAP Applications (the application servers will run on Windows). Thanks to SUSE’s Bring Your Own Subscription (BYOS) model, SA Power Networks can buy and manage all its SLES servers in the same way — which also ensures consistency in patching.
“The BYOS model for SLES means that we look at Azure as just another data center,” Lascala says. “It also allows us to pull together licenses accumulated from OEM suppliers over the years and align everything under a single SUSE Premium Support contract, reducing the complexity of our supplier management processes and administration overheads.”
SA Power Networks uses SUSE Manager to centralize and standardize quarterly patching for its Linux servers. “SUSE Manager makes it easy to keep patches consistent across the whole SAP landscape, from sandboxes to dev to QA to production,” Lascala says. “It also gives us a single view of the entire landscape, whether on-premises or in the cloud, and allows us to patch in the same way — even for our Red Hat servers.”
Although SUSE Manager had significantly reduced the time and effort involved for the team, the patching process for critical OS kernel-level patches was still disruptive (due to the need to coordinate planned downtime with the SAP application owners and technical stakeholders). SA Power Networks deployed SLE Live Patching to reduce this effort by mitigating the need for planned outages.
“With Live Patching, we’ve halved the work required around applying patches to the Linux kernel. What’s more, much of that work was outside of normal hours and involved our managed services partner, so cost savings are even greater,” Lascala says.
SA Power Networks’ SUSE Premium Support Engineer is also based in Adelaide, ensuring a highly responsive and attentive level of service. Whenever a major change or upgrade is on the horizon, the team reviews its plans with the engineer, who checks with SUSE Level 3 experts to confirm they are adopting best-practice approaches.
“It’s great to get that reassurance that we’re on the right track, and Premium Support helped us, in particular, to refine how we use Live Patching,” Lascala says.
As SA Power Networks pushes ahead with its innovation program, the IT team is supporting the business by providing efficient, reliable, flexible and high-performance services.
“The availability of SLES is excellent, which means we focus less on low-value support activities and more on innovation. We’re completing four full patching cycles a year with very few issues, thanks to the reliability of SLES. Even though we’re constantly changing the environment, the SUSE technology works pretty much faultlessly, which is great news as we prepare to support unprecedented innovation in the business,” Lascala says.