Metro deploys a fully virtualized server landscape and a flexible storage environment for optimum SAP ERP application performance

Published on 30-Oct-2012

"Thanks to our IBM solution, we have achieved our aims of shrinking business risk, operational expenditure, and disaster recovery time. Looking to the future, we predict that our new-found ability to rapidly orchestrate and reallocate resources will offer us the business agility we need to continue driving business growth." - Michel Saindon, Team Leader Centralized Systems, Metro Inc.

Customer:
Metro

Industry:
Consumer Products

Deployment country:
Canada

Solution:
Business Integration, Business Resiliency, Enterprise Resource Planning, High Availability , BA - Risk Analytics, Smarter Computing, Transformational Account, Virtualization, Virtualization - Server, Virtualization - Storage

IBM Business Partner:
SAP

Overview

With more than 60 years’ experience in the food industry, Metro Inc. operates a network of more than 600 food stores and 250 pharmacies under a variety of brand names. The majority of stores are found in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Metro employs around 65,000 people.

Business need:
As Metro grew organically and through acquisitions, its total data processing workload was continuously increasing. Following a large corporate acquisition, Metro found that its existing IT landscape, running multiple, separate systems, had become too expensive to administer and maintain effectively.

Solution:
The Metro team developed a strategic plan to integrate, centralize and consolidate its information management and IT systems, and reduce complexity in its IT environment. To do so, Metro chose to eliminate non-standard servers and migrate the acquired companies’ systems to its IBM Power Systems environment.

Benefits:
Reduced business risk; increased IT department efficiency; reduced operational costs; increased business agility; improves future readiness.

Case Study

About this paper

This technical reference describes the fully virtualized IBM® Power Systems™ architecture that the Metro Inc. food store and pharmacy chain deployed to run its mission-critical SAP solutions. For high availability, security, cost efficiency and superior SAP application performance, Metro implemented a flexible and scalable solution based on the IBM i operating system running on IBM Power® 770 servers and with IBM System Storage® DS8300 systems.

Additionally, Metro runs Microsoft Windows Server instances on virtual servers provided by VMware software hosted on IBM System x® servers, connected to IBM XIV® Storage System devices. The company also deployed IBM Security Identity Manager to provide centralized user administration for all its systems, including the SAP software landscape.

Customer Objectives

  • Reduce business risk presented by a highly manual and complex disaster recovery solution
  • Enable greater business flexibility
  • Improve cost-effectiveness of IT systems
  • Cut operational costs and reduce administration and maintenance efforts
  • Reduce technical support requirements
  • Shorten the time required to implement new projects, and enable the company to react more quickly to changes in the business environment
  • Decrease the costs and risks involved in provisioning new environments
  • Maximize the utilization of storage across the enterprise to drive down operational costs
  • Eliminate the need to make numerous separate business cases for storage expansion.

IBM Solution

  • Introduced a simplified IT infrastructure based on two IBM® Power® 770 servers with IBM PowerVM®, IBM i and IBM AIX®
  • Implemented a centralized warehouse management system on an IBM System z10® Business Class server
  • Configured a comprehensive and largely automated switchover process between two datacenters
  • Created a centralized identity lifecycle management environment, allowing user passwords to be changed from one master identity with IBM Security Identity Manager
  • Virtualized both storage and servers and standardized replication tools across all IT systems with IBM Tivoli® Storage Manager
  • Eliminated delays in data synchronization
  • Applications: SAP for Retail solution portfolio, SAP ERP 6.0 EHP4, SAP ERP 6.0 for Human Capital Management, SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse, SAP NetWeaver Process Integration.

Customer Benefits

  • Reduced business risk by:
    • ensuring continuous system operation with synchronous mirroring of production systems
    • cutting failover time by more than 60 percent
    • decreasing disaster recovery time from tape by 35 percent
  • Increased IT department efficiency by:
    • reducing help desk calls and associated costs for password resets by 98 percent
    • cutting the time taken to create new user accounts from days to minutes
  • Reduced operational costs by:
    • enabling optimal usage of existing capacity with virtualization of servers and storage – lessening the need for additional capital expenditure on storage and servers
    • eliminating management of multiple storage devices
    • streamlining system administration and hardware maintenance workload with IBM PowerVM tools
  • Increased business agility by:
    • enabling rapid, cost-effective deployment of new services through virtualization
  • Improves future readiness by:
    • reducing backup times by 40 percent – ensuring that nightly backups will not overrun as SAP data grows over time
    • shrinking server footprint by 70 percent – enabling simple scalability of servers and storage
    • increasing total SAP application performance by 20 percent, allowing headroom for business growth.

Background, starting point and objectives

About Metro Inc.

With more than 60 years’ experience in the food industry, Metro Inc. operates a network of more than 600 food stores and 250 pharmacies under a variety of brand names. The majority of stores are found in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Metro employs around 65,000 people.

Initial IT environment

Metro first implemented SAP applications on IBM Power Systems™ servers running the IBM i operating system. At the time of this first implementation, the company evaluated different solution architectures, and IBM Power Systems running the IBM i operating system offered all the flexibility and scalability Metro needed to operate its business applications reliably.

The company’s SAP software landscape was originally hosted on servers with dedicated, internal disks; data for other applications was stored in a variety of different systems. Each server type required a different data replication technology, which demanded significant technical support.

In the event of a disaster recovery scenario, the complexity of failing over these heterogeneous systems presented a business risk. With data held across multiple systems and devices, it was also difficult to predict either individual or total storage growth, and a separate business case was required to justify the storage demand for each server.

Business challenges and project objectives

As Metro grew organically and through acquisitions, its total data processing workload was continuously increasing. Following a large corporate acquisition, Metro found that its existing IT landscape, running multiple, separate systems, had become too expensive to administer and maintain effectively.

The lack of information integration meant that executives found it difficult to manage the company as a single unified organization, and Metro was missing the benefits of economy of scale. For example, the diversity of systems meant that Metro faced numerous practical challenges in managing user roles, identities and access rights across the company’s business units and new acquisitions. It could take several weeks for new employees to gain access to SAP systems as line of business managers coordinated requests with human resources, IT and service desk personnel via phone and email. Updating or revoking access rights when employees changed jobs or left the company was time-consuming and error-prone.

With its business growing, the amount of data that the company needed to protect with its backup runs and disaster recovery software was also steadily rising. The company’s legacy disaster recovery system relied heavily on complex, manual processes, which were time-consuming to execute and vulnerable to human error.

Metro wanted to drive business growth by increasing its business flexibility, optimizing its IT spending and ensuring business continuity. To achieve these objectives, the company needed to find a way to expedite the provisioning of new environments, maximize storage and server utilization, and restore its production systems quickly in the event of a disaster recovery scenario.

Technical solution

The Metro team developed a strategic plan to integrate, centralize and consolidate its information management and IT systems, and reduce complexity in its IT environment. To do so, Metro chose to eliminate non-standard servers and migrate the acquired companies’ systems to its IBM Power Systems environment.

A key element of the process was to introduce a high degree of virtualization into the company’s IT infrastructure. This would enable Metro to improve its ability to provision new systems by exploiting total capacity more effectively, without the complexity and delays associated with implementing additional physical servers. Metro also sought to increase the level of systems management automation, enabling faster reaction to changes in the business environment and supporting rapid set up of new systems.

To enable reliable testing and development, and reduce the risk of failures when commissioning new services for production, Metro wanted to be able to use full copies of real production data for test systems. This required a storage environment flexible enough to move large quantities of data to and from different partitions.

Most importantly, Metro wanted to be able to manage and move test data without impacting the performance of production systems and without the need for intervention by technical staff.

Because Metro planned to consolidate all of its business management to SAP applications running on Power Systems servers, the team focused on operational resilience and disaster recovery. The team set specific failover time goals. As most of Metro’s key applications were already running on IBM Power Systems servers running the IBM i operating system, the Metro team took advantage of the company’s in-depth knowledge to consolidate resilience and recovery efforts on the IBM platform.

Server architecture

Metro deployed two IBM Power 770 servers, placing one at each of its data centers, located approximately 10 km apart. One server runs production, development and test systems, configured with 39 active POWER7® processor cores and 1 TB of main memory. The second server has 31 active POWER7 processor cores and 640 GB main memory.

Metro uses IBM PowerVM to divide its IBM i and IBM AIX environments into multiple virtual servers, or logical partitions (LPARs). On the two Power 770 servers, Metro operates six IBM i and four IBM AIX production partitions, which can run on either of its two sites, and an additional six partitions for development and testing at one location.

Most partitions are configured ‘uncapped’, which allows Metro to use its computing capacity as efficiently as possible when workloads change. Uncapped partitions can grow up to double their initial capacity as demand changes, and scale back if workload drops. For example, backup and other batch runs that complete during the night can use as much available capacity as required, and then release the processors and memory for normal daytime applications, offering optimized performance without manual intervention.

Metro operates its three major SAP production environments in two logical partitions. SAP ERP and SAP ERP HCM share one IBM i partition, and SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse is set up in a separate logical partition. SAP Solution Manager runs in a third IBM i partition.

IBM i operating system subsystems technology enables multiple SAP systems to be accommodated within a single partition, while also keeping the SAP systems independent of each other. This advantage is often exploited to enable development and testing systems, as well as production SAP systems, to run independently while keeping the solution landscape simple and easy to manage.

On one of the two Power 770 servers, an additional IBM i partition hosts 16 testing and development instances of SAP ERP. “This is unique on IBM i,” explains Michel Saindon, Team Leader of Centralized Systems at Metro Inc. “Running 16 different SAP instances in one partition with one database instance is no problem on IBM i, but you would struggle to do this with most other systems. The virtualization capabilities of IBM i allow us to run our comprehensive SAP environment more efficiently.”

One partition, using six POWER7 cores, runs IBM Tivoli Storage Manager, IBM Security Identity Manager and custom applications on IBM AIX. To boost availability, Metro set up an IBM AIX cluster using IBM PowerHA®. This ensures reliable operation even in the event of a failure. Metro uses IBM Tivoli Storage Manager on AIX to back up all its Windows servers running VMware.

Virtualizing connectivity with VIOS

Two partitions on each server are reserved for IBM Virtual I/O Server (VIOS), which provides advanced I/O virtualization for all partitions running on each physical server. The two partitions share a single processor core. VIOS enables dynamic sharing of physical resources such as networking and storage interfaces between different logical partitions. Metro chose to implement VIOS to increase the flexibility of its server landscape and to optimize the use of the available physical connections. With VIOS, all the LPARs are able to access additional network and storage connections, improving overall system performance.

“Virtualizing network access with IBM Virtual I/O Server was our first step to a virtualized environment,” says Michel Saindon. “We are currently virtualizing the access to storage resources, which will enable us to exploit the full capacity of the installed I/O devices as efficiently as possible.” Virtualization will also make it much easier and quicker for Metro to build new environments.

Following the upgrade to POWER7 processors, Metro also installed new Fibre Channel adapters, significantly improving I/O performance between the servers and the storage systems. Metro connected the LPARs to the IBM System Storage DS8300 devices via switched fabric Fibre Channel storage infrastructure using the N_Port ID Virtualization (NPIV) feature within VIOS, a standardized method for virtualizing a physical Fibre Channel port.

NPIV coupled with VIOS adapter sharing capabilities allows a single physical Fibre Channel host bus adapter to be shared across multiple guest operating systems (LPARs). On the LPARs running the IBM i operating system, Metro uses dual path and independent auxiliary storage pools (IASPs), a collection of disk units used to set up user databases. The resilience features of IASPs form the basis of the company’s high availability solution for the IBM i partitions. The IASPs, combined with the use of VIOS, significantly decreases the number of adapters required for storage – especially for the smaller partitions.

Storage architecture

Metro was an early adopter of an external IBM storage solution for its SAP systems running on IBM i. Since the initial storage consolidation project, where internal disks were replaced with external IBM disk storage systems, subsequent extensions and optimizations have been performed.

Metro operates two IBM System Storage DS8300 solutions, one at each data center location. Both IBM System Storage DS8300 devices are extended with four expansion modules to increase the total storage capacity to approximately 1 PB each. Metro selected IBM System Storage DS8300 because it needed fast, flexible and reliable storage systems with scalable performance. These storage systems provide extraordinary system availability with full hardware redundancy, built on the market-proven IBM Power Systems architecture that also powers Metro’s SAP landscape.

Thanks to the upgrade of its IBM Power Systems servers with faster Fibre Channel interfaces, Metro can fully exploit the highest level of performance offered by the IBM System Storage DS8300. The IBM storage solution features a highly efficient cache, which contributes to the exceptional I/O performance.

The algorithms in the IBM System Storage DS8300 are designed to intelligently and dynamically adapt system caching to the specific needs of the current workload. This ensures an unimpeded flow of information for outstanding throughput.

To protect its vital business data and for improved business continuity, Metro implemented IBM Metro Mirror to synchronize the data between the two data centers and avoid data loss. To clone systems and set up test and development environments, Metro makes extensive use of the integrated IBM FlashCopy® feature. This enables the company to create point-in-time copies or “flashes” quickly and efficiently without affecting production applications.

Currently, Metro is using “warm” flashes for backup, as these allow production servers to operate without any production downtime and subsequent interruption to users. This enables a point-in-time data copy to be made available to the backup servers and then saved to LTO tape nightly. Metro also intends to use the query function available in V6R1 of IBM i to move data from memory to disk prior to the flash, which will ensure a cleaner flash copy requiring less clean up.

For the IBM AIX and VMware environments, Metro implemented the fast, scalable and tierless IBM XIV Storage System. The team implemented two full-rack systems with 15 modules, offering a total capacity of 79 TB each.

IBM XIV is a virtualized storage system, designed and optimized for virtualized server environments and cloud infrastructures. This storage architecture is built on massive parallelism and evenly distributed data to provide consistently high storage performance. This new approach to storage incorporates automated load-balancing and enables Metro to provide its Windows systems running on VMware and its IBM AIX systems running on IBM PowerVM with high performance storage without the need for manual tuning to support diverse workloads.

Metro also benefits from administration-free consolidation and scalability offered by the IBM XIV systems. The smart simplicity and automation of the IBM XIV architecture reinvent storage management and result in exceptional ease of use of the storage solution. For high availability and resiliency, the IBM XIV storage systems are mirrored synchronously with IBM Metro Mirror technology.

Backup and archiving architecture

Tape systems are still the solution of choice and the most cost-effective way of securely storing long-term archives for record keeping and disaster recovery. Metro is considering upgrading its tape systems to leverage the advantages of virtualization for its backup solution managed with IBM Tivoli Storage Manager. As a first step, Metro has replaced its old tape drives with IBM System Storage TS1120 tape drives with Fibre Channel support, leading to large performance improvements in its backup processes, and data securely written to IBM 3592 Tape Cartridges.

To implement the new backup infrastructure and migrate to the new solution, Metro is working closely with IBM Systems Lab Services at its facility in Rochester, Minnesota.

With virtualization through VIOS, Metro will enhance the performance of its tape libraries further and make more efficient use of its tape drives to provide the capacity needed for its extensive tape processing requirements. This next step towards complete virtualization enables Metro to increase automation and reduce the complexity of the backup solution for its IBM Power Systems servers, but also for its IBM System z solution and the VMware environment.

Metro has implemented a sophisticated data archiving solution based on the SAP standard tool for archiving. The company used the solution to remove data that was not being used in daily operations and stored it on cost-efficient disk systems. By pruning its SAP databases, Metro significantly reduced its storage and monthly backup requirements. The company’s SAP archive now comprises approximately 1 TB of compressed data.

Implementing high availability

In the past, it was a complex task to switch from one physical server to the other using a third-party replication product. The product required significant technical support and synchronization errors and issues regularly arose. Further, different data replication solutions were in place to suit the different operating systems, leading to a complex environment that was difficult to manage.

To ensure business continuity and avoid data loss, the company implemented IBM Copy Services Tool kit (ACS) in combination with the IBM Metro Mirror storage system feature on the IBM System Storage DS8300 and IBM XIV systems. The PowerHA SystemMirror and MetroMirror combination provides a unified environment controlling data replication for IBM i and IBM z10 BC, as well as its Power Systems and System x environments.

The new virtualized server and storage infrastructure has enabled Metro to switch over production from one data center site to the other every week. This process validates the switchover capability on a regular basis, for added business resiliency. Staff members are trained to use the IBM System Storage hardware and the single data replication technology that covers all systems. This approach saves time in training and also minimizes the risk of failure during failover.

“Now we can switch over our complete IBM i environment with all the SAP production systems and IBM middleware solutions in approximately 45 minutes, without the need for technical staff,” says Michel Saindon. “The process was longer at the beginning, but with the concept of switching production workloads every week from one box to the other, we built up a routine and have accelerated the process substantially.”

Switchover is now a routine task, which makes disaster recovery faster and more reliable in the case of failure. This approach to systems operation has significantly reduced the risk of failure in disaster recovery. In addition, planned outages have been substantially reduced and maintenance can be done during the day.

Taking advantage of IBM Security Identity Manager

IBM Security Identity Manager is used to provide automated and centralized identity lifecycle management for some 4,000 SAP users at Metro. The IT team currently manages around 25 SAP instances, which comprise nearly 40 SAP clients, and the team frequently adds new SAP instances.

IBM Security Identity Manager helps Metro to efficiently and easily manage the growing numbers of access profiles and roles associated with each SAP client, enabling the company to grow its SAP landscape without increasing the number of staff required for user administration.

Metro also uses IBM Security Identity Manager to synchronize user login details across all company systems. This includes the company’s entire SAP environment, as well as all other systems, applications and databases.

With just one set of login information to memorize (which can be suitably secure), it is less likely that users will forget their password, thus reducing helpdesk calls. This capability is especially useful for users in the IT team who access multiple server systems directly, many of which enforce regular password changes: now, administrators and all other users can simply modify their main Windows user password, and the change is automatically synchronized with the other systems.

Benefits of integrated SAP software

Metro relies heavily on SAP software to drive its business operations, and provides its SAP applications to 3,700 users, approximately 640 of whom work concurrently. Metro uses SAP ERP applications throughout the entire company, including Finance (FI), Controlling (CO), Sales and Distribution (SD), Plant Maintenance (PM) and SAP ERP Human Capital Management (SAP ERP HCM).

Metro also uses the SAP for Retail solution portfolio and SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse to handle all of its business reporting requirements. Improving its service-oriented architecture, Metro implemented SAP NetWeaver Process Integration technology to integrate other applications with its SAP software.

All of Metro’s SAP systems use IBM DB2 for i, the database management system built into the IBM i operating system – ensuring reliability, high performance and excellent data security. IBM DB2 for i also utilizes the automatic performance optimization features of IBM i, which can dynamically maximize system performance depending on individual workloads. Metro’s main SAP ERP production system database contains 6.5 TB of data. For advanced analysis and reporting, the company’s SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse solution is powered by an IBM DB2 database of 8 TB.

IBM DB2 for i provides advanced self-management and self-tuning capabilities that optimize the performance of SAP landscapes. IBM DB2 for i uses automatic journaling for indexes to minimize recovery times in case of failure or disaster, performs automatic database reorganization tasks, and even creates new indexes automatically to improve response times of frequently executed queries. Furthermore, IBM DB2 for i includes a sophisticated query optimizer that analyses queries and calculates optimized access patterns to improve database performance.

Michel Saindon notes, “IBM DB2 for i with optimized SQL processing delivers a 20 percent improvement on our already high levels of performance. Not only is the solution fast and widely self-managing, it is also highly cost-effective in terms of licensing”

Metro employs a part time database administrator to fine-tune performance. The administrator has taken advantage of valuable IBM DB2 for i SQL Performance Workshops (http://ibm.com/systems/i/software/db2/db2performance.html) and reviews the requirements for changes to the indexes (additions and removals). By using indexes, Metro has improved performance and significantly decreased the I/O system workload, ensuring that users experience the best possible system response.

Next steps

Metro is very interested in the newly announced Live Partition Mobility feature for IBM i available on IBM i V7R1 TR4 and IBM POWER7 servers. This could enable the IT team to rapidly migrate entire running AIX partitions from one server to another without disrupting services and loads, further improving Metro’s ability to reduce planned downtime during server maintenance and to perform more efficient workload balancing. Metro will also be completing the move to VIOS for storage access and are planning a migration to NPIV for tape storage.

Metro is constantly reviewing its IT operations. To take advantage of the latest IBM i features, the company plans to upgrade its IBM i operating systems and further optimize its operational efficiency. With a fully virtualized IT landscape, Metro is able to add processing, memory and storage capacity precisely as needed, to meet business needs, minimize risk and maximize efficiency.

Performance improvements

The IBM System Storage solution provides excellent performance, meeting all the different requirements of Metro’s heterogeneous server infrastructure with IBM Power Systems, IBM System z and IBM System x servers.

The storage solution substantially reduces the time taken to set up test and quality management systems in Metro’s SAP environment, integrated with space efficient FlashCopy functionality enabling high-speed system copies.

The move to 8 GB Fibre Channel cards and away from the IOP-based cards has improved disk response times by 20 percent – accelerating user response times and batch runtimes. Metro observed another important performance improvement in its backup and disaster recovery solution.

For certain upgrade projects and to clone systems, the company relies on the solution’s disaster recovery features. In the past, restoring a system took up to five days. With the new solution Metro can restore all systems completely in two days and restore from tape backups up to 60 percent faster.

Metro noticed that with databases continuously growing in size and a rising number of SAP systems, backup processes would potentially overrun the defined time slots. By implementing the new server, storage and backup solutions, backup processes were accelerated by 40 percent. Now Metro can safely back up all of its SAP systems within the backup windows.

By revisiting its archiving procedures Metro was able to substantially reduce the number of tapes needed for backups. This not only improved the handling of the tapes but also provides Metro with considerable space savings for the monthly backups in its tape libraries. Using the standard SAP archiving tool, Metro analyzed and processed its databases and found that one table with approximately two billion records could be reduced in size by 99 percent.

Project achievements

The combination of IBM Power Systems, IBM i, external IBM System Storage and SAP software has enabled Metro to develop a highly scalable IT architecture, supporting business growth and offering an enterprise-wide solution to the company’s availability requirements. The move to a virtualized environment has allowed Metro to significantly reduce the number of network adapters, which has shrunk its server footprint, delivering savings on hardware maintenance costs and power consumption.

More importantly, Metro’s infrastructure enables new partitions to be deployed rapidly without the requirement of additional hardware. Metro is also very well-positioned to take advantage of new features such as partition mobility for IBM i, which is based on a fully virtualized environment.

With the centralized storage solution in place, Metro can predict data growth much more accurately to ensure that the right amount of storage capacity is always available to meet the demands of the business. By increasing the flexibility of its storage environment, Metro can assign storage capacity to any server rapidly and easily. Virtualized storage has dramatically accelerated provisioning of storage space to new systems, saving time and money.

IBM Security Identity Manager provides consistent security across the company, while simultaneously simplifying user administration through a single interface. Streamlined user access management has helped to reduce the burden on helpdesk staff. Previously, helpdesk staff would typically receive 20 requests to change passwords each day. Now, the helpdesk receives just two or three of these requests per week, a reduction of 98 percent.

IT staff have also seen a sharp decrease in the amount of time devoted to user access administration.

“For most of our systems, user passwords are reset every five weeks for security reasons.” explains Michel Saindon. “In the past, it would take more than an hour to change all the user passwords. When you add it up, we were spending around ten hours a year changing passwords. Now, it only takes a couple of minutes: individual users simply change their Windows login and IBM Security Identity Manager synchronizes the new password across the connected systems. This frees up IT staff to focus on more productive work.”

Michel Saindon concludes: “Thanks to our IBM solution, we have achieved our aims of shrinking business risk, operational expenditure, and our disaster recovery time. Looking to the future, we predict that our newfound ability to rapidly orchestrate and reallocate resources will offer us the agility we need to continue driving business growth.”

Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

Hardware:
Power 770, Power Systems, System z, System z: System z10 Business Class (z10 BC)

Software:
Tivoli Storage Manager, AIX, IBM i, PowerVM, IBM Security Identity Manager

Operating system:
IBM i

Service:
IBM-SAP Alliance

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