Al Mansour Holding Company optimizes supply chain with highly available SAP solutions on IBM i

Published on 24-Sep-2013

"With IBM as a partner we have developed a strong strategic vision for our company and our IT solutions. SAP ERP applications have enabled us to improve and accelerate business processes, helping to boost service levels and increase customer satisfaction by 80 percent." - Amr Aboul-Ezz, General Manager of Information Technology, Al Mansour Holding Company

Customer:
Al Mansour Holding Company

Industry:
Consumer Products

Deployment country:
Egypt

Solution:
Enabling Business Flexibility, Enterprise Resource Planning, High Availability , Information Management Foundation, Supply Chain Management, Virtualization, Virtualization - Server

IBM Business Partner:
SAP

Overview

Al Mansour Holding Company (Al Mansour) was founded in 1992 in response to rising demand among Egyptian consumers for high-quality packaged consumer goods. Part of the Mansour Group, Al Mansour manages diverse operations in manufacturing, distribution and retail, acting as the sole distributor of Philip Morris tobacco products and distributing its own brand foodstuffs to thousands of outlets nationwide.

Business need:
Al Mansour lacked a comprehensive, integrated information system, operating a small number of disparate applications that only covered part of the company’s extensive supply-chain operations. This fragmented application landscape ran on Oracle SUN servers, featuring the Oracle Solaris operating system and supported by Oracle database software.

Solution:
To protect the centralized systems and data, the company chose a high-availability configuration based on IBM® Power Systems™, running the IBM i operating system with integrated IBM DB2®, IBM PowerVM® and IBM PowerHA® SystemMirror® for i, in combination with the IBM XIV® Storage System.

Benefits:
Reduces human resources and effort needed for system administration by up to 50 percent. Improved information availability enables the company to better align production to demand, minimizing waste and boosting productivity Accelerates business processes by up to 80 percent, helping the company to get vital information to the business much faster and ensure that production schedules and targets are met Improves service levels and increases customer satisfaction by 80 percent

Case Study

Background, starting point and objectives

About Al Mansour Holding Company
Al Mansour Holding Company (Al Mansour) was founded in 1992 in response to rising demand among Egyptian consumers for high-quality packaged consumer goods. Part of the Mansour Group, Al Mansour manages diverse operations in manufacturing, distribution and retail, acting as the sole distributor of Philip Morris tobacco products and distributing its own brand foodstuffs to thousands of outlets nationwide.

Initial IT environment
Al Mansour lacked a comprehensive, integrated information system, operating a small number of disparate applications that only covered part of the company’s extensive supply-chain operations. This fragmented application landscape ran on Oracle SUN servers, featuring the Oracle Solaris operating system and supported by Oracle database software.

Without integrated workflows and with no automated exchange of data between applications and processes, the company suffered from poor visibility into operations. Business processes could not be monitored efficiently, leading to delays and slow cycle times in all departments and business areas. The lack of information integration made it increasingly difficult for Al Mansour to get the right information to decision-makers on time, so that they could plan activities accordingly.

Business challenges and project objectives
As business transaction volumes increased and data volumes grew, the company wanted to gain faster, more reliable insight into all areas of the business. With better integration of processes, Al Mansour would be able to speed up workflows and improve productivity.

The objective was to determine the best production schedules, manage supply-chain processes more efficiently, and identify areas where overheads could be reduced.

As Al Mansour looked to expand its share of the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) market, the commercial pressure to run its production and distribution systems as efficiently as possible increased dramatically. To do so, the company needed to match production as closely as possible to current and predicted sales, in order to maximize sales and minimize waste.

Amr Aboul-Ezz, General Manager of Information Technology at Al Mansour Holding Company, explains, “Our goals are to increase revenue and market share. In ten years, we want to be the market leader in dairy products and bottled water in Egypt. Achieving these goals required a level of agility that we simply could not reach with our existing systems. We need to respond extremely quickly to changes in market trends and consumer behavior, which places very strong demands for performance and availability on our business applications. If we could not extract, analyze and understand current buying patterns rapidly, we risked missing out on valuable opportunities for growth.”

Al Mansour recognized that a large-scale transformation effort was required. The company sought to sharpen insight into its operations and improve supply-chain efficiency. With timely access to key performance indicators and operational data, the company would be able to improve decision-making and provide executive management with all information needed to lead the group efficiently and reach its strategic growth targets.

Technical solution
The company decided to standardize on an integrated suite of SAP ERP applications, including financials and controlling, production planning, quality management and sales and distribution. To optimize complex supply-chain processes, the company deployed the SAP Supply Chain Management (SAP SCM) application, featuring SAP liveCache technology to accelerate application response times and enable the company to react quickly to changes in supply and demand.

To provide a central repository for the data generated by the SAP applications, Al Mansour implemented SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse. By consolidating business data from the SAP ERP and SAP SCM applications into the data warehouse, the company gains the ability to generate a complete overview of its operations, with comprehensive reports produced for decision-makers, helping to drive new insights across the business.

Amr Aboul-Ezz says, “SAP applications provide us with a tightly-integrated stream of information and workflows – everything is now linked, from planning to manufacturing, shipments and receiving to sales and accounting.

“As a result, we can access information on all aspects of our operations in near-real-time, improving process visibility and business agility. This helps us react much faster to changing conditions and gain a better understanding of how the business is performing, so we can plan our operations more effectively and grow the business in a more controlled way.”

Server architecture
A total of approximately 300 users rely on the SAP applications, with an average of 200 people using the SAP applications concurrently. Data generated by the new SAP applications is growing fast – current database volumes stand at 180 GB and are projected to rise to 2 TB within three years. To meet the need for rapid information delivery – available 24/7 – to support its growing SAP application and data workloads, the company decided to implement an entirely new IT infrastructure.

Al Mansour deployed a cloud-ready infrastructure based on two IBM Power® 740 servers with 16 POWER7® processors and 256 GB of memory each. The Power Systems™ servers run the IBM i operating system with its integrated IBM DB2® database management software.

Ahmed Taher, Deputy Technical Support Manager for Information Technology at Al Mansour says, “We evaluated different solutions and decided that the best fit for us was a cloud-ready environment based on IBM i. This platform offers great reliability and high data security with little administration effort.”

Al Mansour selected IBM i because its unique, integrated system architecture allows the company to manage its SAP applications very efficiently. The integrated IBM DB2 for i database provides outstanding performance with little system administration workload, and the company operates the highly automated and optimized system reliably without a dedicated database administrator.

Shehab El-Din Ahmed Abdel-tawab, SAP Basis Administrator at Al Mansour Holding Company, explains, “The combination of IBM i and the IBM Power Systems architecture enables us to deliver excellent SAP application performance without the need for extensive tuning. We have been able to accelerate response times by around 80 percent on average, which allows us to get vital information to the business much faster and ensure that we meet our delivery targets.”

Introducing virtualization to Al Mansour
The dynamic nature of foods and FMCG businesses means that the data processing workload varies considerably, for example at peak seasons and even on specific days. In the past, each physical server hosting an application was configured to enable it to cope with the peak throughput, which meant that in general the servers were expensively under-utilized.

To increase server utilization and efficiency, Al Mansour implemented a fully virtualized environment using IBM PowerVM® Enterprise Edition virtualization technology, which enables each IBM Power 740 Express server to host multiple independent logical partitions (LPARs). The company has configured 13 LPARs on each IBM Power Systems server, enabling it to run 26 IBM i systems on just two physical servers.

To support more efficient use of available computing, memory, networking and storage capacities, Al Mansour takes advantage of the IBM Virtual I/O Server (VIOS). By sharing physical resources among LPARs in each server, the solution gives systems administrators the flexibility to manage fluctuating demand and dynamically allocate resources where they are most needed.

The sophisticated virtualization stack of IBM PowerVM and IBM VIOS makes operating dynamic cloud infrastructures for SAP systems easy. When requirements change due to data growth or implementation of new features, the systems can easily be scaled up or down to make sure existing computing capacity is used as efficiently as possible.

High availability on Power Systems servers running IBM i
With strict production and delivery deadlines, guaranteeing round-the-clock availability for business systems is another top priority for Al Mansour. Even short periods of downtime can have a huge knock-on effect, leading to costly overruns or missed deadlines.

The company chose a high-availability solution based on IBM PowerHA® SystemMirror® for i, operating the two Power Systems servers in a mirrored configuration. Synchronous mirroring replicates data and applications across LPARs on the two servers, enabling the company to continue operating if an LPAR or even an entire data center fails.

Al Mansour uses the independent auxiliary storage pool (IASP) feature available for the IBM i operating system. An IASP is one of the basic concepts that decouple data and configuration from a specific IBM i system, which allows the storage pool to be detached from one system and re-attached to another dynamically and without system downtime.

Another building block for high availability on IBM i is the grouping of applications and configurations in cluster resource groups (CRGs). A CRG is a specification of a data or application resource that is used to ensure the availability of the resources within a cluster. A cluster is comprised of a set of hosts or LPARS referred to as nodes by IBM PowerHA. In a clustered configuration, at least one node can fail without the SAP application going down.

In the cluster configuration at Al Mansour four CRGs across two nodes are used for each SAP application. The CRGs ensure that only one instance of the SAP application and its dependent resources are active at any point in time.

As each CRG resource can be switched between nodes, the IT team can move the entire SAP application to a particular node to free up another; allowing Al Mansour to complete system maintenance with no downtime.

There are different kinds of CRGs for different tasks. A device CRG controls disk resources hosting a database or file-system. For example, a device CRG is responsible for switching a disk pool (IASP) over to the backup node when the primary node fails. In practical terms, a device CRG automates the switchover of data to minimize the time the SAP application is suspended in the event of failure.

In addition, there are application CRGs designed to support application resiliency. An application CRG can be more complex than a device CRG, as it includes the capability to monitor an application and restart that application on a backup system when required.

SAP applications on IBM i high availability architecture
Following best practices from SAP and IBM, the Al Mansour team chose to configure one IBM PowerHA SystemMirror for i cluster for each of its SAP production systems: SAP ERP, SAP NetWeaver BW, and SAP SCM. Within each cluster, the company set up four CRGs; each CRG eliminating a single point of failure as shown in Figure 2.

Clustered configurations of this kind help to minimize downtime during disaster recovery procedures and enable continuous operations of mission-critical systems. A clustered SAP system increases availability, because most maintenance tasks can be performed without service downtime for users. For example, if the primary node’s operating system, database, or firmware needs to be patched or upgraded, workloads can be moved to the secondary cluster node without any interruption to production. In this way, SAP applications can stay online during planned or unplanned outages.

The first (application) CRG ensures high availability of the crucial SAP Central Services (SCS) component. SAP Central Services within a CRG include a message server and an enqueue server running on the primary node and a separate enqueue replication server (ERS) running on a secondary node.

The enqueue server maintains global SAP application locks. An enqueue lock is designed to avoid data inconsistency by ensuring that parallel transactions are executed sequentially without corrupting the transactions. The enqueue replication server maintains an in-memory copy of these application locks on the secondary node.

The second (application) CRG for the SAP primary application server, although optional, ensures that there is a consistent picture of SAP instances after a switchover. The existence of a primary application server is still required for some SAP logistic procedures such as install and upgrade.

The third (device) CRG stores database objects in a mirrored IASP. The final (device) CRG holds the global file system for the SAP system in a mirrored IASP. This IASP is configured as a user-defined file system (UDFS) to reduce overhead and minimize switchover times.

All four single points of failure are set up as switchable resources and are managed by IBM PowerHA SystemMirror for i.

IBM PowerHA is tightly coupled to SAP by way of an SAP-PowerHA exit program that was designed and developed by the joint IBM and SAP development team and is shipped as part of the SAP kernel. The SAP-PowerHA exit program manages SAP-related CRGs and monitors health of SAP instances such as the Central Services and enqueue replication server.

Switching applications between systems requires a network address abstraction layer to ensure that connections from clients arrive at the primary node even when a resource or application is switched to a different machine.

To support application switching, a virtual IP address called ‘takeover IP address’ must be defined for each CRG. Using this virtual IP address, a client or application can connect to a resource with a single address, regardless of which system the resource is running on at the time. Requests are automatically routed to the system that is currently online, which maximizes business continuity and prevents application downtime.

Shehab El-Din Ahmed Abdel-tawab says, “By following these best practices developed by SAP and IBM for high availability solutions, we can eliminate single points of failure and maximize uptime for mission-critical SAP applications. By spreading out the different components into different cluster groups with centralized management, we achieve the resiliency we need to provide excellent service levels.”

Storage and disaster recovery architecture
Recognizing that the SAP applications would substantially increase the amount of data that it captured and stored, Al Mansour looked for an effective way to manage growing quantities of information.

Without fast access to enterprise data, the company would be unable to gain adequate insight into operations and provide decision-makers with the information they need to run the business as profitably and productively as possible.

To meet the requirement for powerful, scalable storage, the company chose an IBM XIV® Storage System, based on its high-performance data mirroring capability and a simple management console. The IBM XIV solution is ideally suited for use in the company’s cloud-ready environment. The grid design of the IBM XIV Storage System ensures hotspot-free high performance and easy scalability.

Ahmed Taher explains, “IBM XIV is an easy-to-use storage system that provides simple scalability without compromising performance. The unique combination of cost-efficient disk storage, high service levels with outstanding performance and advanced reliability made IBM XIV our storage system of choice.”

For improved data protection, Al Mansour operates a sophisticated backup and recovery solution based on IBM Backup, Recovery and Media Services (BRMS) for i. BRMS creates journal backups every three hours and full backups once a day. The backups are stored on LTO5 tapes managed by an IBM System Storage® TS3200 Tape Library.

Shehab El-Din Ahmed Abdel-tawab says, “We implemented the IBM System Storage TS3200 Tape Library because this was simply the best and most reliable solution to protect our business-critical data.”

Project achievements
With IBM Power Systems servers forming a solid backbone for integrated SAP applications, Al Mansour is well-placed to maintain its edge in a highly-competitive market, maximizing production efficiency and output while minimizing system downtime.

The IBM i operating system and its integrated IBM DB2 software provide a robust basis for a high-availability environment that is simple to manage and does not require extensive system administration resources.

IBM DB2 for i provides high performance with minimum administration workload. The reduced administration workload has increased employee productivity and frees up staff to work on more productive tasks.

Ahmed Taher states, “If we were to operate the solution with a different database platform, we would need at least two additional staff to handle the workload, and with IBM DB2 for i we save at least 50 percent on administration resources and effort.

“Our successful SAP ERP implementation was made possible with strong support from our two partners – SAP and IBM. The collaboration between Al Mansour, SAP and IBM was key to this project.”

Performance improvements
Al Mansour has optimized and automated a wide range of workflows, helping reduce error rates and improve overall output quality. In the past, errors were not spotted early or at all in some cases. With SAP ERP information is immediately available online, making even the smallest mistakes obvious and helping to drive continuous improvement.

Moving to an integrated solution with real-time information updates has improved data availability and accelerated tasks across the entire group. For example, in the past it took two or three days to update group-wide sales figures. Now the company anticipates that it will be able to access updated sales figures in near-real-time, enabling more-accurate sales planning. With correct, timely information at decision-makers’ fingertips, the company can better align production to demand, boosting efficiency and minimizing waste.

Amr Aboul-Ezz explains, “Implementing SAP ERP on IBM Power Systems has transformed the way we work at Al Mansour, and provides us with a solid platform for driving better business performance. The combination of deep insight, strong performance and high availability means that we can optimize production efficiency and get products out to customers on time, every time.”

Next steps
To further improve business continuity, Al Mansour is planning to move its backup systems to a separate disaster recovery data center. This step will add another layer of security and increase the reliability of the company’s business systems.

Amr Aboul-Ezz concludes, “With IBM as a partner we have developed a strong strategic vision for our company and our IT solutions. SAP ERP applications have enabled us to improve and accelerate business processes, helping to boost service levels and increase customer satisfaction by 80 percent. We are confident that with the new IBM and SAP solution, we will achieve our business objectives and increase revenue and market share in the coming years.”

Products and services used

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

Hardware:
Power 740 Express, Storage, Storage: TS3200 Tape Library, Storage: XIV

Software:
PowerHA, PowerVM, DB2 for i5/OS, PowerHA SystemMirror for IBM i

Operating system:
IBM i

Service:
IBM-SAP Alliance

Legal Information

©Copyright IBM Corporation 2013. IBM World Trade Corporation, Egypt Branch. Pyramids Heights Office Park, Building C10. Cairo- Alexandria Desert Road, KM 22. Giza- Egypt. Produced in Egypt. IBM, the IBM logo, ibm.com, DB2, Power, Power Systems, POWER7, PowerHA, PowerVM, System Storage, SystemMirror and XIV are trademarks of International Business Machines Corp., registered in many jurisdictions worldwide. Other product and service names might be trademarks of IBM or other companies. A current list of IBM trademarks is available on the web at “Copyright and trademark information” at ibm.com/legal/copytrade.shtml. Linear Tape-Open, LTO, the LTO Logo, Ultrium, and the Ultrium logo are trademarks of HP, IBM Corp. and Quantum in the U.S. and other countries. This document is current as of the initial date of publication and may be changed by IBM at any time. Not all offerings are available in every country in which IBM operates. The client examples cited are presented for illustrative purposes only. Actual performance results may vary depending on specific configurations and operating conditions. It is the user’s responsibility to evaluate and verify the operation of any other products or programs with IBM products and programs. THE INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT IS PROVIDED “AS IS” WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT ANY WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND ANY WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF NON-INFRINGEMENT. IBM products are warranted according to the terms and conditions of the agreements under which they are provided. Actual available storage capacity may be reported for both uncompressed and compressed data and will vary and may be less than stated.