Major electric utility powers lightning-fast business insight with IBM and SAP HANA

Published on 09-Dec-2013

"With the IBM Systems solution for SAP HANA, we have an opportunity to gain unprecedented insight into our operations and transform the way in which we use information." - Company spokesperson, Major electric utility

Major electric utility

Energy & Utilities

Enterprise Resource Planning, General Parallel File System (GPFS), Information Integration, Mobile, Workload Management, Workload Optimized Infrastructure Framework

IBM Business Partner:
Direct Systems Support , SAP


This company is a very large utility, delivering electricity to approximately 15 million people in its service territory.

Business need:
This electric utility company wanted to provide decision-makers with business intelligence to help achieve energy generation savings and deliver cost-effective service to customers.

To turn massive volumes of operational data into powerful business insight, the company implemented SAP HANA, and worked with IBM to deploy the IBM Systems solution for SAP HANA, based on IBM System x3950 X5 workload optimized servers.

Reporting queries and data loading run five times faster than before on average; annual data growth has been by 22 percent; the solution is expected to deliver a full return on investment within three years.

Case Study

How do you sift, sort and scrutinize huge volumes of data, extract meaningful information, and deliver it rapidly to business users?

A major electric utility company chose to accelerate analysis by implementing the SAP HANA™ solution on IBM® System x® 3950 X5 Workload Optimized Systems.

The result? The company can create powerful insights regarding customers’ energy usage patterns, enabling targeted energy efficiency and demand response programs, which in turn help to reduce generation costs and cut carbon emissions.

Moving to SAP HANA has reduced annual information growth by 22 percent, and the company expects to achieve a complete return on investment within three years.

Keeping pace with growing data volumes
This company is a very large utility, delivering electricity to approximately 15 million people in its service territory.

Managing a service area that covers more than 50,000 square miles and comprises nearly five thousand transmission and distribution circuits is no easy task. The company needs a crystal clear picture of its network in order to ensure that service levels and customer satisfaction remain high. On top of this, the company is continually being challenged to find ways to lower operational costs, reduce peak loads and improve efficiency in the face of rising energy prices and market volatility.

If the utility is to meet these challenges, it must have deep insight into all aspects of its operations and customer behavior. To provide the information it needs to keep business running smoothly, the company has been using a broad range of SAP applications for many years, including SAP® ERP, SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM), SAP Supplier Relationship Management (SAP SRM), SAP NetWeaver® Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW) and SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator (SAP NetWeaver BWA).

The company found that the volume of operational data generated by SAP applications – data that was growing at approximately 34 percent annually – was threatening to outstrip the rate at which its business intelligence systems could process and analyze the information, and turn it into the valuable insight required by business users.

A company spokesperson explains, “It was becoming increasingly difficult for us to deliver information to the business at acceptable speeds, which means that the company is not able to react quickly enough when there were problems requiring analysis.”

Operational improvement and faster analytics
The IT department realized that if it was to meet the business’ growing appetite for information, it needed to take its analytics and reporting systems to the next level. This prompted the team to look into the SAP HANA in-memory computing solution by introducing a pilot solution to measure results, followed closely by operational deployment.

A spokesperson comments, “First, we focused on operational improvement – increasing the speed of data loading and reporting so that we could deliver key information to the business faster. We wanted to be able to react much quicker when it came to detecting and reporting faults or outages on our network, in order to minimize the disruption to our customers.

“Second, we were looking to move to the next generation of analytics. We wanted to analyze much bigger data sets and to do so at faster speeds, which, in the future, would improve our ability to address several possible areas for improvement: forecasting outages, customer usage patterns and managing costs more effectively. This would allow us to better match supply to demand, keep our operating costs in check and provide the most reliable service possible to customers.”

Meeting tight deadlines
The IT team recognized the potential of SAP HANA for both capacity and speed, and presented a business proposal to senior management in late 2011. A few months later, the IT team received approval from the business, and a request for the SAP HANA solution and a supporting hardware platform to be deployed on site within a tight deadline.

Faced with this time pressure, it was crucial for the company to find a partner that could deliver a robust hardware infrastructure quickly. The utility selected IBM for its SAP HANA hardware vendor. According to a spokesperson, “We were very impressed by the capabilities of the IBM System x servers and, crucially, IBM was able to deliver the solution to us within our extremely short deployment window.”

Direct Systems Support (DSS), an IBM Business Partner, provided resale and implementation services for the IBM Systems solution for SAP HANA. The team from DSS was led by a SAP Certified Application Associate for SAP HANA, ensuring that the deployment was managed seamlessly and expertly.

IBM Systems Services was responsible for installing and configuring the SAP HANA software, and guaranteed the solution was up and running within the utility’s tight deadline.

As the IBM Systems solution for SAP HANA is sold as a preconfigured, preloaded platform, which includes servers that are factory-integrated and fully tested, the company was able to work with IBM and DSS to rapidly and easily complete the implementation.

High-performance IBM solution
The utility implemented an IBM Systems solution for SAP HANA that is based on 18 IBM System x3950 X5 servers. SAP HANA, delivered on powerful IBM eX5 enterprise servers with fifth-generation IBM Enterprise X-Architecture® technology (eX5), helps transform business by addressing current needs while delivering the robust scalability and performance needed to accommodate growth.

The IBM System x servers are each equipped with four powerful and reliable Intel® Xeon® E7-8870 processors comprising ten cores and 512 GB of main memory. These top-of-the-line Intel processors deliver performance designed to handle data-demanding workloads with improved scalability and increased memory and I/O capacity.

The utility created a multi-node scale-out cluster configuration for the IBM Systems solution for SAP HANA. It has currently implemented 5 clusters, two of which are based on three 512 GB M nodes and an additional M node for failover capabilities. Three additional clusters are two-node systems. The company is also using several stand-alone M nodes, and six smaller S+ nodes for testing and development environments. With this scaled-out cluster environment, the company can achieve larger memory sizes on an as-needed basis simply by adding server compute nodes.

IBM General Parallel File System (GPFS™) software is a key component of this configuration, and has the unique capability to use the storage contained within each server node, resulting in a simple, seamless and scalable infrastructure for SAP HANA. The GPFS cluster acts like a virtual storage area network (SAN): file data is automatically spread across multiple storage devices, providing optimal use of available storage within the server to deliver high performance. This approach avoids the need for external storage, keeping the SAP HANA environment simple and reducing operating costs.

Running the business on the SAP HANA platform
The utility has deployed two IBM Systems solutions for SAP HANA: it uses one SAP HANA platform to run SAP NetWeaver BW. Virtually all business areas are represented on this platform, from financial and human resources data to information on the company’s electricity generation, distribution and transmission networks.

The company has also implemented a second, standalone SAP HANA platform, which provides a compute-intensive environment for high-performance predictive analytics. The solution’s in-memory analytics capabilities deliver results in near real time, providing immediate access to the information business users need to make smarter decisions.

Managing growth and cutting costs
By taking advantage of extreme data compression on SAP HANA, the utility achieved a compression ratio of 4.8:1. Coupled with the removal of a number of database objects and the migration of historical data to near-line storage, the company reduced the overall size of its SAP NetWeaver BW from 22 TB to 525 GB when the platform first went live. The company is now able to keep information growth at a manageable level of 12 percent annually, optimizing data access and generating considerable savings.

“The database size reductions achieved through compression on SAP HANA and the introduction of near-line storage have been an integral factor in keeping our total costs of operation low and delivering a faster return on investment (ROI) in the platform,” notes a spokesperson.

“Reducing annual information growth by 22 percent on SAP HANA contributes to a number of ongoing cost savings: we have reduced licensing and development costs, and can delay investment in new storage systems and database servers.

“It has also significantly improved the ROI for the entire solution: we have calculated that it will take us under three years to recoup our investment in SAP HANA. If database volumes had remained at the same level as before, we would be looking at a 15 year ROI, so the savings make a huge difference.”

Giving performance a boost
The utility has seen significant performance improvements, thanks to the in-memory database architecture of SAP HANA, which dramatically improves the speed at which data can be loaded and processed, and at which queries and reports can be run.

Overall data loads can be executed as much as 5.2 times faster than before, and delta data loading is now 3.2 times quicker on the SAP HANA platform. The improvements mean that the company can rest assured that all changes recorded in its SAP applications over the course of a day will be loaded into the SAP HANA database during a nightly data loading window and made available to users by the next morning, so business can continue as usual.

“In the past, it could take us up to 15 hours to complete nightly delta data loading,” says a spokesperson. “With the SAP HANA database, we can complete data loading in just five hours, so we can be sure that our users will have ready access to the up-to-date information they need.”

Reporting performance has improved by as much as five times compared to previous rates: queries that used to take an average of 35 seconds to run can now be completed in just seven seconds on the SAP HANA database.

The speed is even more impressive on the standalone SAP HANA platform, where reporting queries can be executed as much as 50 times faster and data loads are processed 15 times faster on average. The standalone HANA speeds can vary depending on the models.

A spokesperson comments, “We have been very pleased with the performance improvements that we have been seeing with SAP HANA. Moving to near real-time data replication will really help to give us that operational boost we were looking for. We’ll be able to get information out to the business much quicker, which will help them to make more informed decisions when it comes to managing our operational data.”

Utility rate calculation is just one area where SAP HANA can potentially making a big difference. The utility has tested SAP HANA as a calculation engine to rapidly determine rates for customers using smart meters.

A spokesperson explains, “For example, a customer might come to us with a request to calculate what their bill would be if they switched to a different plan. At the moment, it takes too long for us to work this out using our legacy system alone.

“In the future, we can potentially use the federation capability in SAP HANA to ‘reach out’ to the legacy system and pull that customer information in for analysis. With SAP HANA we can bring in about 4 MB of data in one second, calculate the new amount and return it to the legacy system within five seconds. This is at least 20 to 30 times faster than what we were able to achieve before, and allows us to answer these kinds of queries very quickly, which means we can serve customers much more efficiently and boost their satisfaction.”

Delivering real business value
Importantly, the utility can access the powerful capabilities of SAP HANA anytime and anywhere, with a mobile application that runs on iPhone, iPad and Blackberry devices. With the power of SAP HANA at their fingertips, business users never have to miss a beat.

“For example, one of our team members could be away at a conference and might want to check some key performance figures, to see if we are staying on track with network maintenance operations,” says a spokesperson. “With the mobile app, they can bring up the information on their iPhone almost as quickly as we can here in the office, and access reports in just seconds. This is a key capability, and will help our users to get the answers they need fast, wherever they are, so they can stay up to speed with business.”

For the utility, the true value of SAP HANA lies in its potential to take vast amounts of raw data and turn it into vital information, which can be used by analysts to better understand consumption behavior, improve customer energy efficiency and optimize campaign effectiveness. For example, on hot summer afternoons when demand soars, the company could test different incentives to customers for turning off the air conditioning and quickly see the results with granularity.

“We are very excited to explore the possibilities that SAP HANA offers around smart meter analytics,” says a spokesperson.

“We can potentially gain much deeper insight into our customers and their energy consumption patterns. This will allow the business to create more targeted programs and communications, specifically tailored to the usage patterns and priorities of each customer segment.

“With this insight into consumption behavior, we can reduce direct energy costs and demand for costly peak capacity. In the long run, this could make us much more efficient, meaning that we could build fewer power plants, helping to cut carbon emissions and reduce overall costs for our company and for the consumer.”

A spokesperson concludes, “Our company strives to do much more than just keep the lights on for our customers: we are constantly competing against ourselves to improve our service network, reduce costs and provide better service to our customers. With the IBM Systems solution for SAP HANA, we have an opportunity to gain unprecedented insight into our operations and transform the way in which we use information.”

Products and services used

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

System x, System x: System x running Linux - SUSE, System x: System x3950 X5

General Parallel File System

Operating system:
Linux, Novell SUSE Linux

IBM-SAP Alliance, STG Lab Services: System x

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