SAP in the Cloud: IBM Extends and Enhances SAP Application Management

Service Management in Action

For complex enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, like the widely deployed SAP, first-rate application management is both exceptionally important... and exceptionally hard to achieve.

Why is this the case? Partly because of the way SAP applications are implemented—interrelating with each other, and other applications and services, in order to serve myriad business purposes and fulfill many different strategies. Though SAP includes basic monitoring capabilities, they don't typically come close to providing all the actionable insights needed to maximize uptime and availability. Often, as a result, SAP applications are managed in a fragmented or domain-specific manner—not in a manner that will maximize the total business value those applications generate over time.

An additional difficulty lies in the way IT architectures have evolved in recent years. As virtualization and cloud models have become increasingly popular, for instance, resource allocation to SAP applications has become less predictable. Traditional performance and availability management practices, developed for the older single-application-server paradigm, simply don't apply. This situation has in some cases meant that risk-averse organizations are reluctant to deploy SAP applications in a cloud at all—and thus, cannot get the benefits that a cloud deployment might have delivered.

Even in a more conventional architecture, SAP applications are often harder to monitor and manage than they should be. When performance falls below acceptable levels, isolating and addressing the root cause takes longer, and is not always foolproof. And since SAP applications typically are among the mission-critical of the entire IT portfolio, any decline in their performance and availability can have an adverse impact on the business.

IBM SmartCloud APM: Unify and optimize the way you manage SAP application performance

"SmartCloud APM integrates directly with SAP Solution Manager 7.1. That means it can collect relevant changes, such as alerts, log information, user rights, and monitoring data."

So what's the answer? Ideally, organizations would be able to:

This, in a nutshell, is exactly what IBM SmartCloud Application Performance Management (SmartCloud APM) offers. It empowers IT with a single, consolidated point of control that—thanks to extensive integration with both the SAP solution itself and the larger IT infrastructure—can help organizations improve both the performance and availability of SAP applications. And that, in turn, increases the contribution SAP applications make to everything the organization is trying to accomplish.

Launched this spring, SmartCloud APM is part of the larger IBM SmartCloud portfolio, which also includes key provisioning, monitoring, and control desk capabilities. All are aimed at making it as easy and fast as possible to get exceptional value from a private cloud.

And because this offering has been developed in a transparent, collaborative fashion with IBM customers, it also includes key features and functions most requested by those customers. As it turns out, these apply very well to the specific case of SAP applications:

A day in the life of a cloud-hosted SAP application

Let's walk through a specific example to illustrate how these capabilities might play out.

Imagine that a particular SAP application owned by an online retailer is used to track inventory at multiple warehouses. Different business services, ranging from Web-based customer searches to order fulfillment, depend on this application to work reliably, and quickly—and if it doesn't, the organization will certainly suffer a significant business impact.

On a given day, this particular application experiences a notable decline in performance. Customers report that they cannot find out whether products are in stock; this makes them much less likely to order the products at all. Clearly, the faster and more accurately the organization can resolve this situation, the better.

Now, because the application is running in a cloud, that might normally be a difficult thing to achieve—clouds being exceptionally dynamic architectures in which virtual servers are constantly being created/modified/retired, and resources are allocated unpredictably in accordance with business policies. (In fact, last year a major online retailer experienced significant downtime of its cloud-driven customer-facing services very much along these lines—creating a double impact in the form of diminished revenues and, because of substantial press coverage, negative publicity.)

Via SmartCloud APM features, however, the odds of such problems fall tremendously. Through its transaction tracing and diagnostics, IT can quickly determine that the root cause is a failure of a particular virtual server running on a particular host, which in turn has no physical issues. By simply restarting that virtual server, performance can be restored, and the end-user experience (which the solution can quantify on demand) will be improved.

Furthermore, via the built-in analytics, IT can also look for patterns that might explain why the virtual server failed in the first place—then create new strategies to prevent any similar failure, for any similar virtual servers, in the future.

That's a substantial improvement in SAP application performance, no matter how you view it—from the standpoint of IT, a line of business manager, an executive, or customer. And it's an improvement that pays higher dividends, .

Extensive integration with existing SAP management tools and capabilities

Another compelling point about SmartCloud APM: it was originally developed with SAP in mind, and includes many SAP-specific features and strengths that both accelerate time-to-value and increase that value.

For instance, included with the solution is an SAP-specific template that helps organizations incorporate and benefit from proven ITIL-based best practices. Also included: recommended metrics that apply to different SAP applications, viewable from inside customizable dashboards. Together, these provide a significant head start toward arriving at an optimized SAP implementation in the cloud—sparing IT team members the need to experiment and assess the results in a more ad hoc, less accurate, and less efficient fashion.

Additionally, SmartCloud APM integrates directly with SAP Solution Manager 7.1. That means it can collect relevant changes, such as alerts, log information, user rights, and monitoring data. This insight, aggregated into the dashboards, can play a key role in helping IT better understand how SAP performance and availability are being threatened (or might be threatened in the future), and take appropriate action as needed.

And however many instances of SAP applications that may be running in the cloud—a number that will certainly change over time—IT only needs one point of control to manage them all. SmartCloud APM provides a centralized portal interface that delivers the visibility and control needed to ensure that SAP applications are up, stay up, and perform up to expectations.

IBM SmartCloud APM provides exceptional management capabilities for SAP applications in the cloud

Beyond the features per se, it's also important to consider how IBM has implemented those features since, as usual, the devil is in the details.

For example, in order to assess how different aspects of the host cloud are performing, SmartCloud APM uses both agentless and agented mechanisms. IBM's goal, simply put, is to collect as much relevant data as possible, and provide the most comprehensive possible analysis of performance, all while generating the smallest possible impact. It's not much use having an application performance solution that, due to heavyweight agents, significantly diminishes performance by requiring extensive resources of its own.

This is why SmartCloud APM has been designed to use no agents when possible, and lightweight agents otherwise. Particularly in the case of transaction tracking, arguably the most critical function, SmartCloud APM can often deliver the needed insight without using agents at all.

Competing solutions with heavyweight agents, in contrast, are known to generate as much as a 40-50% impact on server throughput when carrying out the same task—all but defeating the larger goal of improving SAP application performance during that time period.

For similar reasons, SmartCloud APM is also notably strong in generating topology maps—logical reflections of systems and interdependent resources that can be used to pinpoint performance shortfalls. Even though cloud architectures rapidly and dynamically change these topologies in responding to fluctuating business workloads, the relatively low-impact design used by the IBM solution means it can continually rediscover and update the topologies.

This real-time updating process keeps both IT and the solution itself accurately informed about how SAP application implementations are changing—24/7/365— and speeds a faster, more accurate, and more business-optimized fix.

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