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Proprietary ERP on Open Source Virtualization

It looks like the ERP business is finally starting to catch on to the fact that their customers want to use server virtualization to cut costs, reduce downtime, and do all of those nifty things that come with SV. Novell and SAP seem to have sat down and sorted this out. It’s almost too bad it was Novell (well, the gossip-monger in me things it was Novell’s SuSe folks in Germany talking to SAP folks in Germany), because that means somehow this huge opportunity will get mis-marketed and then mis-sold, and some other company (VMware probably) will make the real bank off of it. Sorry Novell, I love ya dearly, but it’s a Fact of Life – you’re the Ted McGinley of technology companies. Anyway… this comes from a press release on Novell’s website:

“WALTHAM, Mass.—13 Mar 2007—Novell today announced that SUSE® Linux Enterprise Server 10 from Novell® with integrated Xen* virtualization technology is now available for SAP* NetWeaver* and mySAP* Business Suite. Jointly tested by Novell and SAP, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server with Xen met or exceeded SAP’s stringent performance requirements for SAP applications in a virtualized environment. Virtualization of the IT infrastructure for SAP deployments can result in enormous advantages for businesses, such as consolidation of workloads onto fewer servers for reduced capital and management costs. With this new validated solution, customers can confidently deploy their SAP applications in a virtualized environment using SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, resulting in a more reliable, flexible and cost-effective platform for mission-critical computing.”

It looks to me like VMware is behind the 8-ball on this. Looking over this 2006 IBM Techdoc, I found it wholly comprised of this rather disheartening statement:

“1. Does SAP support VMWARE for non-production?
As documented in SAP Notes # 674851, SAP currently supports VMWare in a non-production environment. This is now supported because of the improvement in storage and performance issues.

2. Does SAP support VMWARE for production?
As further documented in SAP Notes # 674851, SAP has issued a conditional statement of support. You may need to provide SAP access to a system on which VMWare is not running, but on which the error can be reproduced. This is only necessary if the error appears to occur in the layer between the operating system and the virtualizing software.”

Yet there’s more to it than that… it seems like SAP is saying the same thing MS said for years – “We will need a box that isn’t virtual in the event we can’t figure it out, or else we’ll just give up and blame it on the virtual environment”. Digging a bit deeper I found this post in a listserv relating to VMware and SAP:

“I found SAP note 171380-Linux Released IBM hardware :

The basic models listed below were successfully tested for use with SAP software in the LinuxLab and were released for practical operation: …

– eserver xSeries x445 VMware ESX Server 2.1″

And then there’s this from the actual note that a SAP-customer friend of mine was kind enough to snip for me:

“SAP does NOT support the production operation of SAP systems based on the Windows platform. The reason for this, among other things, is that Microsoft itself does NOT support the use of VMWare for MS products. If you still want to use VMWare in production operation, and you require some support, you must give SAP employees access to a system on which VMWare is not operated, but on which the error can nevertheless be reproduced.”

Here’s the rub – the references are to SAP Notes I can’t access because I’m no longer one of their customers, so I don’t know if they’ve been updated. They reference the use of Windows, meaning that the product line they’re issuing the note for is the GSX (now Server) line, not the ESX line. They also date from 2006 and 2004, prior to VI3. Back in the days of working for a Fortune 500 I could verify the currency of that Note and whether it applies to VI3 or just ESX 2.x and lower, but these days… no can do. So, lets ask the readers – is this still true? If it is, somebody at VMware needs to get a move on and push back on the “conditional support” BS. That 2004 SAP Note that’s referenced might not even really apply – its entirely possible the testing was done on the service console, without a thought that VMware isn’t Linux, just the console is. All in all, quite confusing, quite annoying, and quite difficult for SAP customers who are also VMware customers. I bet that’s an awful lot of them.

To the matter at hand of the press release – it’s about darn time that ERP vendors get on board the bandwagon that Microsoft started (by supporting their own ERP on their own virtualization platform). With all the work MS has put into their acquired Great Plains, Navision, and Solomon products, they’re clearly moving in the direction of taking on the big players (all two of them), and part of that strategy has to be the price point as well as the integration “ease” of an all Windows/AD environment. Part of that price point is going to include facts and figures on power consumption, license costs, reduced hardware, and all of the other virtualization-related benefits (namely the incredible ease of BC/DR when working with virtual machines).

Why is this important? Well, I can point to a real-world example. I happen to have it from an eminently reliable source that a mega-gigantic consumer goods company (which will remain nameless because I have a lot of money invested in their stock) has been migrating from Oracle to MS SQL to run their SAP environments as part of a move to cut licensing costs. I also happen to have it from an equally eminently reliable source that there are serious concerns about BC/DR with the SQL servers supporting SAP, and whether or not they can be brought back online at all in the event of a true site-wide disaster. Now add in that most of the IT staff at this large consumer goods company are in the process of being outsourced to one of the big computer company’s consulting arm, and you can see the disaster waiting to happen. This is exactly where such a large company should be embracing the built-in DR capabilities of VMware, Virtual Iron, or just plain old Xen. Well, ok, I wouldn’t trust a company worth tens and tens of billions to a small company, so VMware it is. If SAP won’t support VMware in production, a company like the one I’m speaking about can make them. They have the huge amount of clout required to get it done, so they should get it done.

Here’s my advice, even if you (and I’m speaking to the mega-consumer goods company here) have to use traditional DR for the SAP boxes – keep moving from Oracle to MS SQL. Save money on licenses. But for Pete’s sake (and you know who you are, Peter), don’t halt VMware project. Keep it alive. Move the MS SQL boxes to VMware. Replicate between SANs that spread between multiple sites, at the block level. Keep DR boxes there running VMware, even if you have to keep them cold. If you lose a box in the data center, VMotion the virtual machine to another box. If you lose the site, bring the systems back online from that replicated SAN storage with mere minutes (maybe even mere seconds) of downtime. Save billions of dollars in lost revenue that would otherwise result from SAP being offline. Imagine not producing any soap, or delicious beverages, or any of your other wonderful products that can be bought so affordably and yet make so much money. Now imagine that happens, and that there are documented concerns about the DR reliability of the existing systems, as well as a proposed solution to that problem.

So VMware, whatchya gonna do? If I were Diane Green, I’d be hight-tailing it over to SAP and Oracle to get virtual hardware certified just like IBM, HP, and other vendors do for their physical hardware.

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