Taking your ERP system 24x7x365

The challenges inherent in making an ERP system available all day, every day are daunting, but Texas Instruments proves it can be done.
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Texas Instruments Inc. has had quite a time of it the past few years. Company executives have worked hard to transform their firm from an organization that manufactures products to one that provides solutions. As part of its massive reengineering efforts, Texas Instruments also has made great strides toward becoming a truly global company.

IBM servers lead the pack

Competitive Reliability, Availability, Serviceability, and Cluster Features and Functions A study of UNIX server reliability last year found that IBM's equipment slightly outperformed hardware from other leading vendors(Competitive Analysis of Reliability, Availability, Serviceability and Cluster Features and Functions, D.H. Brown Associates Inc.)

Source:D.H.L.Brown Associates Inc.

A major part of the reorganization centers around making Texas Instruments' systems available, reliable, and global. To do that, the Dallas-based company has embarked on the long trek toward making its enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, databases from Oracle Corp., of Redwood Shores, Calif., and a host of middleware available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year.

Today, Texas Instruments is in the final stages of rolling out its entire ERP environment on a 24x7x365 basis. The system, from SAP AG, of Walldorf, Germany, runs on clients around the world connected to Palo Alto-Calif., based Sun Microsystems Inc. E1000 servers running UNIX. It supports about 5,000 people worldwide across a WAN. It's one of the most ambitious SAP environments attempting to go to a true 24x7x365 model, according to SAP.

Facing the reality of 24x7x365

It's widely accepted that more and more companies plan to move their ERP systems to a 24x7x365 model. But the challenges inherent in making that happen--especially in companies with a global presence--can be quite daunting, as Texas Instruments found. Avoiding single points of failure, finding ways to upgrade and maintain the system without losing up time, and devising a proactive monitoring system are just a few of the challenges these companies face.

"If a company has distributed personnel and systems [and wants to do 24x7x365], that can be a huge hurdle to get over," says Kevin O'Malley, senior marketing manager for Oracle Applications. "The number of people you have around the world, the number of systems, the amount of staff required to support those systems, the number of third-party products your system uses, the number of databases you are running, and the number of different vendors you are dealing with, all play a role."

Phil Coup, vice president in charge of Texas Instruments' open systems transition, acknowledges that his company couldn't do it alone. In fact, the company's assembled team, which includes Andersen Consulting, of Chicago, SAP America Inc., of Newtown Square, Pa., Sun Microsystems, and others, is crucial to the success of the project.

Texas Instrument's Phil Coup
"There are a lot of different variables, and using an entire team means that everything will be addressed," Coup says. "One challenge has been the Sun environment itself, because running an enterprise-level ERP system globally is new even to Sun. So having Sun on the team was important."

Coup says Andersen Consulting has been the biggest outside contributor, helping to determine the best way to run a UNIX environment at an acceptable level of reliability and, most importantly, devising a plan to manage all of the middleware that runs with SAP on the UNIX environment. Texas Instruments runs a plethora of middleware tools and decision support applications on an Oracle relational database, including Houston-based BMC Software Inc.'s PATROL for network monitoring; supply chain-planning system from i2 Technologies Inc., of Irving, Texas; a Java scheduling system from New Dimensions Consulting Inc., of Princeton, N.J.;and a file-management system from VERITAS Software Corp., of Mountain View, Calif.

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