Archive storage solutions for ERP are rarely an option

Take it from those who know firsthand, the best way to cover your storage needs is to plan ahead, know your data and users, use generous estimates, and review your needs often.
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From the very beginning of its enterprise resource planning system implementation, Chevron Canada was clearly going to need a way to store older data so that it could be accessed, if only occasionally, in an organized manner. But company executives had no idea how to go about finding the right solutions or determining how much storage they would need for their R/3 system from SAP AG, of Walldorf, Germany.

Soon enough it came down to a choice between archive storage systems from FileNET Corp., of Costa Mesa, Calif., and iXOS Software AG, of Munich, Germany, because at the time, those systems worked the most seamlessly with R/3. In the end, Chevron analysts chose iXOS, a software-based archiving solution tightly integrated with (and now owned by) SAP.
Top determinants of storage burden

  • Number of concurrent users.

  • Number of modules.

  • Volume of transactions.

  • Length of time for which you must keep your transactions live in the database versus archiving them.

To address the more thorny problem of how much storage the system would need over the long term, Edmund Yee, manager of network operations for Vancouver, British Columbia-based Chevron Canada, went with SAP's recommendation - letting Houston-based hardware vendor Compaq Computer Corp.'s SAP Competency Center estimate the company's needs.

But the Competency Center's estimates proved woefully inadequate, and the entire scene ended with Yee and his team throwing up their hands in disgust. "We went with the certified competency center, which got the numbers by using our data on how many users were on the system, what modules we planned to run, and other factors," Yee says. "We even took a conservative approach by doubling the recommendation, but within three months, we were out of space. Whatever metrics they were using just weren't working."

Disk storage capacity

The ratio of disk gigabytes to processor capacity has been found to be an effective barometer of disk space management.

As rule of thumb, the ratio of addressable storage capacity (in gigabytes) to MIPs is about 4:1, regardless of datacenter size. However, ERP systems create additional storage demands above the rule of thumb, though the impact has not yet been quantified. This chart shows the amount of storage used by IT organizations with either less than 300 MIPS, or between 300 and 799 MIPSa dn more than 800 MIPS of data center processing power.

Graph indicates ERP system storage requirements can exceed five gigabytes.

Source:Compass America Inc., www.compassamerica.com

Compaq spokesperson Keith Billow says that at the time Chevron Canada began going live with R/3, about six years ago, the ERP suite itself was fairly new in North America. Furthermore, Chevron was one of the first to use the Microsoft Corp. Windows NT platform for its R/3 implementation. So without much past data to work with, the Compaq SAP Competency Center was unable to come up with an accurate estimate. These days, of course, that's not the case, Billow notes.

At that point, though, Yee figured he could do better on his own. "We decided to forget about this estimating stuff and use real live data, so we took a month or two to see how much we would rack up. We tracked and monitored the usage of our system with the same methodology we use for all of our sizing and capacity planning," he says.

After monitoring the system for several months, Yee's team determined that the database was growing at a rate of nearly 3 gigabytes per month. "We noticed that as the database grew, it started to slow down. So we went back to our people and asked them how much data they needed to have available. They told us they needed data available for one year, so we started looking for archiving solutions," he says.

Stemming the growth of that database was key, and to do that Chevron Canada now uses iXOS-ARCHIVE. Here's how it works: The SAP system sends the sales data to the iXOS system, where the data is processed and put into temporary disk storage. This controls how much data should be left in a buffer and how much should be stored on long-term storage media. Chevron Canada chose to store its long-term data on CD-ROM disks and short-term data on Compaq disk drives.

Clearly, Chevron Canada's situation points out what more and more companies are starting to realize: Unless you find a way to archive older data, your ERP system will grow more and more unwieldy with time. Analysts report ERP implementations generating up to 60 gigabytes of storage growth per month, which makes Chevron Canada's problem seem relatively tame.


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