Taking your ERP system 24x7x365: Page 3

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Reliability investment and return variables
Neil Barton, head of the client/server computing practice at Compass America, a Reston, Va.-based management consultancy specializing in business improvement, notes that the following variables can affect a company's 24x7x365 investment and return:

The existing infrastructure in place to support full-time operation. Large datacenters in particular are often supporting continual application service for some user sets and are able to leverage that investment to extend the service to others.

The mix of different workloads you decide are worthy of 24x7x365, and how sophisticated those applications are in supporting high-availability tools. (High availability software watches over one server, detects a failure, and automatically kicks in the standby.)

How effective your operation is today in consolidating your servers and fully utilizing your server capacity.

The number of discrete technologies you need for 24x7x365 operation. For example, if all your database servers are UNIX/Oracle, you can set this up once and largely copy the solution for subsequent servers. Whereas if you have to set something different up for Windows NT/SQL Server, and then something different again for AIX, it will take more time and cost more in software tools.

Whether any of your workloads can utilize the redundant server capacity for batch tasks, offline database backups or re-organizations. This reduces your long-term running costs by increasing the utilization of your servers.

The amount of storage your 24x7 applications are using.

The frequency of write-to-disk rates of the application's core relational database managers holding the ERP data. Demand for high update rates in an OLTP application may rule out RAID-5 for performance reasons, leading you toward RAID-1, which costs more.

Paying the price

Once you have decided to go 24x7x365, it makes sense to analyze each part of your system, optimizing it for maximum reliability and availability.

Some say no amount of money is too much to ensure constant availability and reliability, while others caution that it makes sense to evaluate your needs and your environment before plunking down what can amount to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"The cost impact of increasing availability can go either way," says Neil Barton, head of the client/server computing practice at Compass America, a Reston, Va.-based management consultancy specializing in business improvement. "Folks operating in the 60 to 150 hours/week availability space score generally round about the .8 to 1.2 mark on a cost per utilized MIPS basis." According to Barton, some companies have been able to lower their long-term costs by consolidating their server workload, centralizing support, and deploying backup server cycles, rather than under-utilizing those servers.

What it all boils down to is the scope of the deployment, SAP America's Alfano adds. "It depends on the size of your business and how much ERP you are running. You have to evaluate the total cost of all components, all of the people, and all of the service levels required to take your ERP system from the standard non-24x7 to 24x7x365. Companies have to analyze exactly what it costs them to be down, either on a per-second or per-hour or per-day basis, with their ERP system."

Texas Instruments' Coup points out that around-the-clock up time requires an investment in each of the areas involved. "In the hardware area, we had to create parallel environments for failover capability and run dual networks to all of our sites so if one of the lines goes down, there is still a link into the site," he says. "Then there is the cost of the middleware software that runs the environment. And the skillset to run it [in 24x7x375 mode] is different."

In early 1999, Texas Instruments was running the SAP finance and procurement modules with 5,000 people worldwide on a 24x7x365 basis. Within a few months it plans to complete installation of i2 Technologies, global supply-chain planning system and SAP's sales and marketing modules.

These days, computer technicians at Texas Instruments still take the system down during the weekends, and scheduled weekend downtime is expected to occur for the next few months as employees get used to the new paradigm.

"But by the end of the year, we have an operating target that we won't have more than two hours per month of downtime," Coup claims. //

Karen D. Schwartz is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. Based in the Washington, D.C. area, she can be reached at karen.schwartz@bigfoot.com.

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