Use SAP SolMan to address performance comprehensively

SAP Solution Manager's monitoring tools are only one way companies can use SolMan to improve system performance, writes expert Chris Kernaghan.

October will be an exciting month for SAP Solution Manager (SolMan) enthusiasts, when combined support pack stacks (SPS) 9 and 10 will be released. It will also soon be time for SAP TechEd, the annual conference aimed at developers and other technical types, where SAP will be pushing new Solution Manager features, including those for performance management.

Here's a refresher on some of the coolest performance-management and monitoring features within SAP Solution Manager you are probably not using.

Performance monitoring is not just about how the application performs at any given second on any given day, or looking at dialog response time as the only key performance indicator. That discounts other factors that play a significant role in how your SAP environment performs.

The configuration management database

Let's start with a configuration management database (CMDB). The simplest form of a CMDB is a record of the software, versions and configuration of an object, and it serves as a baseline record from which all changes in performance can be measured. By having a baseline, it is possible to correlate changes to the SAP system in terms of usage, configuration and increases or decreases in performance.

For example, when runners change their footwear, because they know their baseline performance and configuration, they can capture the effects of the change. The CMDB function was originally performed by Solution Manager System Landscape (SMSY), which was a simple record of the configuration of the SAP Instances within a defined group. It was superseded by the Landscape Management Database (LMDB), also in Solution Manager. On the face of it, this was a needed and welcome upgrade that created a single version of the records of the SAP landscape through synchronizing the System Landscape Directory (SLD) and SMSY, which makes system setup and registration easier. Some have found the early implementations difficult to work with, due to issues with SLD connectivity and synchronization.

Despite the early bugs, this baseline is a really simple and fundamental element companies need to get right when implementing SolMan. At the most basic level of information about your landscape, it cascades upward into everything that Solution Manager interacts with. For example, the information that the Change Request Management (ChARM) tool uses to connect to and interact with systems comes directly from the LMDB. The ChARM tool also synchronizes with SAP Marketplace and is used to create download baskets, the basis for SAP messages and so forth.

Change request management

The next aspect of performance management to consider is the ChARM tool, the SAP Solution Manager mechanism through which the SAP Landscape adopts and implements change. The impending SPS 9 and 10 releases contain a significant update to the ChARM application. For example, it will provide greater ability to analyze changes, such as determining transport dependencies before they are implemented in an SAP system, thereby reducing the risk that the changes will affect the system adversely. This likely will cause headaches for third-party vendors whose tools bolster the current capabilities of SAP change management. It remains to be seen whether ChARM will be as good as SAP says it will be or if businesses will continue to pay for additional third-party licenses.

Custom code management

SAP has developed the Custom Code Lifecycle Management (CCLM) application to enable customers to keep track of their custom code. As an administrator, I want to know about the different combinations of custom objects in my SAP landscape and keep track of changes. It simplifies life greatly to be able to look at the code changes to a component if it suddenly starts to experience degraded performance. The CCLM tool enables users to see and report against the different levels of custom objects in a system and determine if the objects are being used and which ones aren't and can be removed.

Performance management

Like athletes who record, quantify and analyze every aspect of their performance, SAP customers can use Solution Manager's tools to monitor and improve their performance. It's often the reason people deploy SAP SolMan in the first place.

There have been significant changes to the performance-monitoring architecture in Solution Manager. SAP has introduced diagnostic agents and host agents to replace the Computing Center Management System (CCMS) agents or ABAP CCMS monitors used in the past. The agents run at the operating system level and collect data that is used in functions such as end-to-end diagnostics and end user experience reporting.

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SAP SolMan is an amazingly capable information and performance metric tool, but I see relatively few customers using it properly -- for a lot of reasons, in my opinion. For one, capturing the data is one thing, turning it into something that visually means something is another. SolMan does not make it easy. Data visualization and report writing are rarely high on the list of priorities for customers who capture performance and administration data.

Secondly, ad-hoc reporting in SAP is not easy. When a customer is troubleshooting a performance issue, it is useful to take data from many different sources to track behaviors. That includes the ability to create an end-to-end, second-by-second view of a user interacting with a portal application on one server and tracing the activity to the back-end server -- all in a single data collection displayed as a graph or table. It's hard to do in Solution Manager even on already captured data, although another SAP mentor, Tammy Powlas, has written a blog on how to use Microsoft Excel to access business intelligence in Solution Manager.

Third, configuring the monitors and the thresholds takes time and demands an iterative approach, which is not sexy and requires patience. Many system administrators are trapped in the vicious cycle of not having the time to do such configuring because they are firefighting much of the time. The painful irony is that setting up the monitoring will reduce the need to squelch fires and allow time for more interesting things. My advice to SAP project managers is to make this a priority project, as it is a definite force multiplier in SAP landscapes.

Mobile apps

Mobile applications from SAP are giving administrators new and interesting capabilities when it comes to data analysis and correction. There are now seven mobile applications for administration functions. Some, including the incident and change-approval apps, are natively connected to Solution Manager. Others, such as the Test Data Migration Server app, allow users to choose where it connects to, either Solution Manager or other parts of the SAP system. The following mobile apps are all available for iOS and some are available for Android:

  1. System Monitoring: Current system performance and alerts
  2. Replication Monitoring: Replication status of HANA data feeds
  3. End User Experience Monitoring: Analysis of end user experience monitors
  4. IT Change Approval: Change approval in the ChARM tool
  5. Test Data Migration Server (TDMS) monitoring: Monitoring and interacting with TDMS processes
  6. User Access Monitoring: Change users and passwords; unlock users
  7. IT Incident Management: Create and update IT incidents

Take advantage of SolMan -- even if it isn't always easy

It is important to recognize that when people talk about SAP landscape performance management, they often equate it to the competence level of the SAP administrator. Therefore it is vitally important for SAP administrators to provide themselves the best toolset to administrate and manage their SAP landscapes. The applications touched upon above provide a solid foundation from which administrators can stabilize their landscapes and make it easier to create and execute change. As Solution Manager continues to evolve and SAP expands on the functionality, it must also continue to make it easier to implement, thereby increasing the number of quick wins to demonstrate value and encourage customers to implement the full Solution Manager suite.

I have often told SAP executives that I love Solution Manager as a concept and its performance management and monitoring capabilities are amazing, but that SAP has historically undersold the difficulty and time required to get the best results from its performance monitoring and management capabilities. I continue to stand by that statement.  

About the author:
Chris Kernaghan is a senior SAP technical architect at CapGemini, the global consulting, technology and outsourcing firm.

This was first published in September 2013

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