Getting a handle on SAP systems involves testing the applications over and over again, according to two members of Microsoft's IT team overseeing SAP implementations.
Speaking to attendees at the Microsoft Tech-Ed user conference in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month, the two members said Microsoft has been able to run two parallel systems to test the 16,000 SAP products before they go into full production.
"We have our testing system on all the time," said Mike Hatch, Microsoft's senior technology architect for SAP System. "If there's any doubt that SQL Server can run large enterprise applications, I'm here to say that there shouldn't be."
Microsoft's SAP R/3 system is supported by the Microsoft Enterprise Data Services Group, which manages FeedStore, an internal application that gathers information from about 40 major Microsoft data warehouses, data marts and other databases, including the SAP System. FeedStore holds 2 terabytes of data.
Last year, the company went live with an upgrade of its SAP environment to the beta version of SQL Server 2005, code-named Yukon. After more than a year in delays, Microsoft plans to release a preview of SQL Server 2005 in June; the first release is expected in October.
For Microsoft, SAP is the backbone for all its major transactions, Hatch said. The entire mySAP business suite is used by Microsoft, including SAP's Finance, HR and Sales and Distribution modules. SAP is updated in a quarterly process, Hatch said.
"We're constantly working in what we call our stand box," Hatch said. "We begin in development where our requirements are determined, a design review is completed and then we roll into testing before a production release is launched."
The FeedStore data warehouse is hosted on two servers. One server hosts data imported from Microsoft's SAP R/3 data warehouse and its SAP data is updated three times a day. Microsoft's R/3 production instance is hosted at its company headquarters while its testing instance is hosted in California, Hatch said.
David Fahey, a SQL Server DBA who currently manages Microsoft's FeedStore application, works with feature requests and product validation of beta versions of SQL Server. Since April 2005, more than 200 bugs were found in the beta version, six bugs were related to SAP software integration and have been repaired, Fahey said.
"The trick is to test and test thoroughly," Fahey said.
Microsoft's SAP deployment has a three-tier architecture that includes the SAP GUI used by 2,000 SAP end users. It can also be accessed through a Web browser, Fahey said. SAP applications are run off of six SAP application servers running Windows Server 2003, hosted on servers from Hewlett-Packard Co. and the database tier, which is running the beta version of SQL Server 2005.
The SAP data grows at about 40 GB a month, Fahey said.
"We run a representative sampling of all SAP jobs we do to make sure that the performance is good and to try and make it better," Fahey said. "We want to ensure that we have a consistent code base."
John Emmerson, an SAP program manager at an Ohio-based manufacturer, said his company's architecture is too old to support running parallel SAP instances for testing purposes. In addition, the cost and manpower are far too high to support a business case, Emmerson said.
Emmerson's firm runs SAP on a mixture of SQL Server in addition to several legacy systems. If an enterprise has a stable production environment, there's no need to change testing procedures unless there are none in place, Emmerson said.
"It's important to find your own procedures for testing," Emmerson said. "Find something that fits for your company's needs."