There are many hardware issues affecting software performance in today's SAP infrastructures. The question is, who resolves these issues: the hardware team or the software team?
It should be both, according to Parthas Biswas, VP and CIO at Joerns Healthcare, Inc., in Stevens Point, Wisc.
Before embarking on any major software project, Biswas meets with his entire technical services planning team. "There's a lot of danger in not involving the hardware team on software decisions," he said.
"In an SAP environment, you can't always put all the applications on one server. A new application may require you to have a separate database server or application server," Biswas said. "For the application manager or application director to make any upgrade or application procurement by themselves doesn't make sense."
According to Biswas, an 18-year IT veteran, the key issues related to hardware are scalability and reliability. "The SAP application manager buying new software cannot assume the hardware will run it," he said. "You have to determine if new applications are disk-based or more memory-intensive." On an upgrade, there may be Unicode or SOA-enablement issues.
Other experts agree on the need for collaboration. "To build an internal center of excellence, you need to manage the entire technology stack with an SAP-centric staff that includes the operating system, database and application layers. The server folks should be part of the SAP team," said Dan Wilhelms, president and founder of SymSoft Corp., a maker of GRC applications for SAP. Wilhelms was also one of the first Basis consultants hired by SAP America and he founded Symmetry Corp., a SAP Basis consulting organization.
Still, in some large companies, hardware and software groups can be like oil and water.
"The dynamic is similar to that of live theater," said Michael Dortch, principal analyst and managing editor of DortchonIT.com. "There's a cast and a crew, and they often can't stand one another, but if you lose either one, you've got no show."
Dortch recalled what can happen when hardware and software teams don't work together. Years ago, he was working at a bank whose hardware and software groups did not communicate. As a result, everyone's PC had a graphics card capable of displaying spreadsheets -- but no one had modified the start-up batch file on each computer to turn the graphics card software on at start-up. That created serious productivity problems when users couldn't view their spreadsheets on-screen.
"Employees were entering data into Lotus 1-2-3, then printing their spreadsheets and graphs to see if they'd gotten the data in correctly," he explained.
Dortch managed to find the graphics card manual, turned on the software in his system -- and lo and behold: "A beautiful pie chart appeared, and people stood around my PC like the apes around the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey." He spent the rest of the afternoon that day going around his department, turning on the software in everyone else's PC.
Basis/NetWeaver administrators act as mediators
Something like that rarely happens in a mission-critical SAP enterprise environment. One reason is that in nearly every SAP IT environments there is a Basis administrator (often now called a NetWeaver administrator).
At a small SAP shop, that Basis administrator might also be the lead network, storage and server person. In larger SAP shops, the IT jobs become more specialized; in a true enterprise SAP environment, teams of up to 20 people may be dedicated to an IT functional area such as networks, servers, storage, applications or databases. In those situations, SAP Basis personnel often serve as the conduit between different groups, according to Justin Burmeister, an independent Basic and NetWeaver consultant.
"As Basis is just as much application as it is infrastructure," Burmeister said, "the Basis administrator is usually in a good position to broker conversations" between the IT teams.
In fact, during a functional application upgrade, the Basis administrator (or Basis team) often takes on the task of helping all departments understand the impact of the project and ensures that the infrastructure is not the bottleneck.