For many IT managers, the place to start is to understand the main reason for virtualizing their SAP applications. The three main reasons for doing this, he said, are consolidating servers; improving system availability; and enabling your business to get more turnkey SAP services from third-party providers.
Depending on which of these goals is your top priority will determine the direction of your virtualization implementation.
Consolidating SAP virtual servers
For instance, if the priority goal is to consolidate servers and SAP applications, users can gain better use of the resources they have, Dawson said. "That means better workload management, and better utilization," he said.
The goal of increasing system availability is a bigger challenge because it requires investments in hardware and infrastructure improvements, Dawson said. A company needed to analyze the capabilities of the hardware in its current IT infrastructure and, before it can proceed with virtualization, figure out the costs and affordability of needed changes and upgrades.
The third reason for virtualizing SAP applications is to take advantage of alternate sourcing methods such as purchasing SAP services through third-party providers, including hosting services and SaaS vendors. "You can buy [SAP] cheaper from outside your organization," Dawson said. "SAP as a service includes the infrastructure."
"It depends on your inventory," Dawson said. "You won't be able to do it easily if you have legacy SAP applications. What you'll do there is consolidate and optimize, but you won't necessarily change service levels or sourcing."
Many of Dawson's clientele are running older versions of R/3 and newer SAP versions. "Very few people are just running with only R/3 now," he said. Less than 20 percent of his clients are using only newer SAP applications. Companies running the newer SAP applications will have a wider choice of virtualization options and directions, Dawson said, because these newer applications are designed for easier virtualization.
"How far you can virtualize your infrastructure depends on your SAP architecture," Dawson said. "The more modern your hardware and SAP applications are, the more you can do."
Running older applications on SAP virtual servers
Many businesses today run their SAP applications on Unix systems that are three and four years old, according to Dawson. Companies that want to run these SAP applications on virtual servers need to figure out where they need to update their servers and storage environment, a process that Dawson said can be a "minefield," since it will require a component-by-component review process.
Gary Chen, research manager for enterprise virtualization software for IDC, said the assessment process is critical. "SAP is a complicated application," he said. "It's generally a large footprint. It's generally not on just one server. It can be on 50 servers."
Chen recommends that SAP customers find out from SAP if the virtualization hypervisor they're thinking of using is supported.
He also suggests that companies assess disk I/O, which can restrict the performance of enterprise applications. In fact, Chen recommends that companies consolidating their SAP servers not run other applications that use a lot of I/O, because then all the applications might suffer performance hits.
"It's really about balancing all those resources with what you have, just to make sure that you don't have bottlenecks," Chen said. "If one of those applications slows down, the whole thing slows down."
About the author: Todd R. Weiss is a veteran technology journalist and freelance writer. He worked as a staff reporter for Computerworld.com from 2000 to 2008. Follow him at Twitter.com/TechManTalking.