It takes more than saving on hardware costs to maximize the ROI of an SAP virtualization project, according to experts.
Virtualization software projects lower hardware costs and increase efficiency by slicing individual physical servers into multiple virtual servers, or virtual machines (VMs), which can then run applications like SAP. But virtualization requires a hefty initial investment, experts say, and hardware savings alone may not be enough to recover those costs in a timely fashion.
It all comes down to taking advantage of virtualization’s economic benefits while also making the infrastructure more adaptable and agile. “And I don’t know a business on the planet that isn’t trying to do both of those,” said Jeff Anders, director of product management at SAP.
The good news is that there are several steps organizations can take to generate ROI from SAP virtualization projects and reap the benefits of virtualization more quickly. For starters, it’s a good idea to make the most of automated management features and avoid being too conservative with the number of VMs per physical server, according to experts.
Upcoming SAP virtualization tools aim to improve ROI
SAP is planning to release a new set of virtualization tools for automating things like capacity, configuration and lifecycle management. While similar third-party offerings have been on the market for several years, the software giant says this is the first set designed by SAP for SAP.
Unofficially known as SAP landscape management software, the tools are designed to help customers reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) by automating common virtualization management tasks like system copy, system clone and system refresh -- which can take anywhere from days to weeks to perform manually, according to SAP.
The software also will provide an automated capacity management feature that allows administrators to specify performance parameters for the system according to their service level agreement (SLA) with SAP. The product monitors the system and -- if the SLA is not being met -- it automatically assigns additional server resources in an effort to make the problem go away.
"The idea is to [automatically] administer tasks that [users are] asked to do frequently, but which are typically very mundane or time-consuming," Anders said.
SAP says the landscape management software will be available sometime this year but has not specified a date.
Choose the right virtualization software vendor
Virtualization software providers also offer automated management features that can help lower TCO and improve ROI. The only problem is that such features are often underused or ignored because the vendor is nowhere to be found post-deployment, according to one analyst.
That’s why it’s important to choose a software virtualization vendor that continues to work closely with customers well after the sale is made and SAP is running in a virtual environment, said Chris Wolf, a vice president and virtualization technology analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.
"Vendors should educate the user about the range of tools that companies need to run production workloads in VMs," Wolf said.
Organizations that fail to take advantage of the management tools used after the initial deployment risk slowing the pace of ROI. What’s worse, according to Wolf, is that some organizations realize the need for such tools long after the budget for the virtualization project has run out. In those cases, users are forced to approach management for additional funds.
"He has to turn around and go back to the CIO and say, ‘By the way, we now need a new budget [and] sorry I didn’t put some of that management information into our ROI forecast,’" Wolf said. "[But unfortunately] that is a pitfall that does happen quite frequently."
Increase SAP virtualization hardware savings by deploying more VMs
Organizations can increase the hardware-related savings of an SAP virtualization project by maximizing the number of virtual machines they deploy within each available physical server, according to a recent report from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. Being too conservative can cause organizations to miss savings targets and may lead to a need for additional hardware.
“Many companies [put only five VMs] onto a server [that is] capable of running 15,” the report states. “They could have provisioned 10 more VMs for no incremental cost. Instead, it will take two more virtualization hosts to accommodate the overflow.”
That problem is only getting worse as hardware companies produce servers with more and more capacity. “They’re increasing the capacity faster than companies are willing to ramp up on,” said Galen Schreck, a Forrester analyst and the lead author of the report.
While the number of VMs depends on a number of factors, including the size of the applications themselves, Schreck said that some servers can handle close to 50 VMs in some cases, far below what companies are utilizing. “You want to max that thing out,” he said.
Is SAP virtualization right for you?
Despite the popularity of server virtualization, it may not be for every company, or for every situation, according to SAP’s Anders.
Small businesses that run five to 10 servers may be able to use virtualization to cut that number down to between three and five, but that may not make all that much of a difference to the bottom line, Anders said. The biggest virtualization gains are seen in larger companies with servers in the hundreds or thousands, he added.
“This doesn’t mean that small companies shouldn’t consider virtualization,” Anders said. “It just means they have to look at the TCO and ROI equation for their specific environment, and maybe [consider moving] to the public cloud or virtual private cloud. [This will allow them to] leverage virtualization and still reduce their TCO [while achieving] a positive ROI sooner.”