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SAP virtualization requires specialized skills, experts say

Running a virtual SAP landscape requires a solid understanding of how physical environments work but also demands other skills specific to virtualization, according to experts.

Setting up and running a virtual SAP landscape requires a solid understanding of how physical SAP environments work as well as other skills specific to SAP virtualization technology, according to industry analysts and experts. 

For one, virtualization administrators need to be well versed in the strategies, concepts, and management tools that can help ensure the virtual environment is running as efficiently and smoothly as possible, according to Analyst Galen Schreck of Forrester Research, Inc.

“Where in the past [SAP administrators] might be looking at CPU utilization, the virtualization administrator needs to look at things like VM [virtual machine] ready time, which tells you how much of the time the virtual machine is waiting to execute, how long it’s waiting on resources,” Schreck said. “It’s a metric that didn’t exist before.” 

Administrators also need to know how many virtual machines to put on a physical server to ensure that the organization is getting the most out of its infrastructure, Schreck said. “I do think [virtualization administration is] a unique job description,” he said. “Everything is subtly different.”

On the other hand, many of the skills needed for virtualized environments are directly transferable from those needed to run physical environments, according to Jeff Anders, director of product management at SAP. For example, administrators install the application server on the operating system for the virtual machine in the same way they would a physical machine, Anders said.

With virtualization, however, administrators need to understand how the virtual environment gets mapped to the physical environment, according to Anders. 

“That’s where the real skill set is. I’m dealing with a piece of software that gets configured, not a set of hardware, along with the added step of mapping,” he said. “It’s not something that’s necessarily hard; it’s just something that’s new.”

Outside versus inside help

Whether companies decide to hire outside consultants or do it all in-house depends on a range of factors.

If an organization has the financial resources, there are companies that can help with issues from budgeting and scheduling, to helping determine the correct server disk size. They can also help with performance testing and tuning. SAP itself conducts a certification program for cloud service providers.

Companies trying to decide whether to bring in virtualization help should determine not only if they have the IT personnel in-house, but their long-term plan for support, according to Matt Lestock, the chief technology officer and lead infrastructure architect at DataXstream, a systems integration and consulting firm that focuses on SAP technology.

Even if the IT department uses in-house administrators to manage the virtual environment, Gartner Inc. analyst Chris Wolf recommends bringing in an outside expert to help build a solid architecture.

“Architecting virtual infrastructure based on proven industry best practices leads to more efficient and better managed resources,” he said. “Also, the organization should be safeguarded against architectural missteps that can result in downtime and added reconfiguration costs down the road.”

Companies should be aware, however, that because of virtualization’s popularity, there are some consulting firms that are keen to jump on the virtual bandwagon without the skills to back it up.

“One thing that I tell customers when they’re looking at consultants is to make sure that you really vet references that the consultant provides, especially at companies of a similar size and scale to what the organization is looking to do on the virtualization side,” Wolf said. “Make sure that the consultant isn’t coming in and learning alongside you while collecting a paycheck.”

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