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With SAP server virtualization technology, experts say start small

Despite server virtualization being a relatively new practice, there are a number of technology options for companies to consider. Either way, experts say, companies should begin with a modest project.

Companies embarking on an SAP virtualization technology project should start with a small project with limited impact, according to SAP and a number of analysts.

“Pick a well-defined project, and probably something that’s not in a mission-critical role, and basically come up with a plan that is well thought out and has been accepted by a fairly high level in the organization,” said Jeff Anders, director of product management at SAP.

That type of project is best suited for a company’s development system, which can be reset if things go south, according to Wade Walla, an SAP consultant with the consulting firm group:basis

“If you screw that up, it’s not going to hurt your career,” Walla said.   

Getting started with a virtualization project

Getting buy-in is important, Anders said, because virtualization projects typically affect different parts of the infrastructure across a variety of different departments, from computing to network and storage resources, especially at larger companies. 

“Put together whatever your migration plan is going to be, and make sure you have a high level of support behind it. I think that’s one of the most critical things to getting started,” Anders said.

From there, companies can begin selecting their virtualization software. Factors that companies need to consider when selecting what software to go with include:

  • Price
  • Performance
  • Supported guest/host operating systems
  • License model (commercial or open source)
  • Level of support needed
  • Actual number of physical CPUs each virtual machine will recognize or use

Companies also need to look at how much virtual capacity they’ll need. A virtual machine (VM) can support a fixed number of virtual CPUs, Anders said. Some vendors support two virtual CPUs per VM, others as many as eight. 

“Just as in the physical world, the number of virtual CPUs relates to the amount of processing power you get from the VM,” Anders said. “The more power you need, the more virtual CPUs you will want the virtualization technology to support. If you don’t need as much power, you can probably do with fewer virtual CPUs, which in turn may allow you to adopt a less expensive solution.”

And then there’s the tool set. All of the vendors provide tools to implement and manage the virtual technologies and the virtual infrastructures they’re delivering, according to Anders. “Some of those are going to be easier to use,” he said. “Some of those are going to have different costs associated with them, and so you want to look at those factors as well.”

Be careful with the tools at your disposal

Virtualization technology provides a number of benefits, according to Matt Lestock, chief technology officer and lead infrastructure architect at DataXstream, an SAP systems integration and consulting firm, but they can pose some problems if not used the right way.

“We have the ability to clone a system, say a production system for ECC [ERP Central Component]. We can take an exact copy of that and split that off into another system that someone else can work on without affecting production,” he said. “But in doing so, we don’t want that copied system to be on the same network as production because you could potentially affect users logging into the system.”

Making sure your SAP virtualization project succeeds

There are a number of things companies can do to make sure their SAP server virtualization projects succeed, including making sure they choose the right underlying hardware in the first place, according to Chris Wolf, an analyst with Gartner Inc. 

For example, the hardware platform should include a processor that can perform rapid virtualization indexing, which moves certain functionality from the software to the CPU, where it can be processed faster, or a similar technology like extended page tables.     

That’s not all, he added. “You also want to be running on (virtualization software) that can exploit those features,” Wolf said.

Running SAP applications on virtualized servers also requires more sophisticated approaches to backing data up than running a simple archival agent inside the machine.

Instead, organizations should consider using backup technologies that allow companies to offload the backup workload to the storage array, so that the performance of the individual VM is not affected, Wolf said.

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