Virtualizing SAP—it’s a risk not to

by Elliot Fliesler, Director, SAP Alliance, VMware

There are business-critical applications—and then there’s SAP.  If you’re an IT manager in an SAP-based organization, you know first-hand the importance of this market-leading BCA system to every aspect of your operations.  Many large enterprises cannot run their businesses without SAP—it’s not just critical, it’s indispensable.

Is Virtualizing SAP Risky?

In years past, some IT managers were reluctant to virtualize SAP, and for good reasons.  The story is very different today, in part because of the increased emphasis on IT as a strategic function. A case in point is Hoya Corporation, a Tokyo-based manufacturer of optical products. Needing to respond more quickly to changes in the global marketplace, Hoya decided to become more agile in every aspect of its operations, including its SAP environment.  Therefore, in November 2010, the company migrated its entire production SAP environment[1] to a private cloud based on VMware vSphere.

Hoya has been reaping the benefits ever since.  SAP operating costs have been cut by 75 percent.  Peak workloads—for example, running consolidated financial reports—are handled much more effectively, thanks to streamlined provisioning.  The increased flexibility has allow the company to integrate several acquisitions with minimal disruption to ongoing operations.  And Hoya is leveraging its virtualized SAP environment to add additional capabilities in the near future: enhanced disaster recovery/business continuity and a chargeback system for cost transparency.

Organizations Benefit from Virtualizing SAP

The pressure to ensure high availability is intense for SAP managers—even a few minutes of downtime can unleash a barrage of angry phone calls from frustrated users.  VMware virtualization takes advantage of SAP’s high-availability features to ensure that the software stays running—and the phones stay quiet.

Upgrades are a fact of life for every SAP landscape and they can be complex and time-consuming. Often they take hours or days in a non-virtualized platform—if you have the hardware available. In a virtual environment, new virtual machines can be provisioned in minutes, and then deprovisioned rapidly, recovering the resources.    

As IT budgets continue to shrink, the imperative to lower operating costs gets more urgent—and virtualization can make a real difference.  Server consolidation translates directly into lower costs for power, cooling, and space—and boosts the organizations “green” profile in the bargain.

Timing the Move

Let’s say that you’ve decided to virtualize your SAP environment—now the question is timing.  In the course of helping literally thousands of customers make the transition from physical to virtual VMware has identified some opportune times to move.

A planned SAP upgrade can be a good time.  For example, Mazda took advantage of a planned move to SAP NetWeaver Process Integration to virtualize their entire SAP production environment[2]—and cut in half their capital expenses.

When approaching a hardware refresh, many customers take advantage of the changeover to consider a migration to virtualization at the same time.  Many system integrators know how to integrate the refresh and virtualization projects to minimize disruptions and combine staff training for new hardware and software.

New compliance and security imperatives often require substantial infrastructure changes, which can highlight the inherent inflexibility of the existing platform and persuade top management to invest in infrastructure.  In the wake of a natural or man-made disaster that impacts operations, top executives often order a review of the company’s disaster recovery/business continuity plans, exposing vulnerabilities that can be best addressed with virtualization.