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Virtualize with Confidence

by An interview with Andre Kemp | insiderPROFILES

October 1, 2010

In this Q&A, Andre Kemp, SAP Migration Specialist at VMware, discusses the current state of virtualization and how SAP customers are — and should be — leveraging it across their enterprises. Find out where your company stands, learn when to start considering virtualization, and discover the truth behind common misconceptions.

CIOs seeking expert advice on virtualizing their SAP landscapes often find themselves at Andre Kemp’s door. As an SAP business practice specialist at VMware, Kemp has the kind of background that allays even the jumpiest CIO’s concerns about virtualization.

Not only has Kemp been with VMware — a pioneer in the virtualization space — for seven years, but he has worked with SAP solutions since the mid-1990s. He has performed SAP implementations on three continents and is a certified Basis consultant and SAP migration specialist. In addition to his software industry experience, Kemp spent time as an SAP consultant at hardware giant Compaq/Hewlett-Packard. His name also shows up on a variety of online user groups and discussion boards — a sign that he understands both the big picture and ground-level concerns.

insiderPROFILES recently talked with Kemp about the current state of virtualization and how SAP customers are — and should be — leveraging it across their enterprises. 


Andre Kemp

“Virtualization has become a more accepted and pervasive technology that has proven itself in the data center.”
— Andre Kemp, SAP Migration Specialist, VMware

Q: What were the early drivers for SAP customers to virtualize their landscapes?

One of my earliest customers here at VMware was a governmental department in Australia in 2005. The department’s goal was to use virtualization to consolidate systems, reduce costs, improve flexibility, and employ a redundant virtualization strategy around not only its regular business applications, but also its tier-one applications, including SAP solutions.

And today, that’s the same message SAP customers provide when I ask why they want to virtualize. Cost is a driving factor, but more than cost savings, it’s the flexibility of what you can achieve from virtualization that you can’t from a physical standpoint.

A big turning point came in 2007, when SAP certified our platform for running SAP applications in production. Since then, virtualization has become a more accepted and pervasive technology that has proven itself in the data center. Over the past few years, our conversations no longer involve discussing what virtualization is or if it works. Rather, the discussions move very quickly into the capabilities and benefits — such as reduced operational costs — shifting away from a technical conversation toward a more business-focused discussion.

Q: Are the drivers for virtualization the same at large companies as they are at smaller ones?

Yes. A good example of a large company that is virtualizing is the Dow Chemical Company, which is in the midst of a global rollout virtualizing its entire SAP landscape, based on VMware vSphere 4. Dow chose to virtualize in order to achieve the same benefits most companies, large or small, hope to achieve: hardware flexibility, simplified disaster recovery, provisioning, reduced capital expenditures and operating expenses, and higher levels of service. These are the same types of drivers that we hear from our smaller customers that virtualize data centers.

At the end of March this year, Dow had deployed 174 virtual machines in production and had 488 more in non-production use. Long-term, this project will run over the course of about five years across North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia Pacific.

Virtualization is something that happens all the time at small companies and very large, global companies. For example, it has been an effective strategy for deploying SAP GUI. Traditionally, delivering the SAP GUI platform to the desktop has been a very complex process. Using application virtualization technology, however, many SAP customers have virtualized thousands of SAP GUIs and deployed them immediately with little or no configuration on each individual desktop.

Q: When is the best time for a company to consider virtualizing its SAP landscape?

While each company is different, there are certain triggers that can drive a business to virtualize its SAP applications:

  • Hardware refreshes. If you’re looking at purchasing new hardware, perhaps because your existing hardware is either coming off lease or its maintenance is finished, this is a good time to look into virtualization. Companies that express concerns about virtual machine performance often base their opinions on seeing older, mainframe-based virtualization technology. Deploying virtualization on the latest chipset greatly enhances performance.
  • Data platform changes. Virtualization is becoming a high-profile item on CIOs’ agendas as they look at how to reduce the cost of their database architecture across their applications. Database migration is a major technology change and most likely involves a change in hardware. So it makes sense to further reduce your operating costs, not just the capital expenditures, by changing your database and virtualizing at the same time.
  • New SAP installations. Why deploy on physical hardware when you can virtualize right from the beginning and get those cost benefits immediately? Your implementation can go much more quickly when you don’t have to deal with physical servers. And during early development especially, IT has to handle a lot of requests for repeated client copies, sandbox systems, and test systems, which can all be done from a virtual environment.
  • Upgrades. Virtualizing is a perfect way to help speed up SAP upgrade projects. You can reduce the costs in the rollouts by virtualizing those projects immediately and then putting disaster recovery technology around them.
  • Disaster recovery. When an SAP customer has virtualized its other applications and is looking at automating the disaster recovery system, this can be a great impetus to look at virtualizing. You’d be surprised at the number of companies that use tapes or disks (or both) as their backup for catastrophic failures. It’s not just about consolidation. It’s about automating and maximizing your business’s IT processes. Having a virtualization solution in place around disaster recovery is a major step in automating.

Q: How do SAP customers view virtualization in the cloud-computing environment?

Cloud computing is a topic that has piqued SAP customers’ interest recently. For example, at SAP’s own tradeshows two or three years ago, there was no word about cloud computing. Now, an entire SAP Virtualization Week exists because SAP and its customers understand very well that virtualization is the initial step to get closer to cloud computing.

Further evidence is the fact that SAP created an internal cloud-computing/virtualization group. The promise of cloud computing specifically around SAP systems is great, but how do we deliver something more tangible so that SAP customers can bring the promises of the cloud into the private data center? SAP has products designed specifically around the so-called “private cloud,” as well as initiatives for future products that dovetail into this.

At the same time, SAP is walking the walk in this area. SAP Global IT has had the internal Global IT infrastructure virtualized for more than two years and has more than 10,000 virtual machines currently. They use these machines to provide IT services, for initial projects in a fully automated fashion, to their own internal customers.

Q: What are some common misconceptions about virtualization?

In general, there’s a broad misconception about what is possible with the virtualization platform. I’d put the people holding that misconception into two categories. The first category is made up of the companies that tried virtualization in its earlier days, with older technology, and were unimpressed. So there’s a misconception about performance based on a prior experience. And that’s solved by education on our part.

And the second category consists of organizations that have never tried virtualizing their ERP systems because of the nature of ERP people from a technical perspective, compared to the rest of the data center folks. These ERP people are not exposed to virtualization as much because it came from a standard data center technology, as opposed to an ERP technology. So again, that’s an educational process, and when they see it, they are surprised by the scalability. 

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