In this blog, we will examine the unique complexities that an ever-evolving SAP landscape faces, and what skills and experience are needed from your Managed Service Provider to adequately support your ERP applications long-term. I will take an in-depth look into this issue with real-life examples from migrating SAP ECC to the cloud, running on SAP HANA and new application products that require much more technical knowledge far beyond the basics of SAP ECC.
Evolution of SAP beyond ECC
To better understand the issue of how only knowing SAP ECC can be very limiting let’s start with the history of how SAP applications have continued to evolve and become more complex over time.
SAP ERP Central Component (ECC) was launched in the early 1990s, prior to that systems were all mainframe based. SAP released the relational SAP ECC database (a non-mainframe open systems architecture), then in the early 2000s, SAP began to produce products like CRM, SRM, BW, and several others.Most of those products, but not all, primarily functioned very similar to an ABAP instance, which allowed them to all operate internally exactly like any other ECC instance would. The application code however was different, but as far as the way your basis team managed these products it was almost identical to how a SAP ECC landscape would be managed in regards to transaction monitoring and overall system security. Making the daily management of these SAP systems fairly straightforward for any MSPs with ECC knowledge.
Dynamic SAP Landscapes
This all changed however, when SAP created more products, such as SAP Business Warehouse (BW). BW was a little bit of a different ‘animal’ to maintain and monitor for basis teams all together. Beginning with building the architecture of the data warehouse instance, which was very different compared to creating an architecture of a standard application. The internal workings of BW (although it’s still an ABAP based instance) also had more complexities that basis teams had to learn and understand in order to optimally manage.
The same unique internal features also applied to SAP BusinessObjects (BOBJ), that is not an ABAP instance, rather it’s an executable server based instance which in turn operates very differently. To be honest, today many MSP basis teams still find it very difficult to monitor BOBJ instances sufficiently.
Another application that our team sees very prominently with SAP customers is Process Integration (PI) which again is also very unique in the way to which it is managed. PI is a message service application designed to take data inputs from several other data sources and transform that data into it in a standard format. The PI system itself doesn’t store a lot of data other than the logging of what it’s been doing, as it’s more of a transformative system which has data flows in and out of it, generally into SAP ECC. The PI application is again another application that needs to be critically understood as its typically not architected like an ECC instance would be due to its functionality.
Networking Complexity Should Not Be Cause for Confusion
One of the most unique aspects regarding appropriately managing these other applications (beyond just SAP ECC) is that they are very network intensive.
Take PI as an example, just recently the Managecore team helped a customer that had more than 30 interfaces going through PI to get to their SAP ECC environment. The sheer volume of daily transactions was in the millions, proper networking configuration was a critical component to their PI system’s success, to run efficiently and without unnecessary bottlenecks. Our team understood there was no room for error as their PI system was clearly mission critical; if it went down the customer could no longer process orders, complete shipments, inventories, etc. The three main considerations Managecore consultants had to be sure to address when building their PI network was, performance tuning, high availability, and security. It was imperative that our team understood the unique PI architecture to ensure these key components were met for our customer so that the PI application was highly available and secure. I can attest first-hand that this was much different than an ECC architecture.
SAP BW and the Evolution of SAP HANA – a Game Changer
As discussed earlier BW is a different kind of ‘animal’ to maintain, (even if it has been around since the early 2000s), it too has a completely unique architecture that is very different from your standard ECC landscape.
One of the biggest challenges that we now see with BW is that a lot of SAP customers are migrating their BW instance to SAP HANA first, instead of going to S/4HANA or running suite on HANA. Traditionally SAP stated that you should never access the database directly without going through an SAP application, so users would have to log into the BW application directly to run their queries against the database. But now with the introduction of SAP HANA, it can be architected it in such a way that allows customers to create report views directly from the HANA database, which no longer uses the BW application. I believe this to be a complete game changer for MPSs, as it is a very different approach to learn and understand.
Also in the mix now is the influx of third party reporting tools where you can run queries right against the sequel database. For MSPs, these changes present two challenges one being security and the other being performance tuning.
Unique Security Architecture
Teams are now able to create secured views at the database level rather than on the application level. One of Managecore’s customers ran into this exact scenario, which involved the security of their BW, BOBJ and a third-party reporting application. The architecture became highly complicated and challenging to get properly setup, and had our team only had ECC knowledge, it would have been a nightmare for the customer. However, our seasoned consultants made sure it was was done right, taking into consideration all aspects of this unique landscape.
The second biggest challenge is performance tuning, BW is unique when running on HANA versus an Oracle or a sequel server database. The performance tuning of BW on HANA is completely different and requires a specific HANA skillset (and typically HANA certification) to understand these unique differences.
Challenges Should be Proactive Opportunities – SAP HANA Replication
Again as SAP continues to evolve its technologies beyond just the standard database, MSPs too need to expand their knowledge of what is possible.
For example, customers running SAP S/4HANA on SAP HANA 2.0 are now able to replicate their systems (mainly for DR purposes), which essentially copies the system to another data center. In turn SAP now allows you to be able to run reports against the replicated copy (being read-only). Meaning reports don’t need to update data, thus allowing customers to eliminate the BW system and run reports directly from the DR system with no impact to the production S4/HANA system. So here again is another level of complexity that has emerged from advancement in SAP technology. However, only a knowledgeable MSP team would be able to leverage this as an opportunity for improvement. We ran into this scenario with a customer recently that had just upgraded to HANA 2.0. They had a lot of reports that were really slowing down their production system. Our skilled consultants recognized the issue and were able to setup a new configuration. However, this may not be the case should your MSP solely have ECC experience.
SAP ECC in the Cloud – is Just Different, it’s that Simple
When migrating SAP ECC to the cloud, it is imperative to understand that it operates much differently than on-premise solution would. To that point, any SAP application running in any cloud environment, must be handled differently with a skill set specifically tailored to cloud based applications. When you are managing an instance on-premise you have complete control over the hardware, and it is very straightforward, however when you are managing cloud based application it requires a different approach all together more than a basic ECC support model could handle.
Our team at Managecore has realized this and I’m proud to say has really stepped up to help customers long term, as more customers are running SAP in the cloud than ever before. However, it has become very evident when talking with SAP customers looking to make a change in their managed services providers that many MSPs cannot say the same. Which has left many of their customers frustrated and with poorly support SAP systems.
Basis Team Living in the Past
For the past 10 years knowing SAP ECC may very well have been sufficient, as many instances were architected so closely to an ECC landscape it was relatively easy to manage.However, now with the more prominent use of PI, BOBJ, BW, HANA, and the cloud, it’s become increasingly more complex to manage those instances with pure ECC knowledge. MSPs must have the relevant experience with performance tuning, monitoring, and security to know how to specifically handle each instance uniquely.
MSPs Should Grow with Technologies
We all recognize that SAP technology continues to advance and as I stated at the very beginning of this blog, it critical that your managed services team not only keeps up with technology but also has experience with all types of environments (not just managing the same small environment). SAP systems come with all sorts of little nuances and if you are not exposed to many different environments you may not even know the difference to recommend a better solution.
SAP customers need to ask their MSP what is the holistic experience of their team members, to be equipped to properly manage these unique system requirements.
Being only exposed to managing just one environment is not enough to know how it should be optimally maintained, which we have seen in the examples provided.
Technical skills while great, mean very little when not accompanied with a vast amount of hands on experience. Case in point, Managecore consultants have experience with hundreds of variations of landscapes. Meaning over the course of our consultants careers they have exposure to managing so many different customer systems (mush more than just a standard ECC), we know how SAP applications should run, and we know how to run them well. So not only can we deliver the technical support specifically required to each customer’s landscape but we deliver our experience to our customers to best manage each unique system.