Speeding Entry into the Cloud

October 15, 2012 by Klaus Rathje

Photo: Volker Sommer, private

Data centers all over the world have known about the benefits of server virtualization for a long time. But software virtualization is a less familiar topic. Fujitsu embraced this technology a number of years ago with its “FlexFrame for SAP” infrastructure solution. Volker Sommer, Solution Manager for FlexFrame for SAP at Fujitsu, explains why this product has the power to get IT administrators’ pulses racing.

SAP.info: The FlexFrame concept pre-dates cloud computing and it’s also been around longer than server virtualization. Nevertheless, its high degree of flexibility means that it offers significant advantages.

Volker Sommer: That’s right. In fact, you could say that we were ahead of our time. FlexFrame delivers greater availability because you don’t need a separate server for each SAP module.  Each SAP service can run on any physical or virtual system, and you can share spare server power across the entire IT landscape.

Does that mean SAP users save on hardware costs?

Yes. A major advantage of software virtualization is that it lets you “park” specific SAP services. For example, you can simply switch off a development system that you don’t need and move it to a storage system. The freed-up server resources are then available for use by another service. This makes sound practical sense for services that require a certain amount of server capacity for temporary periods, such as the monthly payroll run in an HR system. This system requires a very large capacity for a short period at the end of each month – which the responsible server must be capable of provisioning – but needs maybe only five percent of this capacity for the rest of the month. In a FlexFrame environment, you could move this SAP service to a powerful server just before the payroll run and then return it to a “parked” position again afterwards.

How do I keep track of what is running where?

A central console shows you which service is running on which system, and how much server power that service is currently consuming. You can use this information to distribute your server resources accordingly. In other words, the whole thing is easy to manage.

Fujitsu claims that FlexFrame significantly speeds up the administration of SAP environments. Could you explain how? 

A key aspect of FlexFrame is that many of the standard administration tasks have been automated using scripts that run independently. So, if a new system is to be deployed – a new virtual machine that starts under VMware or an additional physical server – the entire mechanism is automated. This means that the new system – running on a shared operating system – is incorporated into the high-availability system and server resources are allocated to it. In a conventional IT environment, it can take a whole week to prepare for an SAP installation. With FlexFrame, a new SAP system is generally available in one to two hours.

Read on the next page: The masterplan in the coming years

What effort is involved in implementing FlexFrame?

Fujitsu has put together a service portfolio that covers everything from workshops held at the customer site to a complete environment being staged at Fujitsu in Augsburg prior to delivery. We set up the environment on our premises and deliver a pre-tested environment that is immediately deployable. We did this for a FlexFrame client from the banking sector last year. This client invited bids for a new infrastructure solution, stipulating that it wanted advance benchmark proof that the proposed solution really would be powerful enough to meet its requirements. We conducted a detailed analysis prior to sizing and then staged a FlexFrame environment to match the customer’s parameters here at Fujitsu. We were ready to start the benchmark in just three days. It took our competitors up to eight weeks to join the race…

What size of customer is FlexFrame for SAP designed for?

Our solution runs on classic Intel-standard servers such as those deployed by smaller businesses and it is pre-installed on our Fujitsu PRIMERGY servers. We have also brought a cost-effective, entry-level variant to the market – FlexFrame Compact for SAP – for environments consisting of up to ten SAP systems. Our worldwide customer base numbers more than 300, including a large number of hosting providers such as Lufthansa Systems – with several hundreds of servers – and corporate customers who run their entire SAP landscape on just two or three servers. FlexFrame is a viable option for smaller companies too, because they do not need to build up a large amount of SAP expertise internally. Even our longer-standing FlexFrame customers, some of whom have grown significantly in recent years, say that – despite having to scale up their IT environments significantly – they have not had to expand their FlexFrame administration teams.

What is your master plan for FlexFrame in the coming years?

First and foremost, we’re delighted to see that many of our FlexFrame customers are using our solution as a basis for their private clouds. FlexFrame turns cloud visions into reality, so you could say that we’ve already made our quantum leap into the IT future. Our next project is to integrate the SAP HANA in-memory database. Companies opting for FlexFrame for SAP can therefore rest assured that their environment is optimally prepared for SAP HANA.

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