Managing the Portal Cost Equation

Feature Article | March 22, 2004 by admin

From a technology perspective, mySAP Enterprise Portal combines existing technologies – such as SAP R/3, ABAP – with new technologies – such as J2EE, Web services – which will require not only more IT operations staff but also a broader skill set to manage the environment. The mySAP Enterprise Portal architecture has many moving parts including portal servers, Web servers, Load Balancers which provide scalability by distributing portal traffic between the portal servers, LDAP servers which store contact information, databases, Unification Servers which enable the “drag and relate” functionality of the mySAP Enterprise Portal, Content Management Servers, and SAP Internet Transaction Server (ITS) which provides the interface between SAP R/3 and the Internet, and back-end systems itself.
Experience has shown that it takes much longer to locate the cause of a problem than it does to fix it. In a portal environment, the sheer number of components exponentially impacts the time it takes to determine the root cause of a problem. Although SAP R/3 has always worked with legacy and third-party applications, the integration was established through point-to-point interfaces and direct data transfers from one solution to the other. mySAP Enterprise Portal enables real technological and functional integration, enabling or possibly requiring the SAP team to manage not only the traditional mySAP environment but also the extended landscape of third party and custom applications, which are now brought together by the portal.
It is a well-accepted fact that IT solutions incur costs. What is less known is the breakdown of those costs; typically IT-related costs are divided into direct costs (such as hardware, software and IT staff) and indirect costs (such as loss of business productivity, or diminished customer satisfaction). According to studies by industry analysts, the breakdown of costs between direct and indirect is typically fifty-fifty. However, the savings that can be achieved by implementing best practices are much more substantial in indirect costs by a ratio of 3 to 1. For many years, BMC Software has provided customers with tools and best practices to reduce these direct and indirect IT-related costs. These solutions support TCO best practices including performance and availability management, capacity planning, service level management and identity management.

Availability and performance management

Measurable Results

Measurable Results

Managing the availability and performance of a mySAP Enterprise Portal environment will create both direct and indirect costs. IT staff will be one area where costs will be difficult to estimate in the planning phase. Are there enough staff to provide the necessary level of support and do they have the required skills? The first decision is which team (or teams) will support this new environment. SAP experts will play a significant role. However, what is the best way to handle the management of new non-SAP specific components of the portal, such as the J2EE infrastructure? Most likely, companies will want to leverage their existing skilled resources, rather than incurring the additional expense of new hires. Most will be calling on existing SAP basis experts as well as skilled J2EE staff who are not currently a part of the SAP technical team to manage the availability and performance of mySAP Enterprise Portal. It is important that these teams collaborate closely on problem triage and quickly assign problems to the right team for resolution.
Reducing problem resolution time is key to containing systems support costs. SAP’s Solution Manager and CCMS (Computer Center Management System) are SAP’s tools for monitoring, and controlling the SAP environment. Both provide a strong foundation for managing mySAP Enterprise Portal for the SAP team. BMC Software’s approach is to extend SAP’s native capabilities by automating health checks in order to make sure that an SAP system (or any other IT system) is working properly with no existing or expected degradation. SAP and IT administrators are required to periodically check the condition of the system and its individual components (much like the annual medical check up people go through). Of course these IT health checks are conducted daily or even more frequently. Automating these enables a reduction in the IT administrators’ workload while increasing the frequency of the system checks.
BMC Software’s products provide automated monitoring of the health of both critical SAP and non-SAP components in the mySAP Enterprise Portal, as well as the connections between them. SAP experts can have visibility into the entire portal environment and its components within SAP’s Solution Manager. Likewise, a J2EE support team can see the same information on the entire portal platform. This cross-component visibility and proactive, automated problem detection within any of the many components in the mySAP Enterprise Portal environment will significantly reduce the time to identify, assign and resolve problems, thereby making your portal support staff more efficient.
BMC Software’s mySAP Enterprise Portal management solution can be defined to execute automated recovery and maintenance actions, such as restarting a process or server, when the system reaches a particular state. For example, the lack of connectivity between several portal servers and the LDAP server is a good indication that the LDAP server must be restarted, although the LDAP server itself might seem to be available. When such a condition is automatically detected, it can trigger a corrective or preventive action without requiring the manual intervention of the administrator. Through this type of intelligent automation, direct staffing costs can be controlled as existing staff can handle the increased management task load of the new portal environment. Application Service Providers who rely heavily on automation have been able to triple their customer base while maintaining desired service levels with their existing IT resources.
Proactive discovery is another aspect of intelligent automation that reduces the management burden on IT staff. For example, the Portal Content Directory (PCD) is used to store role definitions, administration, and role data for page visualization. BMC Software’s mySAP Enterprise Portal management solution automatically discovers settings from the PCD, such as lock server settings, portal database settings and portal server names. This greatly simplifies the configuration process and allows administrators to deploy the portal management solution in an efficient and cost-effective way.

Cost Drivers at a Glance

Cost Drivers at a Glance

Overall, managing availability and performance effectively increases end-user productivity, which significantly addresses the indirect cost side of the equation. Availability means not only having systems running and delivering content but also making sure the content is correct – another area where BMC Software provides intelligent automation. Incorrect content is a business liability; proactive checking of the content delivered to end-users through the portal and automated alerting on discrepancies helps portal support staff quickly identify and resolve potentially business-damaging data problems.

Capacity planning

Typically a mySAP Enterprise Portal implementation is executed in phases, with each phase adding more functionality, integrating more back-end systems, adding new users and providing users with more access rights. Consequently, properly sizing the system, in terms of the number and size of servers can present a significant challenge and lead to excessive operational costs. The frequent result is for organizations to knowingly create huge redundancies at unnecessary cost. Apart from the obvious hardware costs (acquisition and maintenance) and incremental software licensing costs, redundancy adds to complexity, which in turn generates an additional systems management burden.
So what alternative solution is available? How can one achieve timely hardware and software acquisition and rollout – without too much too soon, or too little too late? Performance analysis solutions, such as those from BMC Software, allow SAP teams to model different configuration scenarios to determine which is the best fit for a portal’s current and future level of activity. For example, a baseline portal environment can be established with a certain number and type of servers and portal users. Through modelling, any of these parameters can be changed to see the effect this will have on average response time. Adding more servers, using different types of hardware, upgrading memory and balancing workloads differently across servers are all possible scenarios that can be tested, without having to build the physical environment.

Service level management

Unlike capacity planning and performance and availability management, managing service level agreements (SLAs) is typically not thought of as a means to reduce costs. Service level management (SLM) is a continuous improvement process for managing the quality of IT services delivered to business users. One of the typical goals of SLM is to provide services at the agreed upon levels at the lowest possible cost. In mySAP Enterprise Portal environments with a large, diverse user community, maintaining agreed-to performance and availability can create additional operational costs. Often the portal support team is left asking themselves, “Have I reduced costs and are we actually achieving the agreed to performance and availability goals?”

Typical SLA Criteria

Typical SLA Criteria

Service level management solutions directly address this question by defining service level agreements (SLAs) that are agreed to with the business, and then monitor whether or not these SLAs are being met. For example, with BMC Software’s management solution for mySAP Enterprise Portal, SAP customers can not only define SLAs and monitor service levels for the portal, but also the supporting system components such as network, SAP R/3 and other back-end systems. SLAs can be defined for the entire system as well as for a combination of users, locations and task types.

Automated SLA tracking removes the need for the portal support team to spend countless hours manually collecting and collating data and again facilitates the problem resolution process, allowing the IT operational staff to be more efficient and achieve the agreed-to SLAs at a lower cost.

Identity management

mySAP Enterprise Portal requires integration with many SAP and non-SAP applications, each with its own user administration tools and policies. mySAP Enterprise Portal provides out-of-the-box user administration and single sign-on capabilities for the SAP environment. BMC Software extends this capability to cover identity management for the entire application landscape (both SAP and non-SAP systems). That provides access rights that “moves” with the employees. The BMC Software enterprise-wide identity management solution now integrates with mySAP HR and can create, delete, and define access rights according to an employee’s organizational status. BMC Software reduces password-related Help Desk costs, minimizes user provisioning-related delays for new employees and employee job changes, and also reduces the risk and associated costs from unauthorized security infringements.

Beyond systems management

Fully understanding and managing the intricacies of mySAP Enterprise Portal environment brings organizations one step closer to linking IT resources more tightly to business objectives. This approach, known as Business Service Management (BSM), enables companies to move beyond traditional IT management and enable management of their business-critical services from both an IT and a business perspective. For example, BSM in a portal environment might be the definition and monitoring of customer-facing interactions based on business-defined SLAs. If the system is unavailable, the customer experience will suffer and have severe economic repercussions to the organization. Therefore, not only should a portal management solution monitor system health and automate administrative tasks, but it should also prioritize the management of portal functions based on what will create the most adverse impact on the customer. This BSM-oriented approach brings clarity to complexity and allows critical problems to be taken care of first. By solving these most crucial problems first, the portal support team can take on a more proactive, rather than reactive, role to more effectively use their IT operational resources to support and drive business value.

Karen Sinclair

Karen Sinclair

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