Newspapers with Open Source

June 27, 2005 by admin

NZZ and St. Galler Tagblatt

NZZ and St. Galler Tagblatt

At the end of 2003 the management team of publisher Neue Zürcher Zeitung AG (NZZ) decided on a new strategy for the group’s entire information technology. Against this background the decision was taken to operate SAP applications at NZZ and St. Galler Tagblatt at a single, joint location. St. Gallen was selected. The IT specialists from Eastern Switzerland have significantly more SAP experience than their colleagues from Zurich, as they were one of the first SAP customers in Switzerland at the start of the 90s.
The new information strategy included a changeover from proprietary to open systems. This paved the way both for the integration of two independent SAP application landscapes and for a changeover from Unix to Linux and from Oracle to the Open Source database MaxDB certified by SAP. “The introduction of non-proprietary technologies at operating system, database and server levels means more flexibility in procuring the necessary software and hardware,” says Peter Baer, IT manager at St. Galler Tagblatt AG, justifying the move.

The ‘chemistry’ has to be right

The migration happened fast, with IT manager Baer ordering the four 64-bit servers in the middle of May 2004. The test phase began at the end of May and the new system went online at the NZZ on July 5. The system changeover at St.Galler Tagblatt then took place from August till October 2004.
All the tasks were completed, including those regarding the project running time. From a business perspective a migration should not take more than a quarter of a year, otherwise there is the risk that development will come to a halt. This is because employees involved in changeover work are not available for ongoing maintenance service during this time. A total of eight IT department employees were involved full-time in the project in Zurich and St. Gallen.
“It’s a purely technical migration without a change of release,” stresses Peter Baer. He and his team benefited from specialist support throughout the process from TDS MultiVision, a member of the TDS Group. IT experts from TDS had already provided the NZZ group with support in the SAP environment, firstly with a change of release, but also with a hardware migration from IBM to HP. “TDS has the relevant know-how, including in the Linux environment; this was demonstrated again and again during the project,” says Peter Baer, backing up the decision. “The human factor plays a key role in such projects too. The ‘chemistry’ has to be right between everyone involved, otherwise things will soon start to go wrong.”
TDS was in charge of the technical side of the project and set out the steps necessary for transferring SAP applications to the new Linux environment. NZZ then used this to produce the organizational workflow, which was followed without any major hitches. Further support for the migration came from Bechtle Data AG. This company was responsible for selecting and procuring hardware components, including four Itanium servers from IBM.

Three to nine times faster

During the migration process Peter Baer and his colleagues were keen to assure compatibility between software and hardware. Questions such as “Will data backup work in the new system environment?” or “Will high availability of data be assured?” had to be resolved.
Yet this otherwise successful project did not run entirely without problems. “At the beginning of the test phase we had performance problems with the database,” remembers Peter Baer. “Processing initially took longer after the system changeover than before.” Working with the SAP MaxDB competence center in Berlin, a solution was found and access to data was optimized. Now, depending on the application, the processing speed is three to nine times faster than with the old system. The SAP applications at Neue Zürcher Zeitung and St. Galler Tagblatt have been running since October 2004 on Linux and work just as smoothly as in the former Unix environment.
Following the changeover, training courses were held for staff. These consisted of a one-week Linux course and a MaxDB course for about three days. At St. Galler Tagblatt 100 staff now use the SAP solutions and at the NZZ the number is approximately 200. They are all very satisfied with the new system – just like Peter Baer. “The feedback has been positive throughout,” he reports. The improved performance is noticeable in newspaper distribution, for instance. Dispatch documents and delivery notes for delivery organizations can be issued much faster than was previously possible.
The publisher is now working on the implementation of a cluster – i.e. several independent server systems loosely connected with each other – that ensures a fail-safe IT environment.

Paid for itself after two years

Peter Baer can already confirm that investments in the Linux and MaxDB combination have paid off. The new environment is not only far more powerful, it is also less expensive. Costs have been cut through much cheaper hardware and less expensive software licenses in the Linux environment. The total savings from system consolidation and migration to Linux amounted to approximately 100,000 Swiss francs (around Euro 65,000) in the first year. Savings in the second year onwards are expected to be approximately half a million Swiss francs (around Euro 324,000). If everything goes to plan, there will be an ROI in two years at the latest.
Peter Baer is adamant that these savings are not the result of downsizing. After the migration there are still around 50 IT staff working with NZZ and Tagblatt, although their areas of activity have changed somewhat. As originally planned, hosting and administration of the systems are now done exclusively in St. Gallen. Support and application development are where it matters – in Zurich and St. Gallen. The third largest publisher in Switzerland has achieved its ambitious goal of higher performance for lower costs through using Open Source products and skilled partners.

Marcel Schäfer

Marcel Schäfer

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