Maintenance Automation in SAP System Environments

Maintenance Automation in SAP System Environments

Reading time: 7 mins

Alex Soto, Editor, SAPinsider

An organization with SAP systems sitting at its architectural core demands effective maintenance practices to help ensure around-the-clock operations and reduce downtime. However, setting up maintenance processes and practices for SAP system environments can present various challenges and risks.

An SAP Basis or infrastructure engineer may say that the primary challenge in maintaining SAP system environments is the relatively small window to perform tasks, such as updating drivers or installing new patches.

A business leader, on the other hand, is typically more concerned with ensuring business continuity. Error-prone manual maintenance operations in SAP system environments can put organizations at risk of falling short of this goal.

In this Technology Insight, SAPinsider’s Vice President and Research Director Robert Holland sat down with Ricardo Garcia Cavero, Principal Portfolio Architect at Red Hat, to discuss end-to-end maintenance automation and strategies for maximizing maintenance operations in SAP system environments.

Cavero emphasizes that business requirement decisions are typically made at the C-level suite, focusing on achieving three key goals: reducing downtime, speeding up deployment, and enhancing security. On the journey to setting up and deploying end-to-end maintenance automation in SAP system environments, however, most decisions come from SAP architects and SAP Basis administrators, according to Cavero.

From the C-Suite to the Application Layer

From performing maintenance, configurations, and upgrades to fine-tuning the SAP technical environment and tweaking performance every day, SAP architects and SAP Basis administrators have a lot to consider.

Take, for example, an organization with digital transformation initiatives, such as migrating from legacy SAP instances to modern SAP S/4HANA environments, already in full swing. A mistake in the maintenance process can cause applications to become unavailable, which can be detrimental to its business. Ineffective maintenance processes can also become mired with security gaps, leading to disruption of SAP operations.

How can SAP architects and SAP Basis administrators automate the whole maintenance process — from OS kernel upgrades and security fix applications to SAP HANA revision updates and SAP HANA parameter changes — and fend off potential issues?

Strategies around Day 1 operations and Day 2 operations can help SAP architects and SAP Basis administrators establish plans to meet the business’s availability and performance expectations while ensuring a healthy and functioning SAP system landscape over the long term, according to Cavero.

“Key trends when planning for maintenance, and equally important, preparing the organizations for future optimization, revolve around Day 1 and Day 2 operations strategies,” Cavero says.

He explains that Day 1 operations involve creating or installing new systems or migrating systems to the cloud.

“Customers are interested in doing this safely, repeatedly, and error free. But they also want it to run quickly with minimal intrusion to normal operations,” Cavero says, using an example of organizations migrating to SAP S/4HANA.

According to Cavero, Day 2 describes the “maintenance” stage — monitoring system performance and performing routine maintenance tasks such as installing upgrades and updating systems.

“Day 2 is primarily of interest to customers with very complex SAP landscapes,” he says. “They need to free up time for their SAP Basis administrators so they can focus time on productive tasks and, to a large extent, automate the maintenance of SAP servers.”

More Control with Infrastructure as Code

As organizations move SAP workloads to the cloud, they seek to be more agile and proactive in developing more straightforward solutions and in a more cost-effective way, according to Cavero.

“That’s why they decided to move to the cloud in the first place, but they are quite worried about the time it will take to move all of their architecture to the cloud,” he says.

Cavero notes that a consistent platform that can easily be managed from a central point and is less prone to errors can help organizations address these concerns.

“Organizations want to have a single point of control over everything, from network devices, storage, virtual machines, and up to the application layer,” says Cavero.

He explains that organizations are looking to infrastructure as code to gain more control. Infrastructure as code enables teams to manage and provision infrastructure through machine-readable definition files, replacing the need for costly physical hardware configurations.

According to Cavero, this aligns with core business requirements, including cost reduction, speed, and lower risk. This is because infrastructure as code allows technical teams to refocus their efforts on more productive tasks, allows faster execution when configuring infrastructure, and removes the risk of human error.

Maintenance Automation in Integrated Environments

As more organizations seek best-of-breed solutions, multi-vendor environments become more prevalent. According to a recent SAPinsider report, integration across SAP and non-SAP systems is an increasingly important objective for 90% of customers. And it’s becoming more and more important with the move to SAP S/4HANA, according to Cavero.

“One of the premises of SAP S/4HANA is to be the core, but organizations will also need to develop outside of the SAP core,” he says. As integration strategies are executed, organizations also worry about security. “Security is a great concern amid the pressure to maintain applications and the third-party solutions that are connected and integrated with SAP,” Cavero says.

Developers can carry on with securely developing new apps and connecting them with SAP in a faster way using a development platform such as Red Hat OpenShift combined with integration solutions like Red Hat Integration.

This combination allows organizations to become more adaptable while empowering their teams to develop solutions faster, according to Cavero.

“The Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform can come into play for QA testing so that they can create their own tests and run them automatically,” he adds.

Putting the Pieces Together

When it comes to maintenance processes, knowing how to configure and tune an organization’s SAP system or determining the most appropriate setup for a move to SAP S/4HANA or SAP HANA can often be a hit or miss, according to Cavero.

He explains that an experienced SAP Basis professional may understand what tweaks need to be made. But an individual that comes from a different environment may not have that same level of understanding.

For SAP organizations with multi-instance setups — for example, separate systems for development, test, production, and quality assurance — managing configurations can create additional challenges, according to Cavero.

“When an organization is creating clusters mostly for high-availability, multi-instance environments, it could be difficult to configure and get the clusters to function correctly,” he says.

Cavero explains that configuration files for each cluster may vary. What this means is that a minor misconfigured parameter in one cluster can create big issues for another. Additionally, every time a new cluster is added, more files have to be added, Cavero explains.

“A more dynamic way to manage this can benefit organizations with improved efficiencies and reduced errors,” Cavero says.

According to Cavero, solutions that provide templates help technical teams automate the whole maintenance process, spend less time fixing preventable issues, and focus more of their time optimizing operational performance. He highlights Ansible playbooks and roles, and how these tools can be customized to adjust to the different implementations of systems.

Cavero explains that because the platform is infrastructure — agnostic, it makes it possible to automate maintenance processes using templates with near-zero downtime, whether for on-premises, public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid cloud architectures.

But it’s not just about templates, according to Cavero.

“There are technologies around smart management and insights that focus on SAP systems that come together like a jigsaw puzzle to make it easier to automate the entire lifecycle,” he says. “For example, Red Hat Insights retrieves and compares information to the SAP-specific rules of its database, which has many other rules non-SAP-specific.”

Cavero emphasizes that the information gathered is anonymous.

“Customers can decide what they want to send so that it’s completely anonymized. They don’t need to send any SID or the name hostname or even a location. It’s just about gathering information about certain configurations that might lead to an issue,” he says.

Additionally, machine learning helps detect and solve potential issues automatically together with the Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform, according to Cavero.

“This allows organizations to find configurations that might lead to potential issues, alert administrators, and trigger remediation to sort the problem before it happens,” he says.

In a real-world example, Cavero highlights the success of a Spanish oil company that moved its whole SAP landscape to AWS.

“It used automation to reduce the time and accelerate go-to­market time dramatically. Apart from that, for Day 2 operations, they have put in place all this automation,” he says. The company also reduced the time it spends on SAP systems maintenance administration, he adds.

What does this mean for SAPinsiders?

  • Automate maintenance today with a vision of the future. Strategies around Day 1 operations enable SAP architects and SAP Basis administrators to meet immediate business availability and performance goals. Day 2 operations help ensure a healthy and functioning SAP system environment to meet business demands in the future.
  • Gain more control with a centralized platform. Moving individual infrastructure components to the cloud can open the door to errors. Infrastructure as code tied to a centralized platform for maintenance automation enables teams to manage and provision infrastructure from a single point of control, eliminating the time and money needed to configure physical hardware.
  • Solve the end-to-end maintenance automation puzzle. Knowing how to configure and tune an organization’s SAP system or determining the most appropriate setup for moving to SAP S/4HANA or SAP HANA can often be a hit or miss. According to Cavero, the Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform provides template modules, built on information gathered from organizations running SAP systems, that allow SAP customers to automate the maintenance of multiple systems straightforwardly.

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