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How many mechanics do you take with you on a ride in your car? Maybe none, but can you operate a data center for SAP applications without engineers? Well, this provocative comparison might be unfair because an application data center is a more complex beast then a car. Nevertheless, it would be nice to take an extra step towards deployment and operations automation in IT.

While IT engineers are typically very specialized in just certain applications, network technologies and so on, in the end, all technologies used in a data center need to function well together. This means that different technologies need to be integrated with each other, which in turn forces different IT expert groups to communicate with each other across an entire IT organization. Such cross-IT silo communications can be slow and error prone. Savings in time and money could be substantial if such cross-silo work could be reduced through cross-technology layers automation.

A simple but not uncommon example for the problem above is to configure and operate a load balancer or better, an application delivery controller (ADC), which is a generalization of a load balancer, with additional network service features. ADCs are useful for SAP applications with multiple instances for scalability and high availability. “When I reconfigure an SAP application, it takes me three months to get my network colleagues to change the load balancer,” is what I once heard from a customer. Surely an extreme example, but you get the point.

In order to help provide new solutions to our customers, collaboration has been taking place through the Enterprise Services Community (ES Community), our collaborative, cross-industry program that brings together thought leaders from diverse industries to share ideas and innovations in enterprise services. One Community Definition Group (CDG) – titled “PCDG 97 NetWeaver Infrastructure APIs for Network Solutions” – is focused on automation of network-application integrated configuration and operation. As the group title implies, the SAP NetWeaver technology platform includes APIs, which can be used by ADCs (load balancers) to auto-configure themselves as proxies for multi-instance SAP application systems. If the APIs are polled on a regular basis, maybe every five minutes, ADCs become capable of reacting to SAP application instance changes during production runtime. If another application instance is brought up, let’s say for providing more computing capacity for an increasing end-user load, or if an instance is brought down temporarily for maintenance, the ADC could adjust load balancing automatically without any manual administrator intervention. No three month waiting times, nor even e-mails from the application group to the network group, are any longer needed. 

Auto-configuration and auto-operation was the main topic of the ES Community group, which could lead in the near future to extended functionalities in partner’s products. Technical details have been discussed and a certification test scenario for a new SAP certification of these features has been developed.

There is even a plan to go much further, and for that, I’d like to go back to a mechanical engineering example.

According to Wikipedia, steam engines have a long history, going back 2,000 years. Early devices were not practical power producers. This changed as James Watt invented the centrifugal or fly-wheel governor. This component automatically adjusts the engine output power to a changing workload (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Watt). Instead of an operator fiddling with a steam valve, this was then done automatically through the fly-wheel governor. Consequence: James Watt’s steam engines needed 75 percent less fuel then their competitors.

Green IT is currently a hot discussion topic, and in that regard, a 75 percent reduction in data-center resource consumption with similar savings in power and cooling energy would surely be appreciated. I don’t know if the results of one SAP ES Community group can lead to such great savings, but maybe we can make a contribution towards advancements in Green IT.

The key elements of the modern steam engines are the steam valve and the fly-wheel governor, which with the rest of the machine are combined in a closed circuit self-regulating system. This system keeps the steam engine working at a constant pace under varying work loads. All that we need to do now is to invent closed circuit self-regulating controllers in IT systems.

With the Adaptive Computing Controller tool, a “steam valve” for SAP systems is provided. An Adaptive Computing Controller API was part of our discussions in the ES Community group. The tool allows instances of one SAP system to be started and stopped. Therefore, the Adaptive Computing Controller tool can be used for adjusting SAP processing capacity to changing workload needs.

 

A modern application delivery controller solution sits in the perfect spot to play the role of the fly-wheel governor. The ADC could measure the response time performance of the SAP application in the same way that the fly-wheel governor measures the rounds per minute of a steam engine.  If performance degrades below a certain threshold or exceeds another level, the ADC could send commands to the Adaptive Computing Controller to add or shut down SAP system instances. Of course the ADC should not overreact and therefore needs to also check when instance changes, which take some time to execute, are completed.

The up-to-date status of instances can be retrieved by the same mechanism as needed for auto-configuration and auto-operation as described above. By combining capabilities of the SAP application system with the Adaptive Computing Controller and ADC capabilities, it would be possible to build a closed circuit controlled SAP system, which uses only as much resources as needed for a changing workload at any point in time.  Computing resources from over sizing systems for occasional peak loads could be saved, which is analogous to saving fuel when using James Watt’s steam engine improvements. For end users, it makes the SAP system also a little bit more like driving a car without a mechanic on board.

I hope you like this little blog. Please let me know if you have any comments or ideas you’d like to discuss on data-center IT automation. If you’d like more details, you can also visit my ASUG session, “Simplifying SAP NetWeaver Application Server Operations,” which I’ll present at the ASUG and SAPPHIRE 2009 conference in Orlando in May.

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  1. Arundeep Singh
    Hi Joerg,

    I observed that there was no comment on this interesting blog. I am not sure if this has any connection to the release date of the blog 🙂

    I also loved the analogy being used and side by side comparison of the old and new age tools.

    I have been thinking of this option to come for a long time now. Not just the load balancer, but the overall automation of operations. Although acheving what you are mentioning has been a challenge till now in some ways. e.g. in a virtual environment where multiple application servers are installated, it is also important to consider the load of other systems in addition to the system for which ACC is configured.

    I had other ideas too, but never got into the imlementation side of it.

    1.Acheive this flexibilty not only at the server level but also at the process level. Surely it has its own complexity involved.

    2. There is also a possibility to have a pattern based analysis and configuration. Based on the load on the system on given hours or days a pattern is built up. The system can be prepared in advance for the heavy load times than reacting to the needs. Again not an easy task.

    3. Moving the application server including SPOF, databse servers without a downtime to the user. idea is that application should be able to dynamicall configure itself to use the redundant services , but still keep the integrity of the data. an then later on switch off the old service and only use the new ones. To much to ask may be, but I am sure it is possible.

    As you said this got started with James watt, then it was used in electronic control circuits and now is the time for Enterprise Applications.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and efforts.

    Regards,
    Arundeep Singh

    (0) 

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