Microsoft and Red Hat share the same views regarding automation. Their joint work highlights a commitment to delivering a more complete, flexible and more easily managed platform for SAP customers that are moving their workloads to Azure cloud as part of intelligent enterprise transformation.
It’s well known that SAP systems can be rather sensitive. They handle data related to the main processes of companies in areas like human resources, logistics, supply chain, finance and others. This data is often critical, and any outage that disrupts business continuity can have a high impact, translating into lost revenue, customer dissatisfaction and even mistrust toward the company.
That is the main reason why SAP systems must be managed to maximize uptime and performance while following the recommendations from SAP and many other vendors. The latter includes, for example, operating system (OS) vendors.
The people making this happen are the SAP Basis teams. In addition to the daily tasks needed to keep the SAP systems in good shape, these teams also need to negotiate with the line of business (LOB) when the systems need maintenance because the windows during which these systems can be down are strictly limited in number and duration.
Luckily the SAP world is now embracing new trends and technologies, and some of them help make SAP Basis folks’ lives easier. For the last few years, we have seen a clear tendency in customers to migrate their SAP systems (or part of them) to the cloud, specifically to the public cloud. This adds a lot of flexibility when it comes to managing the servers since they can be more easily and quickly deployed and replicated anywhere so that maintenance can be done in a new server, and then it is only a matter of pointing the SAP workloads to the new host.
SAP workloads on the Red Hat platform on Azure with automation as backbone
Microsoft and Red Hat have been steadily and closely collaborating to offer a platform for SAP workloads that is flexible and easier to manage. This frees the SAP Basis teams of a big part of their burden and gives them many hours back that they can then devote to new projects aimed at improving SAP systems and the user experience.
A central concept of this platform is automation, which is the key to not wasting time on routine tasks that, at the end of the day, keep the lights on but don't add any new or real value to the SAP ecosystem.
The main ingredient of the automation recipe and the one that gives it its distinct flavor is Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform. This is the central point that connects to and manages all the hosts in the IT landscape (running SAP workloads or not). Ansible Automation Platform is the repository for all the Ansible roles and playbooks that are used in the different processes that can be automated and combined into flows (called templates).
Let’s take the example of a stop/start of an SAP system. Since the average SAP system is connected to several other systems interdependently, the process of stopping it completely and starting it up again must follow a strict order to avoid data loss, corruption or servers left hanging because they depend on another host. This can be easily defined as a flow in Ansible Automation Platform using Ansible playbooks and roles to perform the process flawlessly.
Another great advantage of using automation to manage systems is that it eliminates human error, so in this case, we can be confident that the systems will be stopped and then started in exactly the same order every time.
If the main ingredient is Ansible Automation Platform, there are two other Red Hat products that complete this automation: Red Hat Smart Management and Red Hat Insights. The former is a product that takes care of the entire lifecycle of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) servers, making sure that they have the right version of all the packages they need (and all the servers that constitute a system have the same versions), as well as taking care of bug and security fixes. Red Hat Insights is a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) that analyzes the RHEL servers registered to it to verify that they follow all of Red Hat and SAP’s recommendations, which are numerous.
Before getting to these administration (Day 2) operations, the first step is to migrate the customer’s SAP systems to the Azure cloud (or to deploy new ones). Ansible Automation Platform is also key to dramatically speeding up and simplifying this process. Notably, it mitigates the bottlenecks typically found at the different stages—like provisioning the infrastructure—or doing all the necessary configurations at OS level to comply with the recommendations to run the SAP workloads correctly.
Thanks to Ansible Automation Platform, the whole migration or deployment processes can be done in one click and take just a few hours instead of being a painstaking manual process that can take days or weeks. The other great advantage is that since customers will have their tested and established workflows in Ansible Automation Platform, there will be less room for errors and the systems will be perfectly sized and configured.
The biggest value of automation for SAP system administration
The greatest value of automation for SAP Basis teams is for Day 2 operations. Migrations and new deployments (Day 1 operations) do not occur very often but the systems that have been migrated or created need to be looked after every day and automation really simplifies these administration tasks.
The Red Hat platform for SAP consists of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux for SAP Solutions subscription (that includes Red Hat Smart Management and Red Hat Insights), Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform and Red Hat OpenShift. Customers can develop and run cloud-native applications on OpenShift as well as create extensions for SAP data structures (following the side-by-side approach) and integrate all this with the SAP systems without having to modify the standard code, thus sticking to the "keeping the core clean" premise. All the components of this platform can run anywhere—on bare metal or on cloud—be it public, private or hybrid.
Automation remains a key thread in the work between Microsoft and Red Hat. This has yielded frameworks to migrate SAP workloads and deploy new ones on Microsoft Azure that allow customers to have their systems ready in a very short amount of time. At the same time, it reassures them that they will be correctly configured as per SAP, Microsoft and Red Hat’s recommendations, saving important amounts of time and money in the process.
As this foundation has been established and tested, the roadmap for the collaboration is focusing on automating Day 2 operations. An example is a solution to achieve near zero downtime when performing maintenance on SAP HANA servers running on RHEL for SAP Solutions on Azure.
Figure 1. Near zero downtime maintenance
This solution is based on the native high availability feature of SAP HANA, the SAP HANA System Replication. This feature cannot automate the failover between nodes running SAP HANA and needs another layer of automation in order to do so.
The RHEL High Availability Add-On (also included with the RHEL for SAP Solutions subscription) allows that. The maintenance (which can consist of patches or security notes applied at OS level, an OS, SAP kernel or SAP HANA upgrade, etc.) will be carried first on the secondary SAP HANA node of the cluster, then a failover will be triggered by means of an Ansible playbook, and the same maintenance will be performed on the other SAP HANA node. During this process, the SAP users will not perceive any disconnection as another SAP feature called "suspend DB connection" is used so that data will not be committed to DB while the switch between nodes (that takes just a few seconds) is operated.
This solution gives SAP Basis teams great flexibility as they can perform many maintenance activities during business hours and this results in more trust from the LOB.
Automation is SAP Basis administrators’ best ally as it frees up an enormous amount of their time, and by adding much more value to the company by coming up with real improvements for the users instead of having to make sure that every single part of the intricate SAP ecosystem is working well.
If you are interested in more solutions built with these and other products of the Red Hat's portfolio visit the Portfolio Architecture website.