Implementing SAP R/3 on NT for Cost Savings

It’s no secret that many corporate IT shops do not trust Windows NT when it comes to reliability. For that reason, they are reluctant to run beefy mission-critical applications such as SAP R/3 on Windows NT.

It’s no secret that many corporate IT shops do not trust Windows NT when it comes to reliability. For that reason, they are reluctant to run beefy mission-critical applications such as SAP R/3 on Windows NT.

Nonetheless, Windows NT’s relatively low price point is helping the operating system work its way into SAP R/3 environments, such as the back office of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. (www.bluecrossmn.com).

In its effort to prepare for Year 2000 issues, the health insurance company needed to move from a conglomeration of non-Y2K-compliant homegrown and legacy purchasing, accounts payable and print shop applications to an ERP package. The firm was concerned, however, with the high cost of implementing Unix servers.

Alan Bain, director of systems engineering at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, already had IBM Corp.’s DB2 in place and was set on using an OS/390 to house the database portion of R/3.

"We have a proven track record of reliability and scalability on the OS/390 and our staff is trained for the platform. It needed to be our database," he says.

After looking at major ERP suites -- from PeopleSoft Inc. (www.peoplesoft.com), Baan Co. (www.baan.com) and Oracle Corp. -- Bain decided to install a combined hardware and software solution from Amdahl Corp. (www.amdahl.com) that includes SAP R/3, Windows NT servers and his requisite OS/390.

According to Roger Stoesz, managing director at Amdahl, SAP’s platform independence, both at the presentation layer and at the application layer, enables Amdahl and competitors to offer a solution that is the best of both worlds.

"SAP uses NT for what it’s very good at, and it uses OS/390 for what it is very good at," he says.

Because it runs on the Intel platform, Windows NT brings a lower price/performance rate to the applications aspect of the overall solution than an all-Unix environment. The OS/390, on the other hand, provides the data integrity, reliability and availability that most companies demand for mission-critical applications.

"The real heart of why this configuration is attractive to people is that they already know NT, and whether they love NT or hate NT doesn’t really matter as much as the fact that they already have it," Stoesz says.

Bain echoes that sentiment. "We already had NT and NT people, so from the knowledge standpoint we were set," he says.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota has 3,000 employees, about three-quarters of whom have networked PCs via Ethernet or Token Ring. In the back office, the company is running Windows NT strictly for applications and Novell Inc.’s NetWare for file and print, as well as two mainframes.

This SAP R/3 solution consists of an Amdahl Millennium Global Server 775, running OS/390, surrounded by three Pentium Xeon-based Windows NT servers, each running one application. The applications are quality assurance, production and development modules of the SAP package. Once the applications were installed, Bain put a fence around the systems, running only one application on each server.

To connect the Windows NT systems to the OS/390, Amdahl’s configuration uses the ESCON channel adapter from Bus-Tech Inc. (www.bustech.com). The connection consists of a duplex pair of fiber cables, a standard card that ships in the OS/390, and the Bus-Tech card, which plugs into the Windows NT machines via a PCI slot.

"The connection between NT and the mainframe is an isolated pipe, so we just extended the whole solution into our existing infrastructure," Bain says.

Since adding the SAP environment, the biggest problem Bain faced was a faulty driver in the Bus-Tech card that inhibited the use of storage software. The problem was easily fixed.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota reports no problems with the Windows NT servers or the OS/390. Although Bain brings down the OS/390 periodically for maintenance, as of press time, the Windows NT servers had been running the whole time [how long?].

"The only time we’ve had to reboot the NT boxes was when we loaded the updated driver," Bain says. "We haven’t had to reboot since. NT has proven to be a stable environment for this scenario."

Bain declined to comment on either the cost or savings of the solution, but he said using Windows NT at the application layer was saving the organization a significant amount of money.