System Burp in your ERP?
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Problem to Solve – We have an ERP system that is critical to our business. Service degradations and outages are extremely visible to executive management and costly to our bottom line. What is the best approach to monitor this deployment?

System Burp? Yes, you read that correctly. Truth is .. I have MANY customers that have experienced glitches, degradations, bugs, anomalies, slowdowns, and issues with their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) deployment. I often refer to these issues as “Burps” in the system performance. While not the most pleasing visual, it does paint the appropriate picture in your mind.

The main consideration with any ERP system is that it is so completely intertwined and interconnected with your company’s process and productivity. ERP Systems (like SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics, Infor, Epicor, Workday, etc.) touch, interact, or control processes at your company such as:

  • Financial Systems and Planning
  • Supply Chain
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Human Resources
  • Manufacturing and Shipping
  • Materials Handling / Inventory
  • Sales / Forecasting
  • Order confirmations / customer notifications via Email

To keep this article from getting out of hand, I won’t even go into the obvious interaction with other key systems. The new wave of ERP interoperability has links to Big Data Solutions, the Internet of Things, Analytics and  Business Intelligence. Bottom line, the ERP is hugely important to your company.

ERP is Not Necessarily the Problem

The problem is NOT that ERP solutions are inherently poor performing applications. The performance challenge really lies in the overall complexity of the deployment and the critical interaction with internal processes. If we peel the onion back a layer for an ERP deployment, think of the list of things that could impact the ERP solution itself.

Let start by thinking of the End-user device, browser, applications, network connection, and wired/wireless connectivity. Now let’s move into the network and application infrastructure itself including VLANs, QoS policy, Citrix, interface speeds (1G – 10G – 40G – 100G) web servers, load balancers, DMZ, MPLS, web proxy’s, middleware, firewalls, service enablers for network access (DHCP, DNS) and authentication (LDAP, Radius), certificates, multiple data centers.

If the ERP system is in the cloud, you add an entire level of complexity to the list. By the way, did I mention that we have not even reached the ERP Application itself yet?   😯  😯  😯 A separate article on that topic is available at this link Service Assurance in the Cloud

How about the server deployment which adds to the complexity with blade servers, virtualized server architectures, VMWare, CPU’s, disks, processes, memory, network attached storage or Fibre Channel SAN?

I bring this up, not to intentionally scare you, but to point out that these solutions are obviously highly complex deployments when you consider all the moving parts and interacting components.

Now that we understand that ERP systems can be all encompassing to the actual business process and productivity, and they are highly complex in their deployment model we can move on to the next point. How in the world can this system effectively be monitored for performance issues as well as some semblance of being proactive?

The Beauty of the Services Approach

Obviously, an ERP system is not a simple one server, one database, one protocol type of solution. It traverses so many network segments, servers, protocols and intermediaries it can be difficult to a get good view into its performance overall. While approaches like synthetic agents, SNMP Mibs, interface utilization, CPU stats, and transaction monitors all provide good data, a total view into how the ERP is performing remains elusive. A services approach looks at all the interfaces, protocols, applications, service enablers, server communities, etc. The beauty of this approach is that you have a total view of ERP service performance, and more importantly, an extremely effective top down and proactive approach to triaging and resolving system “burps” and degradations.

I laughingly kid with my customers that your end users and executives do NOT ever randomly call you to say “hey <insert your name>, just wanted to say, “Thank You”, for how well the network and applications are performing today. Can I buy you a coffee?” No, the harsh reality that we live in IT is that the users call you when 1) something is slow, 2) something is broken, or 3) they cannot do something.  👿  👿  👿

Why is this Valuable? Realizing that ERP Systems are so business critical, your best bet is to create a process and workflow that allows for a quick triage of system “burps”. Obviously, the quicker that you can identify the issue, the quicker this issue can be resolved. The services approach becomes an extremely effective methodology in creating this proactive workflow and process. See my previous article called “Don’t let a Multi-Tier Application Make You Multi Tear Up” 

ERP Win for the Services Approach

Customers that have implemented a services approach find that their “War Room” situations become much less tenuous and time-consuming. Being that the ERP system is covered from “head to toe” for performance, it provides a quick and easy identification of problems.

Why is this Valuable? Teams stop squabbling, arguing, getting defensive over whose fault this problem actually is, and focus on quick identification and isolation. For example, you would not want your Applications DevOps team wasting cycles on a network bandwidth issue because it is not their role to resolve it. Conversely, you would not want your network operations and/or engineering team chasing down a database issue, as again it is not their role to fix that problem.

The services approach makes your IT staff incredibly more productive as they are not wasting precious time chasing ghost problems (problems that are not really their responsibility). The win for you company is recouping that time, effort and energy that allows your IT staff to focus on projects, technology improvements, and initiatives to improve your company.

Points to Ponder

  • What is your best example of a complicated multi-tier ERP Deployment?
  • What has been your most difficult war story in finding an associated performance issue inside the environment?

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