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In the early years, SAP systems were on-site at the customer's premises or in the MSPs' data centers, i.e. on-prem. Currently, we are seeing an increased shift to the cloud.
Peter M. Färbinger, E3 Magazine
Nagarro
May 25, 2023
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This text has been automatically translated from German to English.

Managed Service Provider: From MSP Competitor to MSP Partner

In 2000 began Avantrastill operating under the name Syslink, as a pure managed service provider with the support of its customers' SAP landscapes. The company's extensive and in-depth know-how regarding the requirements and needs of managed service providers stems from this time. In the logical next step, Avantra transformed itself over the years into a software systems house and developed the eponymous AIOps platform that many companies use today to manage thousands of SAP systems. As a result, competition turned into a fruitful partnership between Avantra and managed service providers in the SAP community, as well as numerous leading companies from a wide range of industries, resulting in a continuously optimized and enhanced feature set for the software. Many of these features have been jointly designed and developed based on feedback and requests from MSPs or even in close cooperation. In view of this long company history, Avantra is no longer a start-up, but still has the innovative power of a start-up. And because this is the case, the company has a high level of customer loyalty.

Observe - Engage - Act

From monitoring to end-to-end system including automation: Just as the company has evolved over the course of more than 20 years, the Avantra software has also gone through numerous generational stages, during which it evolved from an initially pure - albeit intelligently automated - monitoring solution for SAP experts to today's end-to-end platform including intelligent automation.

This further development clearly parallels the term "Observe - Engage - Act" coined by the Gartner experts for AIOps (Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations). After the software initially included monitoring functions for monitoring SAP landscapes (Observe), it soon contained interfaces for integration (Engage) in third-party systems, for example for IT service or operations management (ITSM/ITOM).

Build and Run

This development has already provided customers with a high level of time savings in the combination of monitoring and integration, which intelligently pre-filters important information for SAP setup (build) and operation (run). Meaningful dashboards contextualize the monitoring. The parameters are available via the interfaces or APIs at all points where they were required by SAP customers.

However, Avantra's developers were not satisfied with this, because they wanted not only intelligent monitoring, but also intelligent automation based on it, actively intervening in the SAP system - and thus covering the third Gartner term "Act".

So about three years ago, the development of real automation began, which is divided into two areas: Build Automation covers functions such as automatic kernel updates and patch management. Both are enormously important in view of the critical issue of cybersecurity, because today no company can afford not to keep its systems up to date and thus risk possible security vulnerabilities.

The second area of Run Automation covers the automation of SAP operations, for example, the automation of recurring manual tasks such as refreshing data in quality assurance systems for testing purposes - system refresh for short, automatic monitoring and intelligent allocation of resources, or automatic system hardening to minimize the attack surface for cyberattacks.

Intelligent automation

Another example of intelligent automation is, for example, an SSL certificate that is about to expire: Avantra detects this and the corresponding check that monitors the certificates appears in red. Avantra then automatically triggers a workflow to install a new certificate, after which the certificate check turns green again.

In all areas of automation, SAP legacy customers also have access to an extensive library of SAP-related best practices, born of more than 20 years of Avantra experience, both as a managed service provider and as a long-standing technology partner to leading MSPs.

This combination of monitoring and automation resulted in an all-encompassing AIOps platform that enables SAP systems to detect problems early on, automatically fix them through intelligent measures, and thus repair themselves. In short, Avantra brings the equation to life: Monitoring plus automation equals Selfhealing Enterprise. Enterprise systems monitor and manage themselves - and thus also have the resilience that is required on all sides.

Cloud computing

While in the early years SAP systems ran either on-site at the customer's premises or in the data centers of the supporting MSPs, i.e. on-prem, Avantra has experienced an increased shift to cloud computing in recent years. As a result, increasingly complex and highly diverse SAP landscapes have emerged, whether on-premises, in the form of cloud infrastructure services (IaaS), or - in most cases - a hybrid hybrid of both.

This presented operators and MSPs with new challenges in keeping track of and managing these diverse topologies. Consequently, Avantra developed new functions to provide support at this point as well. This already starts with the dimensioning in the cloud - keyword "right and tight sizing" - because an oversized cloud system causes unnecessarily high costs. Better would be dynamic sizing depending on the system load and automatic starting and stopping of the systems in the cloud. Avantra offers the appropriate functions for this.

But Avantra also has the necessary functions when it comes to integration with regard to SaaS. Bernd Engist, CTO of Avantra, remembers customer inquiries where it was a matter of very specific detection of business-relevant faults, for example in Ariba and the BTP Integration Suite (SAP Business Technology Platform). Customers simply no longer wanted to have to manually check every day whether messages or invoices, for example, were in an incorrect status.

Implementation and updates

A major concern of many customers is the expected resource and time expenditure for the implementation of such an AIOps platform. In this context, too, IT managers can sleep soundly: an implementation that already has the most important best practices on board out of the box, just like an update, usually requires only a few minutes, so that operations are usually not affected at all or only minimally.

The same applies to the possibility of adding new systems to an already established and monitored SAP landscape. Since scaling is a core element of the Avantra DNA, the integration of new SAP systems is extremely simple. For example, the necessary control routines, called checks, are implemented fully automatically as soon as a new system is added.

Why a platform?

Time and again, requests came to Avantra asking if certain functions could not be released for use by users. Avantra recognized from this that existing customers wanted to use Avantra's platform for their own developments. Over time, more and more functions were added, until at some point even the connections that an agent establishes to the SAP system were made available via an easy-to-use low-code API.

This has meant that Avantra can respond very flexibly to customer requirements without always having to deliver a new release. So the answer to ideas today is often, Avantra can't always do it out of the box, but the platform provider can build it very quickly on their own platform. Some Avantra customers make heavy use of these features and even Avantra's experts are always surprised at the good ideas that are implemented. Again and again, they like to include some of it in the standard.

Artificial intelligence

Of course, new AI technologies are influencing Avantra's development. For some time, Avantra has used machine learning algorithms to better evaluate threshold-based check results and avoid adequate false alarms via predictive analysis. Or, the platform watches the growth of a system and predicts if and when a resource will become overloaded if it continues to grow - and may even automatically expand that resource. In the future, for example, solutions such as ChatGPT could be used to provide technical problem messages with more context and show possible solutions.

A practical example from Bernd Engist, CTO at Avantra

Bernd Engist remembers a project of an automobile manufacturer. At that time, "system hardening" was to be implemented as quickly as possible across the entire stack from the operating system to the application layer. A guideline had to be used to prove that the respective measures had been implemented. At that time, they extended the product at the platform level and added new APIs so that these controls could be implemented at the script level, but still be fully integrated with Avantra and use all of the existing functionality such as reporting and integration with third-party systems (keyword: Engage). In the end, the customer had rolled out 350 additional fully automated checks on more than 1000 SAP systems, and the department responsible for SAP operations was able to chalk up a major success.

Invasive automation

In the context of invasive automation, Avantra has an example of a pharmaceutical company. Before automating the system refresh with Avantra, it was a manual process that required several days of labor, working through an 80-page procedure. Afterwards, such a refresh could be fully automated and completed in just three hours. The head of the SAP CCC was thrilled and asked if Avantra could now do this every week. You can see from this question how the whole DevOps process benefits from having up-to-date test data available. Companies become more agile as a result and can get updates into production faster.

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Peter M. Färbinger, E3 Magazine

Peter M. Färbinger, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief E3 Magazine DE, US and ES (e3mag.com), B4Bmedia.net AG, Freilassing (DE), E-Mail: pmf@b4bmedia.net and Tel. +49(0)8654/77130-21


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Working on the SAP basis is crucial for successful S/4 conversion. 

This gives the Competence Center strategic importance for existing SAP customers. Regardless of the S/4 Hana operating model, topics such as Automation, Monitoring, Security, Application Lifecycle Management and Data Management the basis for S/4 operations.

For the second time, E3 magazine is organizing a summit for the SAP community in Salzburg to provide comprehensive information on all aspects of S/4 Hana groundwork. All information about the event can be found here:

SAP Competence Center Summit 2024

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Event Room, FourSide Hotel Salzburg,
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June 5 and 6, 2024

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28 and 29 February 2024

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The organizer is the E3 magazine of the publishing house B4Bmedia.net AG. The presentations will be accompanied by an exhibition of selected SAP partners. The ticket price includes the attendance of all lectures of the Steampunk and BTP Summit 2024, the visit of the exhibition area, the participation in the evening event as well as the catering during the official program. The lecture program and the list of exhibitors and sponsors (SAP partners) will be published on this website in due time.