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Transformation in SAP operations

Bernd Engist from Avantra and Mathias Keifel and Stefan Rother from Nagarro show the transformation of classic SAP system operation to fully automated operation of hundreds of ERP system landscapes based on an intelligent and flexible monitoring and automation platform. This provides existing SAP customers with a solid foundation for a successful and sustainable S/4 conversion.
Peter M. Färbinger, E3 Magazine
May 25, 2023
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This text has been automatically translated from German to English.

SAP strives for the cloud and neglects the basis

However, the methods, concepts and tools from Avantra, see also page 34, and Nagarro show that many challenges before, during and after a release upgrade can already be solved at SAP Basis. The requirements of a successful existing SAP customer or provider for central monitoring have long since gone beyond predictive analysis and now demand agility and speed, which can only be met with maximum automation.

Automation and monitoring can also be the answer to IT staff shortages at the SAP base, and good security can also be established with dedicated monitoring. Modern SAP systems such as ECC 6.0 and S/4 are complex architectures with which automation can relieve routine work on the one hand and focus on digital transformation on the other. Avantra and Nagarro have the plans, tools and know-how for this.

Beyond SAP

SAP is good, but SAP is not enough: In the digital transformation, dedicated IT tools and methods are needed, especially at the grassroots level, that also look beyond SAP. With the help of Avantra and Nagarro, this view of a holistic IT and ERP architecture succeeds. According to classic SAP textbook opinion, SAP Solution Manager should be sufficient for controlling and monitoring an ECC system. Is this really the case? CTO Bernd Engist of Avantra makes it clear right at the beginning of the discussion: "Today's users need more support in SAP operations, especially in larger environments, and there especially in automation. SAP only offers that in another complex and fee-based product, SAP LaMa, which is also discontinued." SAP Landscape Management and SolMan were discontinued by SAP as part of the S/4 conversion. Cloud ALM, Application Lifecycle Management, will then be available for SAP Solution Manager starting in 2027.

Bernd Engist, Avantra



From the questions about specific features, it was apparent that Nagarro had taken a close look at the Avantra solution.

Bernd Engist,
Chief Technology Officer, Avantra

SolMan and LaMa

Bernd Engist emphasizes that beyond SolMan and LaMa, SAP legacy customers need more functionality at the base, be it interfaces to hyperscalers for IaaS-deployed systems, to ITOM solutions such as ServiceNow, or machine-learning-based predictive analytics to keep false positives to a minimum. A solution to manage SAP hot news that scales is also relevant to the base. Says manager Engist, "SolMan has about a 20-year history, and no innovation has been noticeable in recent years."

There are many solutions for monitoring and automated operation of SAP systems. Customers and especially providers have a wide range of different solutions to choose from here for monitoring the infrastructure. Various solutions from SAP itself and third-party providers are also available for monitoring the complex SAP system landscape. Avantra had operated the managed service business itself for many years, but as of 2017 had concentrated solely on the software business. The software of the same name has always specialized in native monitoring of SAP environments and SAP systems, and with ideas and suggestions from the well-known SAP provider Nagarro, Avantra has developed a platform over the past 20 years that meets all requirements for professional system operation.

Where then can Solution Manager still be used in a meaningful way? "SolMan offers a wide range of modules, such as change control management, the test suite, project documentation and, of course, the whole maintenance area," explains CTO Bernd Engist. "By the way, the overlap with Avantra is not that big and we also have an Embrace Solution Manager strategy, because no customer can currently do without Solution Manager." Several years ago, Nagarro proposed to also monitor Solution Manager and its satellite systems. "So we have some functionality on board for just that purpose," Engist adds.

Nagarro is known in the market as a professional provider of managed services and is active as a renowned operating partner for a large number of large and well-known SAP inventory customers. During a search for a new SAP system monitoring solution well over ten years ago, Nagarro got to know the Swiss software partner Syslink/Avantra and evaluated its already extreme specialization in native monitoring of SAP systems combined with its flexibility and innovative strength as its own selection criterion.

Stefan Rother, Executive Director and responsible for the Managed Services business unit, and Mathias Keifel, Lead for Technical Services and Business Development at Nagarro, are convinced that this decision in favor of Avantra and the investment in the platform represent an important success factor in the professional SAP system operation of Nagarro's own large customer base and the future success of Managed Services at Nagarro.

Mathias Keifel, Nagarro, Copyright Anja Limbrunner


Our staff must be notified of a problem before the customer notices the problem and contacts us.

Mathias Keifel,
Senior Business Development Manager, Nagarro

Robust SAP basis

This resulted in a fruitful collaboration that can currently offer any existing SAP customer a robust and promising foundation. In addition, the Nagarro team quickly added numerous features to Avantra's standard scope. Bernd Engist, Chief Technology Officer at Avantra, recalls in an E-3 interview: "Just by asking questions about specific features, it was obvious that Nagarro was very involved with the Avantra solution. Accordingly, a great many customer-specific system monitoring checks were implemented based on the Avantra platform - and Nagarro thus gets significantly more out of the system than average users usually do."

The result was an intensive partnership with direct input and ideas from professional outsourcing operations, which quickly expanded beyond system monitoring into the area of intelligently automated system operation. After Avantra made the decision to downsize its own service provider part in 2017, the requirements from the market were not lost with it. For the SAP community, the question still arises: Where does an existing ECC customer absolutely need supplementary IT tools? Bernd Engist: "With today's shortage of skilled workers, no SAP customer can afford manual routine activities that can actually be automated. This includes, for example, a system refresh to keep a quality assurance system fit for testing tasks." Any existing SAP customer knows that once it's automated, the entire dev ops chain benefits, because with up-to-date test data, updates can be customized into production operations faster and with more confidence. SAP users also need help in the security area, especially when dealing with a larger number of systems.

In the E-3 discussion, Stefan Rother added: "Our success factors are a very high level of expertise and passionate customer responsibility. Our customers experience very high quality service delivery in SAP operations, in addition to an overall average system availability of over 99.995 percent." Unlike some service providers, Nagarro uses the Avantra solution globally for all of its customers' systems and has this deeply embedded in its technology stack. "This means," explains Nagarro manager Rother, "all customers enjoy the wide range of Avantra features and benefit from the maximum efficiency of this comprehensive solution." And Mathias Keifel emphasizes, "Our on-call staff must be informed about a problem before the customer notices the problem and contacts us." 

Stefan Rother, Copyright Anja Limbrunner



Our success factors are
A very high level of expertise and passionate customer responsibility.

Stefan Rother,
Executive Director Managed Services, Nagarro

SAP is not an island: How important are automation and monitoring across SAP system boundaries to users? Bernd Engist says about this increasingly important factor: "We hear these questions, can Avantra automate or manage this or that? We support many standard components, such as databases or application servers out of the box, that are not from SAP. In addition, these requests have led us to open up our platform for additional development many years ago. Today, you can build so much on the platform, be it new checks or your own automations, which can either be fully developed yourself or based on our templates that we deliver. Seeing all the things customers do with it always fills me with joy."

Maintenance and basic work will be a challenge with Innovation, Maintenance and Extended Line - the construct should then exist until 2040.

Experience and checks

In addition to the years of Avantra experience in system operation with elaborated baseline checks, Nagarro intensively defines and uses "custom checks". With the Avantra platform, it is possible to build up any number of custom checks in addition to the already numerous standard checks, as Bernd Engist previously explained. Nagarro's Mathias Keifel adds, "We keep winning customers who want specific monitoring of a particular functionality or end-to-end process." With this in mind, Nagarro has now set up well over 1000 of these additional custom checks quickly and easily in Avantra. These can be located across the stack, on the operating system, database, application server or entirely application-specific on the SAP system. Another integral component is fully automated reporting. Nagarro has automated its entire service level reporting to the greatest extent possible, including customized requests for workload reports and special notifications on the customer side.

Nagarro follows the approach of continuous standardization and automation and has integrated the technical advances and possibilities of the Avantra automation platform into operational processes at an early stage and has now mapped a variety of standard processes such as start/stop of system landscapes via ST-PI/-API and HCM add-on as well as updates and SAP hot news as well as security news up to the creation of system copies in intelligent and fully automated processes. Mathias Keifel from Nagarro: "We meet the requirements through fully automated workflows with rolling restarts and the reduction of manual interventions."

To what extent does workflow automation and monitoring differ between on-prem, private and public cloud operating models? Bernd Engist again: "The simple rule applies here: where you have to do the most, you can do it. In the on-premises model, I am responsible for everything as the operator, but I can use powerful solutions like Avantra there. Sure, I have to take care of it when SAP releases a new hot news with CVSS 10.0, but I can roll out a new kernel super fast with out-of-the-box automation, for example."

Avantra CTO Engist has an example of this in the area of system refresh: "I can shorten this on-prem to several hours via automation, in the private cloud I am dependent on the provider and in the case of the SAP Enterprise Cloud services offered in Rise Offering, this takes two weeks. Fortunately, even in the case of Easy Content Solution, Avantra can still add a lot of value through its Agentless mode of operation. Although users have to do without OS-specific monitoring - the cloud operator takes care of that, after all - more than 80 percent of our built-in monitoring addresses the application layer and is based on RFC and DB connections that continue to work. We're also certified with our interface as Works with Rise with SAP."

As Nagarro's Stefan Rother points out in the E-3 discussion, "The world today speaks several languages: on-premises, cloud computing as well as hyperscalers and often the truth is called hybrid. The requirements for intelligent and automated system operations must be done in one system, regardless of platform." Avantra's integration of APIs from the well-known hyperscalers provides a single layer of monitoring and control regardless of the operating model. Nagarro successfully runs SAP customer installations on all hyperscalers and beyond hybrid customer landscapes and has unified them all in one Avantra installation.

Keifel, (Nagarro) Engist (Avantra) Rother (Nagarro)
Dream team: Mathias Keifel (Nagarro), Bernd Engist (Avantra) and Stefan Rother (Nagarro) discuss the optimal SAP Basis solution together.

The requirements of SAP's existing customers range from very simple functions, such as a regular update of certain SAP add-ons, to complex analyses. But the add-ons no longer have to be uploaded individually to each SAP system, but are managed and rolled out centrally via the Avantra back-end. On the one hand, this provides a fast response option, but more importantly, it reduces the workload for the SAP Basis experts enormously. Customers can see the desired changes in their systems much more quickly, with the same, if not better, quality, as automation also reduces the error rate. In the managed services business, it is very important to have an accurate overview of all systems.

However, not all systems have the same release status. However, the common parameter settings or defaults must be monitored for all systems. With the help of Avantra, Nagarro automatically and individually monitors compliance with the correct parameter settings for each system type and immediately alerts or corrects deviations. This includes security compliance for operating systems, databases and SAP systems, as well as specific parameters that act as a workaround due to an SAP or database error. Using the selection rules provided by Avantra, it is not necessary to individually select the affected system or database. Instead, the software itself detects whether the affected release is present and then activates the check accordingly in the background.

A special topic is monitoring and updates for the SAP Hana database: What do you have to pay attention to here? "Avantra offers an all-in-one solution for monitoring and automation, and of course we have a special focus on SAP's flagship product," answers Bernd Engist in an E-3 interview. "For no other database do we offer such extensive out-of-the-box functionality. We look at the whole Hana landscape in terms of performance, security and can even automate the extensive so-called minichecks that SAP provides in a note. To do this, we had to roll out the function depending on the Hana version checks and even add it down to the build number. In addition, there is an automatic recording of parameter changes, which has already enabled many a customer to quickly get out of a critical situation with the Hana database that no longer wants to start."

SAP has surprised the community with many innovations in recent years, so that Stefan Rother from Nagarro also points out the following fact in the E-3 conversation: "The future system landscapes in the context of SAP S/4 with BTP and linked cloud solutions today require an operating platform that goes beyond the pure SAP system landscape". Avantra recognized the idea of a necessary business application solution outside of the pure SAP context early on and accommodated this with generic interfaces and adapters. This means that complex requirements can also be integrated from the world of Salesforce and Ariba. Bernd Engist recalls a customer request for business-relevant monitoring in the context of SAP ECC 6.0 with Ariba in the context of invoice reconciliation.

Optimal automation and monitoring can cover which functions for an ECC and S/4 inventory customer? "Optimal monitoring primarily leads to a proactive mode of operation, but it can also implement areas like security baseline and system hardening very nicely," says CTO Bernd Engist, describing the situation. "At Avantra, we like to refer to monitoring as Observe automation. This includes the automatic download of SAP hot news and in a next step we will link that directly to the related automations, such as importing a signed note or upgrading the kernel. There are many examples. We are currently piloting the automatic update of certificates used with the Abap transaction Strust. Here, monitoring triggers a workflow fully automatically, which determines the expired certificate, fetches a new one and then installs it automatically, if necessary also restarting the ICM at the same time."

Keep the Core Clean

All steps that are necessary for the kernel exchange are performed via the Avantra software. Only the verification of the workflow is done by Nagarro. Especially with complex and large systems, the kernel swap is time-consuming and leads to human errors, as it sometimes has to be done late at night. So it can happen that simple rework like the execution of saproot.sh is forgotten. Exactly these errors are avoided by the automation solution. A normal manual kernel swap quickly takes several hours for an SAP system. Through automation, Nagarro performs kernel updates in five to ten minutes on average for all selected systems. The number is irrelevant here as the execution is done in parallel for the systems. No manual activity is required, even a rollback in the event of an error is fully automated.

In addition to the security parameters, SAP regularly publishes up-to-date security advisories. With the Avantra dashboard, Nagarro as a service provider offers an overall view of all published advisories and the respective CVSS score. This view is similar to the one in the SAP Marketplace. However, since Nagarro operates systems for many different customers, SAP Basis consultants need an overview of all systems for all customers at all times, not just a view of one customer.

Avantra offers exactly this view. Through the internal Avantra CMDB, all SAP components are known and an automated overview of the SAP systems of the various customers affected by the security vulnerability is available. This enables the security teams to very quickly find the affected systems and initiate appropriate measures. Depending on the security gap, these measures are again scheduled and executed fully automatically via Avantra.

Future: BTP and ChatGPT

Bernd Engist almost sums up the result of the discussion at the end: "We used to be a solution from experts for experts - today you have to go beyond that and in the course of the shortage of specialists and tendencies towards the new technologies such as S/4 Hana and the SAP Business Technology Platform, there is a need for solutions that do not require the deepest specialist knowledge, but create the possibility of using less experienced administrators. We are currently experimenting with the extent to which check results via ChatGPT or our own services could provide even more context on errors, messages or background. Our stated goal is to use an intelligent virtual assistant to not only accurately analyze problems, but also provide the automation to fix a problem while suggesting an optimal time for implementation."

System copy

Another task that regularly occurs in the operation of an SAP system is the system copy, i.e., the productive SAP system is copied to the quality assurance system in order to have up-to-date test data. There are tools for this which only cover the system or client copy. However, this always means that another product solution must be implemented and operated in a company. In addition, the license models are often not designed for service providers.

With Avantra, Nagarro has a solution that is already fully integrated with the service provider and operated accordingly. The system copy is delivered by Avantra with a template. Nagarro has extended this template with customer-specific steps. Thus, a system copy can have well over 100 individual steps, starting with the backup of settings to the restore of the database to all post-processing. With the help of Avantra, it is now possible to perform all these steps fully automatically. Thus, the runtime for a system copy can be extremely reduced and, ideally, manual activities by the SAP Basis administrator are no longer necessary, only the coordination with the customer to define which steps should be integrated and when the system copy should take place. 

The copy itself is then scheduled accordingly by Nagarro staff and can run overnight so that the system is available to the customer again the following day. In the same way, it is possible to provide training systems for training. Again, Nagarro has developed specific workflows that create both the source for the training systems and the regular resetting of the copy, including SAP pre- and post-processing, such as stopping and resetting an SLT replication. This has greatly reduced the time it takes for customers to have an up-to-date training system, and nothing stands in the way of successful end-user training.

Another workflow template links the existing SSL certificate monitoring with an automated update process of certificates that are about to expire. For this purpose, the Avantra steps were extended by the scripts and workflows already available at Nagarro for the creation of SSL certificates. This makes it possible to renew certificates automatically in the SAP systems and prevent failure accordingly.

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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

Venue

Event Room, FourSide Hotel Salzburg,
At the exhibition center 2,
A-5020 Salzburg

Event date

June 5 and 6, 2024

Regular ticket:

€ 590 excl. VAT

Venue

Event Room, Hotel Hilton Heidelberg,
Kurfürstenanlage 1,
69115 Heidelberg

Event date

28 and 29 February 2024

Tickets

Regular ticket
EUR 590 excl. VAT
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.