A simple definition of “automation” is the use of mechanisms or technology to perform a task or procedure with minimal human assistance. I imagine that, like me, most people think of the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s or automotive manufacturing in the 1930s as the beginnings of automation. But even going back as far as the 11th century, using water wheels for removing underground water to facilitate mining operations can be considered an early form of automation. In all of these situations, technology performs a repetitive, difficult or sometimes dangerous task more efficiently and consistently than is possible with human labor.
Fast forward to the 21st century beyond the factory floor and we’re using automation in our daily lives. Home automation devices and systems are becoming increasingly common and their appeal is obvious: simplifying routine activities to do things that save time and money. Last year, I set up a smart device to give me individual and collective voice control of the lamps in my office. I didn’t do it because it’s hard to turn lights on and off but rather for the convenience and energy savings since I used to leave them on all day. Besides, it’s kind of cool to say “good morning” to my device and have it turn on the lights, say “Good morning”, give me a bit of trivia, and announce the weather forecast for the day.
When we first released SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications, it included automated installation features for the SAP software stack. Over the last 10 years, our SAP LinuxLab and development engineers have introduced several additional features to automate routine system administration. In his recent blog “Deployment Automation and Monitoring in SLES for SAP Applications,” my colleague Christian Holsing gives a technical overview of some features that SUSE is currently developing and delivering. In this blog, I’ll discuss some business benefits of implementing SUSE automation solutions.
Centralizing control for convenience
One reason that consumers set up home automation is for the convenience to control lights, appliances, heating/air conditioning, entertainment and security systems from one central application. Similarly, SUSE deployment automation capabilities are evolving to give administrators the option to use SUSE Manager as a single console that not only manages system configurations but also system deployments.
IT developers and administrators would then get the benefit of more time to develop new services and easier deployment of the solution stack. The automated installation still includes built-in best practices from SAP Notes just as SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications does today with the saptune package. And, with built-in monitoring, administrators can get an early warning of potential problems to proactively avoid outages.
Cloud service providers give organizations the ability to automate setting up SAP systems, replacing server procurement and installation processes with a few clicks. SLES for SAP Applications now includes a feature that is available as a technical preview to automate the deployment of SAP HANA clusters in the cloud with selected hyperscalers.
As Christian noted in a recent webinar, many of these capabilities are now available as a technology preview with the intent to add them to the next release of SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications.
Home automation has become a great tool for keeping the home secure, providing the ability to remotely lock and unlock doors as well as keep intruders at bay with automatic alarms. I have a network-connected garage door that I can open and close with my smartphone, and program to close automatically if it’s been open for longer than a time I select. Video cameras outside my home can alert me of a possible intruder, or package delivery to retrieve before a “porch pirate” gets it. It also woke me in the middle of the night when a stray cat visited my deck in the backyard but that’s a different issue.
SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications includes features to protect your SAP systems from external attacks. The SAP HANA Firewall configures itself automatically but also provides a wizard for a guided set-up with recommendations. Remote Storage Encryption provides a built-in key server to maintain encryption keys for the SAP filesystem or SAP HANA data storage volumes. The ability to fetch security keys or certificates automatically gives you shorter recovery time after a system restart, especially when you have hundreds or thousands of storage servers in a remote location. Also, SUSE Manager can automatically identify and update any server systems that are out of security and regulatory compliance.
Gaining the freedom to do other things
While using a home automation system to manage appliances like automatic coffee makers and vacuum cleaners does eliminate the trouble of routine tasks, the real value is that it gives people the freedom to do other things that they find more interesting and enjoyable. Similarly, I would argue that the best reason to automate elements of your SAP infrastructure is so that the IT team spends less time on maintenance and more time on delivering new and innovative services that help your business generate more revenue and control costs.
SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications includes a tool that makes it easier to upgrade SAP HANA software in clustered systems. A wizard automates handling disconnecting and reconnecting the cluster, reducing the likelihood of spending time to troubleshoot errors. Instead, this time can be used to develop a cool new application that motivates customers to buy products and services. That’s not only better for the business, but it also has to be more fun than trying to figure out what went wrong with an SAP HANA upgrade.
As consumer products offer more laborsaving technology choices, we can spend our time on important and enjoyable activities. Or, as I mentioned earlier with my office lights, perhaps do things that we should do but otherwise wouldn’t until it becomes easy and cool.
Businesses focused on transforming their operations are looking for creative ways to get a competitive edge that creates new business opportunities. Automation for managing SAP system deployment and maintenance fosters innovation by giving IT staff more time and fewer interruptions so that they can be creative and deliver that next great service offering even faster.
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