LAYERS—A CLOSER LOOK
While many people
will tell you, "hardware is hardware," the fact is that selecting
your hardware configuration is an important consideration in
building a total ERP environment.
components to be deemed viable, they should be determined to be
suited for the specific task assigned to them. First and foremost,
the hardware must support your chosen application and RDBMS
solution. In other words, while an IBM Rise System 6000 or Hewlett
Packard mid-range system may provide a perfect repository for your
information, it may not provide the best home for your actual
applications software. Often the information repository is referred
to as your "data server" while your applications software may be
administered from your "application server" or "appserver." In many
cases separating these functions may yield far superior performance
at a reasonable investment.
While durability is
a bit more difficult to measure, you can make an educated guess by
learning something about the vision of the future of automated tools
as presented by the hardware manufacturer. Many systems, for
example, offer built-in redundancy, with automatic switching when a
fault is detected. Further, systems that allow for planned (and even
unplanned) growth will provide the most durable solution. A good
rule of thumb when buying enterprise hardware systems is never buy
at the top of the product range. In other words if your new system
cannot be upgraded, it is not considered durable by today's
In terms of cost justification, hardware components are best
analyzed in terms of total cost of ownership. This will include the
actual hardware itself plus the costs associated with the
maintenance and routine service of the elements in question.
We believe that the
strategic qualifiers when making a hardware investment are
availability and capacity.
An ERP system is by
its very nature mission-critical. With this reality in mind, your
servers must be available for service during all business hours. As
businesses become more global, you may require 24 by 7 availability.
Therefore when selecting and cost-justifying a system, this "uptime"
requirement must come into play. The cost of ongoing maintenance
contracts and the warranty period and track record of the support
organization are also extremely important. In addition, the need to
prevent or at least plan for system failure is as important today as
ever. Hardware vendors have adopted a number of solutions to meet
this need, including RAID technology, cluster technology, and highly
available and fault-tolerant systems. Any viable hardware vendor can
readily address your "uptime" requirements and help you plan for
system redundancy and even failsafe capability if necessary.
considerations and planning for your hardware capacity ensure that
your systems can grow with you. In our experience, you can't have
too much disk space, especially with today's reduced costs of
storage. While your ERP vendor can make recommendations concerning
minimum file sizes, you should look beyond the application
requirements to strategic informational requirements for data
warehousing and ad hoc reporting. The implementation of an ERP
system is an ideal time for your company to consider its data as a
strategic source of competitive advantage. You want to have the
capacity on hand to maintain, manipulate, and report this data in
new and unique ways. Similarly, current and future capacity
requirements are an important consideration when specifying CPUs,
terminal connectivity, and memory.
The Network and
Up until the past
10 years, operating systems were entirely proprietary. Now just the
opposite is true. The Unix operating system and its many flavors
such as IBM's AIX, Hewlett Packard's HP-UX, and so forth define the
de facto "open" system of the business world. While some hardware
manufacturers have slightly changed the "front end" of the Unix
system and provided certain system management tools, Unix remains
essentially the same from system to system. It provides a robust and
powerful operating environment that is made both viable and durable
since many systems professionals have direct experience in its
During the past few
years, the advent of Microsoft's NT has introduced reasonably solid
processing power while exploiting desktop-style user friendliness.
The viability of NT is enhanced by its similarity to Windows. Once
again, there are thousands of users, system managers, and
technicians who have Microsoft experience. Therefore finding the
human resources needed to make the corporate vision a reality from
an IS standpoint is less difficult. In addition, most ERP solutions
are currently or will soon be offered on the NT platform as well as
their native platform. Many systems professionals feel that NT may
well become the operating system choice of the next decade. Others
believe that the future involves a combination of Unix and NT.
considerations for your operating system selection are as follows:
• Does the
operating system support my chosen RDBMS and applications
• Does the O/S support my hardware processing requirements?
• Does the O/S provide an "open systems" environment?
• Does the O/S include performance measuring tools and a support
environment that my users can manage?
• Does the O/S adhere to standards to ensure application
portability, scalability, and interoperability to ensure investment
protection? One of the key developments in recent years is the use
of client-server technology in ERP systems deployment. Client-server
technology is a strategy of distributing processing that marries
powers of PCs (what is referred to as the client) with the
processing power of the server. The data warehousing and data
management takes place at the server while the client handles
screen presentation and user-based, local analysis. The good news
about client-server is that the promise of the advantages of PCs in
the business world can finally be fulfilled. The bad news about
client-server systems is that it takes both finely tuned networks
and significant processing power to support and deploy robust
We believe that the strategic qualifier when considering operating
and networking systems is accessibility.
After all, the best
application in the world will be rendered totally useless if users
cannot access the data in a timely fashion. For both your users and
your customers, response time is money. Your networking and
operating systems can have a dramatic impact on response time,
particularly in a widely disbursed environment. A number of
technical solutions have been developed to improve response time,
including fat versus thin clients, distributed processing, and
Citrix solutions. Our best advice is to address your technical
deployment environment early on in the ERP selection process. Ask
for, and call, references that have user counts and user deployments
that have a profile much like your own. Don't let "it's a technical
thing" deter you from bringing this issue to the forefront.
To Be Continued