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Understanding Lean ERP
Part 2 of 6


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THE TECHNOLOGY LAYERS—A CLOSER LOOK

Hardware

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.

For hardware 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 standards.
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.

Early 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 Operating System

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 management.

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.

Some key considerations for your operating system selection are as follows:

• Does the operating system support my chosen RDBMS and appli­cations environment?
• 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 the graphical

and analytical 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 systems.
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


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