2 page Case Study - Posted 12/10/2012
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Air Products

Manufacturer Shrinks Storage Needs by 75 Percent with Upgrade, Helps Business Grow

Air Products has ambitious plans to expand its business by 50 percent without increasing its IT budget. To cost-effectively handle more data, Air Products upgraded its SAP databases to Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 and industry-standard servers. As a result, Air Products has reduced business data warehouse storage needs by up to 75 percent, improved database performance by 50 percent, and simplified backup procedures—all of which help the business expand.

Business Needs

Air Products serves customers in energy, environmental, and emerging markets worldwide with a unique portfolio of gases, performance materials, equipment, and technology used by thousands of industries, ranging from semiconductor materials to refinery hydrogen and natural gas liquification.

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* By shrinking our storage needs by 75 percent with SQL Server 2008 R2, we can help the company grow without buying new storage. *

Bob Elward
Director
Infrastructure Engineering
Air Products

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In 2007, Air Products migrated its SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) database and data warehouse from mainframe computers to Intel Itanium processor–based servers running the Windows Server 2003 operating system and Microsoft SQL Server 2005 software. The move saved Air Products a significant sum on hardware and software licensing.

Air Products runs its SAP ERP as a single global instance that grew to about 14 terabytes. The companion SAP BW data warehouse grew to about 6 terabytes. About 17,000 of the company’s 20,000 employees use the SAP ERP system daily, with an average of 2,500 using it concurrently. Because the SAP ERP instance is used globally by all employees, Air Products implemented SAP Unicode, which encodes character-heavy alphabets for more efficient storage.

By 2012, the SAP servers, storage area network (SAN), SQL Server 2005, and Windows operating system needed to be refreshed. The company wanted to move from Itanium-based systems, which required an expensive maintenance investment, to industry-standard servers driven by x86 processors. It wanted an operating system that could support different processor architectures and a database system that could scale, provide automatic administration and tuning, and deliver high availability. But it also had to keep an eye on costs. “Air Products has a strategic goal to expand its business by 50 percent, but the IT budget won’t grow by 50 percent,” says Bob Elward, Director, Infrastructure Engineering, Air Products. “We need to be able to take on the increased workloads that come from business growth without spending more.”

Solution

In April 2012, Air Products migrated its ERP system to two HP ProLiant DL580 G7 server computers, each powered by four 8-core Intel Xeon processors. The servers are configured as a failover cluster and attached to an EMC VNX SAN. Both servers run Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise. At the same time, Air Products upgraded to Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise.

Migrating from SQL Server 2005 to SQL Server 2008 R2 was straightforward. “From a business perspective, we had to repoint all of our SAP applications to a new location and test everything, but the actual SQL Server migration was the smallest part of the process,” says Randy Anderson, Database Senior Technical Lead, Air Products. “The database migration took just 12 hours, with only 2 hours of downtime. We were able to back up the data while the system was still in productive use.” The migration from Intel Itanium to Intel Xeon processor architecture required no changes to the SQL Server data format, so Air Products did not need to export the database.

Of greatest importance to Air Products are the SQL Server 2008 R2 data compression and backup compression features, which it uses to compress SAP data in general and Unicode data in particular. SQL Server 2008 R2 supports fixed-length encoding of Unicode strings (UCS2) to speed query performance and includes data compression algorithms that minimize the storage needed by UCS2 encoding. “We are using both data compression and backup compression on our ERP data warehouse and will soon be using both for our ERP database,” Elward says. “Unicode compression is critical for successful operation of our SAP database in an international business.”

Benefits

By upgrading to SQL Server 2008 R2, Air Products is able to accommodate rising data volumes while reducing IT costs. It has been able to reduce data storage needs while improving database performance and simplifying backup procedures. These gains will help the company achieve its goal of expanding the company without commensurately increasing IT expenditures.

Reduces Storage Needs by 75 Percent

By taking advantage of data compression and backup compression in SQL Server 2008 R2, Air Products was able to achieve a space savings of up to 75 percent in its data warehouse. Using the well-documented process of applying SQL Server database compression to an existing SAP database, Air Products expects to realize the same storage savings in its ERP database. The storage efficiencies will extend beyond the SAP ERP database and data warehouse to backups of production and disaster recovery environments. “All our backup procedures will become much simpler and the copies will shrink in size,” Elward says. “Even though our ERP database is 14 terabytes, we’re looking to save about 50 terabytes of storage space across all of our environments.”

Improves Database Performance by 50 Percent

In addition to saving space, Air Products has improved performance, which improves response times, especially for queries that are input/output (I/O) bound. “We saw ERP database performance improve by at least 50 percent, which is attributable to a combination of the new servers and SQL Server 2008 R2,” Anderson says. “This produces faster response times for employees all over the world.”

Simplifies Backup Process

Before the upgrade to SQL Server 2008 R2, Air Products backed up databases to its SAN, but today it backs up databases using backup compression, which is much simpler. “Because we are making compressed backups of databases that have already been reduced in size, we can now use native SQL Server backup capabilities to complete our scheduled backups in a manageable timeframe,” Elward says. “This should allow us to eliminate our reliance on third-party backup tools and the specialized procedures those tools require.”

Helps Business Expand

By dramatically reducing storage needs and improving database performance, Air Products is able to help the business meet its growth goals without significantly expanding its IT budget. “By shrinking our storage needs by 75 percent with SQL Server 2008 R2, we can help the company grow without buying new storage,” Elward says. “Also, we are realizing performance improvements of 50 percent while using only about 30 percent of our server capacity, so we have plenty of growing room.”

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview



Organization Size: 20000 employees

Organization Profile

Air Products makes gases and chemicals used in thousands of industries. Based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the company has 20,000 employees in 50 countries and had 2012 sales approaching U.S.$10 billion.


Hardware
  • EMC VNX storage area network
  • HP ProLiant DL580 G7 server computers

Software and Services
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise

Vertical Industries
Life Sciences, Chemicals; Oil & Gas, Mining

Country/Region
United States

Business Need
Business Critical

IT Issue
Data Warehousing

Languages
English

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