Business Challenge

Balluff identified that it needed to accelerate access to information to support its sales and business development functions. Growing data volumes also created practical difficulties, as nightly batch runs were taking longer and longer, eventually running into business hours – negatively affecting information availability and application performance.

Transformation

The company revitalized its data strategy by implementing a complete IBM solution to run its transactional SAP ERP and analytical SAP Business Warehouse applications, enhancing performance, improving information availability and enabling better business decisions.

Results

98% faster

access to complex analytics reports on sales and business performance

50% faster

response times in SAP ERP improves staff productivity

5x faster

access to business documents, such as product data sheets, saves time across all departments

Business Challenge Story

Optimizing the IT environment

Over a period of rapid business growth, growing data volumes created practical difficulties; sales and business development reports were taking longer to produce, and processing tasks normally scheduled to run overnight were almost running into business hours. Switching to an environment that would provide real-time information would help Balluff achieve faster insight into markets and customers, and allow business users to explore data interactively to help drive the business forward.

As a first step, Balluff wanted to optimize its entire IT environment, including software, servers and storage, to increase the performance of its transactional SAP ERP environment and boost productivity of its business users across all departments. To achieve this, Balluff looked at innovative storage technology and a general server upgrade.

In a second step, the company aimed to improve decision-making with faster, more accurate business analytics capabilities for its data warehouse by leveraging the latest technology of IBM Db2 for Linux, UNIX, and Windows and its BLU Acceleration feature.

Bernhard Herzog, Team Manager Information Technology SAP at Balluff explains, “Balluff relies on SAP solutions to manage the business, including SAP Business Warehouse for data analysis and reporting. As the business grew, data delivery slowed down. Without timely, accurate information available, we risked making poor investment decisions and being unable to deliver the best possible service to our customers.”

By improving internal processes, Balluff also sought to implement a more flexible approach to sales management and ensure excellent customer service.

“To realize our true business potential, we wanted to transform the speed and reliability of the enterprise information management, and turned to IBM for help,” adds Bernhard Herzog.

Since we moved to IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration we have cut database run time of complex reports by up to 98 percent – that is 50 times quicker.

—Bernd Dümmel, Team Manager SAP BW and Application Development, Balluff GmbH

Transformation Story

Game-changing improvements

Balluff’s IT team was not interested in incremental changes; it wanted game-changing improvements for its private cloud environment in information delivery across its transactional (OLTP) and analytics (OLAP) business applications. To achieve this, the company upgraded in a first step its SAP ERP applications and the underlying IBM server and storage infrastructure before deploying IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration software in a second step to speed up its SAP Business Warehouse application.

To optimize the performance of its SAP ERP applications with IBM Db2 for Linux, UNIX, and Windows databases and to ensure fast and reliable transaction processing, Balluff upgraded to two new IBM Power 750 servers, each featuring 32 IBM POWER7+™ processor cores and 1 TB of main memory. For maximum flexibility and resilience, the two servers are configured as a private cloud, which enables continued operations even if individual systems become unavailable. To streamline the management of its comprehensive Power Systems private cloud environment, Balluff uses the Dynamic Power Cloud Manager developed by IBM Business Partner FRITZ & MACZIOL. Dynamic Power Cloud Manager provides a quick overview of LPARs through a modern and intuitive web-based user interface. This helps the company to monitor its systems and automate system administration tasks.

Balluff uses IBM PowerHA SystemMirror® for the latest IBM AIX 7.1 operating system to provide a very high level of data and system protection, helping to ensure maximum availability of SAP ERP and related mission-critical business applications.

The company takes advantage of the micro-partitioning feature provided by IBM AIX, running 15 logical partitions (LPARs) on each server, to use the available processor resources as efficiently as possible. To further improve business continuity, Balluff uses IBM PowerVM Live Partition Mobility to move complete, running partitions from one server to another without service interruption, without affecting production operations.

Bernhard Herzog states, “IBM Power Systems provides a very reliable platform with many features that support business continuity. We can rely on competent support from IBM whenever comprehensive changes to our server configuration are required.”

All LPARs are configured as shared and uncapped, allowing Balluff to fully exploit the performance and capacity of its POWER7+ resources. To ensure reliable systems operation, Balluff has tuned the prioritization settings of its shared processor pools for improved performance and availability of its SAP landscape.

To meet the need for temporary sandbox systems for testing and development of new SAP application features and customizations, Balluff utilizes Workload Partitions (WPARs). Multiple WPARs can be created within a single LPAR to run one or several applications. The advantage is that one LPAR can be assigned to test and development projects, and each application can run in a separate WPAR inside this LPAR. This allows LPAR resources to be shared dynamically across all WPARs without any impact on the total system LPAR configuration, minimizing configuration and administration workloads while improving isolation of non-critical sandbox systems.

Balluff fully exploits its computing and memory resources by using the in-memory data compression capability within AIX, Active Memory Expansion (AME). With AME, data compression reduces the total requirement for system memory and improves performance as smaller volumes of data are moved in and out of main memory. The slight dip in processor performance, as data is decompressed and compressed, is more than recovered by faster access to data, and there are significant cost savings on main memory requirements, with the greatest advantages possible for application servers.

For the sandbox WPARs at Balluff, AME is configured based on a factor of two, which therefore doubles the effective capacity of the memory allocated to the partitions and leaves more physical memory available for mission-critical business applications.

Mobile apps as part of the Dynamic Power Cloud Manager solution support secure remote monitoring and allow system administrators quick access to vital system health information – anytime, anywhere. Even when they are out of the office, IT staff is able to keep Balluff’s systems running reliably.

Bernhard Herzog explains, “Our IBM Power 750 servers, together with the Dynamic Power Cloud Manager tool by FRITZ & MACZIOL, support our standardization efforts and enable us to operate all of our SAP systems based on IBM Db2 with very low administration overhead.

“The private cloud platform, based on IBM technology, makes setting up new systems much quicker than before, improving our business agility and making sure that we can react quickly to new requirements. For example, it is very easy for us to add a sandbox system if we want to test new features, helping to speed our time-to-market and support business opportunities.”

Following the server upgrade, Balluff optimized its storage architecture and added two all-flash IBM FlashSystem™ 840 storage devices with 20 TB each, with the IBM MicroLatency feature to boost overall system performance even further. Adding the FlashSystem 840 devices did not require any tuning or administration effort, thanks to IBM Easy Tier technology which automates allocation of data storage hierarchy.

Bernhard Herzog explains, “The benefits of the IBM FlashSystem 840 solid-state memory solutions were immediately visible to everyone in the company. Suddenly, we could access important documents like data sheets, product documentation or business letters much faster than before. This truly helped us working together more productively.”

Balluff uses virtualized storage based on IBM System Storage® SAN Volume Controller (SVC) for its SAP and non-SAP systems. To expand capacity even further, the company added a highly flexible IBM Storwize V5000 solution in combination with the existing IBM SAN Volume Controller.

As the value of business data increases, it is particularly important to fully protect the database and other applications such as email and file servers with automated, reliable backup processes to ensure that data can be recovered quickly, should a disaster strike.

To meet these needs, Balluff teamed up with IBM Business Partner PROFI Engineering Systems and implemented IBM Spectrum Protect™, formerly Tivoli® Storage Manager with a next-generation IBM tape solution and an IBM TS4500 Tape Library, using LTO6 tape drives .

Balluff deployed IBM Spectrum Protect Snapshot, formerly Tivoli Storage FlashCopy® Manager, and uses IBM SVC Storage System’s snapshot functionality to create application-aware snapshots in seconds. This has reduced Balluff’s database restore time significantly and improved data protection for its most important systems. The company can now easily create more than one database backup per day, minimizing potential data loss in the event of failure.

The company integrated its IBM infrastructure with its existing Ganglia Monitoring System for a consolidated and detailed overview of its entire IT environment.

The company’s SAP Business Warehouse application serves around 500 concurrent users, and the aim was to transform personal productivity and enable real-time enterprise-wide information insight.

The team evaluated possible options, including SAP HANA, SAP Business Warehouse Accelerator, and IBM Db2 for Linux, UNIX and Windows. The Balluff team looked at price, complexity and predicted system performance. Balluff selected IBM Db2, with the intention to leverage BLU Acceleration, as the most effective way to achieve its business objectives.

Bernd Dümmel, Team Manager SAP BW and Application Development at Balluff, says, “IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration is the ideal solution for us as it enables rapid new insights into business data. Deploying BLU Acceleration was a low-risk project - implementation was quick, easy and did not affect availability. The BLU Acceleration feature is already included in our IBM Db2 licenses, and we can operate the solution without additional training. As a further bonus, investment and operating costs are much lower than other in-memory solutions.”

Minimizing disruption for its 500 concurrent users, the company deployed SAP Business Warehouse 7.3 and migrated its IBM Db2 9.7 databases to IBM Db2 10.5 with BLU Acceleration as part of the modernization of its IBM infrastructure. Balluff also ensured that its upgraded systems met all the system requirements of IBM Db2 10.5. Besides up-to-date SAP applications, this also meant checking that all SAP systems were using Unicode databases and that no SAP application was relying on the IBM Db2 Database Partitioning Feature (DPF), which is not yet supported by the current release.

Because Balluff had been using IBM Db2 for years, it had already relied on Db2 Autonomics functionality such as automatic storage, including the reclaimable storage feature, to simplify database storage management. This enabled Balluff to take advantage of the innovative performance features of IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration without additional downtime. The IBM team worked closely with Balluff to analyze the company’s SAP Business Warehouse applications and identified about 1,500 tables in the 1.5 TB database that would benefit from the new BLU Acceleration technology.

IBM specialists helped Balluff migrate these 1,500 tables in approximately 17 hours without downtime for the production systems. The table migrations were parallelized, enabling the migrations to be completed during operational hours and without the need for scheduled downtime. Even during these transitions, system performance was only marginally impacted by the migrations to IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration, and most business users did not notice any lengthening of response time.

IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration has helped Balluff transform the speed and reliability of its enterprise information delivery, giving executives fast insight into critical information and helping us seize new business opportunities.

—Bernhard Herzog, Team Manager Information Technology SAP, Balluff GmbH

Results Story

Enhanced performance and information availability

As a result of the IBM technology upgrade, Balluff cut response times of its SAP ERP applications powered by IBM solutions by 50 percent while also improving information delivery. Bernhard Herzog explains, “In the past, waiting times slowed down workflows and staff had to change between different tasks to avoid further delays. With IBM FlashSystem, IBM Db2 database performance has increased significantly. We improved access to documents by a factor of five, accelerated SAP ERP batch operations by a factor of seven, and halved response times in SAP ERP dialog mode.

“Our business users noticed a real performance boost after we deployed IBM FlashSystem solutions for SAP ERP with IBM Db2 databases. One manager said that his team can now work more efficiently than before. As users complete their tasks more quickly, they have more time to provide better customer service.”

By using IBM Db2 compression technology, the database is about 85 percent smaller than when using uncompressed data, reducing the storage needs for backups and further speeding up the backup process. The new backup solution also streamlined recovery processes at Balluff. Bernhard Herzog comments, “In the past, it would have taken about three hours to restore mission-critical data from tape. With IBM Tivoli Storage FlashCopy Manager, we are now able to create three backups of our two largest systems per day. Not only does this improve data protection without slowing down applications, it also helps us recover data much faster than before. With snapshots managed by IBM FlashCopy Manager, we can recover directly from disk in about one minute at both data centers.”

The Balluff team is dedicated to the continuous optimization of its IT infrastructure and database architecture to support its broader business ambitions. By maximizing technical performance, Balluff can avoid over-investment and cut operational costs while delivering enhanced, near real-time information to executives.

Bernhard Herzog says, “The new solution based on IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration has substantially enhanced the productivity of our sales teams by providing instant access to accurate information, enabling better-informed decision making. This game-changing in-memory technology provides breakthrough performance without the constraints of other in-memory solutions on the market.”

Bernd Dümmel adds, “As we were already using IBM Db2, we could leverage our database administrators’ existing knowledge. This meant that we did not have to change our operational database management or disaster recovery processes. And we can continue to profit from well-established IBM Db2 features, such as the Autonomics and Storage Optimization functions with advanced adaptive row data compression, automatic maintenance and Self-Tuning Memory Management.”

Bernhard Herzog summarizes, “IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration combines innovative features, such as columnar tables, with leading data compression technology and outstanding ease of use for the best benefit of the business.” By bringing together a wide range of performance features, IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration perfectly supports a data-centric approach where business applications such as SAP Business Warehouse push compute-intensive data processing workloads down from the application layer to the database layer. This application development paradigm complements recent advances in database technology and helps deliver faster response times, because algorithms can be executed faster when they are implemented closer to the data they operate on.

Thanks to the improved data compression technology and the sophisticated data skipping feature, IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration can cram more data into memory and processor caches, raising query execution to a whole new level.

The BLU Acceleration feature automatically maintains metadata about database tables that are loaded into memory and caches in so-called synopsis tables. When executing a query BLU Acceleration skips irrelevant data and reads only data that will be included in the query result. This behavior reduces the amount of data loaded and read, and fewer database records need to be evaluated, which accelerates processing. With the new actionable compression feature, encoded and compressed data can also be evaluated without decompression, enabling IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration to speed up performance.

IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration is especially optimized for the IBM POWER platform and makes best use of available resources. Intelligent pre-fetching algorithms push the boundaries further and even minimize memory access by pushing data into substantially faster processor caches in advance, further cutting processor waiting time and helping Balluff to use the available POWER7+ cores more efficiently and being optimally prepared for the new POWER8 architecture.

Highly refined register, cache and memory management helps IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration to keep multi-core processors busy, cutting database processing time with improved parallelization. Supporting the Single Instruction Multiple Data (SIMD) technology of the IBM POWER platform, IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration can perform parallel vector processing on many database records simultaneously, helping the software to complete database queries faster and provide quicker reports to business users.

As the level of performance optimization that is needed for quasi real-time insights into business information can only be efficiently employed directly in the database layer, SAP has implemented an additional database abstraction layer, “Core Data Services”, that supports the vendor-specific database functionality for all SAP applications including OLTP workloads such as SAP ERP and OLAP workloads such as SAP Business Warehouse. IBM has already implemented a number of Db2 features to speed up SAP applications, for example customer payment history, currency conversion and stock consistency check.

BLU Acceleration features are being developed as an integral part of the mature application development and testing processes of the IBM Db2 database, ensuring that new functionality and innovations are enterprise-ready for SAP customers when released.

Thanks to the seamless integration of IBM Db2 and the new acceleration features, migrations to IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration are simple and do not require changes to underlying data structures. Bernhard Herzog says, “It was a big benefit for us that no schema changes were needed, and applications can continue to use the same SQL queries. BLU Acceleration eliminates the need to tune database configurations manually, and reduces the number of aggregates needed for our SAP Business Warehouse application.”

Furthermore, Balluff also enjoys even closer integration of its database with its SAP solutions through the SAP DBA Cockpit for Db2 and the new ABAP Core Data Services. The integrated SAP DBA Cockpit for Db2 enables database administrators to perform maintenance operations from within the SAP ERP environment, to streamline administration processes and increase the efficiency of database management workflows.

Bernhard Herzog explains, “No additional investment in licenses or hardware was required to take advantage of the new features of IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration to speed up our SAP Business Warehouse.”

Building on existing IBM Db2 software and skills, the biggest database implementation was completed online and in just one night. IBM supported Balluff throughout the project from initial planning to execution, including database administration. Bernhard Herzog elaborates, “As long-time users of IBM Db2, it is much easier for us to manage IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration than any completely new database system. In times of growth and with limited IT resources, it is important that our IT staff can work as productively as possible. We already have established processes for operating and managing IBM Db2 – all these routines can still be used with IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration, which gives us a greater return on investment than in the past.”

Bernd Dümmel, says, “The deployment of BLU Acceleration went very smoothly. No customizations to the database tables or our SAP Business Warehouse application were required. We could even move our data online without disrupting our business users.”

Thanks to improved compression technologies, Balluff achieved a further 26 percent compression gain compared to its previous environment, reducing database size from 1.5 TB to approximately 1.1 TB. Smaller databases enable faster backups, cutting backup time by 30 percent. The company also saved storage and backup space, and reduced backup data volumes by 30 percent. Based on these results, Balluff cut time for batch mode data processing by 25 percent with BLU Acceleration.

Bernd Dümmel states, “Our nightly batch jobs were in serious danger of over-running into the next day’s operations. Thanks to BLU Acceleration, we can now ensure that all the data is processed and made available on time. This innovative solution allows us to cover future business growth easily, even as we deploy new information services.”

Balluff staff now enjoy 98 percent faster access to relevant business data. Bernd Dümmel elaborates, “For example, since we moved to IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration we have cut database run time of complex reports by up to 98 percent – that is 50 times quicker. Across all business reports, we achieved an average saving of 30 percent. As a result, staff can access up-to-date information more efficiently and the SAP Business Warehouse application feels more responsive than in the past. Data management tasks are also performed much more quickly, saving us significant time in database administration, data loading and pre-processing.”

Bernhard Herzog adds, “It is a great advantage for our business users to be able to generate ad-hoc reports instantaneously. Our sales team relies on rapid access to sales figures, and managers run several reports a day to optimize our sales activity and keep up-to-date with the latest numbers. With BLU Acceleration, they finally have all the information at their fingertips to drive up sales instead of waiting for reports to be ready.”

Bernhard Herzog continues, “Today, sales staff have instant access to real-time information on customer turnover and other important indicators. With faster access to key business data, sales managers at Balluff have a better overview, sales reps can improve customer service, and the company can increase sales.”

All parties are working closely together to improve application performance across the entire infrastructure and software stack to continue to build on the existing, successful IBM and SAP partnership. For example, SAP developed and released the ABAP Core Data Services functionality to allow database vendors like IBM to optimize the execution of database queries without losing compatibility to the SAP’s ABAP Open SQL database abstraction layer, improving application portability and reducing application maintenance.

The latest IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration release also supports all SAP Business Warehouse objects, including flat InfoCubes, which will be unlocking further performance gains and storage space savings for Balluff once put into production operation. For example, tests at IBM showed that specific compression features for SAP Business Warehouse objects are two times faster with the latest release of IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration than with traditional database tables. Certain database operations like selective data deletion can be accelerated by a factor of 6.9 compared to row-organized database tables.

IBM is also committed to tighter integration of IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration with its leading IBM POWER platform. For example, IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration uses the latest features of the IBM POWER8 processors to speed up data processing and utilize computing resources even more efficiently than before.

In addition, the High Availability Disaster Recovery (HADR) features of IBM Db2 were expanded to cover the full functionality of BLU Acceleration.

Bernd Dümmel concludes, “Based on our success, Balluff is working with IBM to optimize the database environment further. We are already looking forward to the next release of IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration, when even more SAP applications and database objects will be supported to speed up additional systems.”

Bernhard Herzog adds, “IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration has helped Balluff transform the speed and reliability of its enterprise information delivery, giving executives fast insight into critical information and helping us seize new business opportunities.

“Using IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration, we aim to boost sales activities, and ultimately enhance business results in the future.”

IBM Db2 with BLU Acceleration is the ideal solution for us as it enables rapid new insights into business data. Deploying BLU Acceleration was a low-risk project - implementation was quick, easy and did not affect availability.

—Bernd Dümmel, Team Manager SAP BW and Application Development, Balluff GmbH

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About Balluff GmbH

Family-owned Balluff GmbH, headquartered in Neuhausen, Germany, is a world-leading manufacturer of sensor solutions, employing around 2,750 people in 50 countries. Offering sophisticated technology, cutting-edge electronics products, application-specific customer solutions and highly trained service staff, Balluff achieved annual sales of EUR 335 million in 2013.

Solution Components

  • DB2 with BLU Acceleration
  • IBM Power Systems running AIX 7
  • Power Systems
  • PowerHA High Availability SW
  • PowerVM
  • STG Lab Services: System Software
  • SVC - SAN Volume Controller Hardware
  • Software Services for Information Management
  • Spectrum Protect
  • Spectrum Protect Snapshot
  • Storage
  • Storage: IBM FlashSystem 840
  • Storage: Tape & Optical Storage

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