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Hillarys Blinds unveils SUSE Linux Enterprise Server as SAP Hana OS

Blinds manufacturer Hillarys, a long-time SAP customer and Hana advocate, has revealed the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications to be the operating system underlying its stack

Hillarys Blinds, well-known as a mid-market UK SAP Hana customer, has revealed the operating system underlying its stack.

The blinds retailing manufacturer, based in Nottingham, has opted for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications, replacing the HP-UX and HP hardware it had used to run its SAP ECC5 ERP system.

This has been part of a grander project to move its SAP customer relationship management (CRM) system, which had been struggling on an Oracle database, to the in-memory SAP database Hana, and to move to Business Suite on Hana from ECC5. The company is also now running its system on VMWare, introducing virtualised servers to the architecture. It has decided to keep the system in-house, and not go for a cloud arrangement.

It has all been a big job for the Hillarys IT team, said Julian Bond, head of ICT. The IT change programme has involved re-skilling the team. Hillarys has three purely SAP system administrators within a wider infrastructure team of five, which is part of an IT team of some 50 employees.

Oracle database skills and HP Unix system administration skills have had to be retired, while staff have taken on the skills necessary to run the new system.

“A side benefit has been those older skills are hard to find, and people are not so willing to train in them,” said Bond.

The company had considered a software-as-a-service approach, running the system in SAP’s cloud. But they decided to keep the system in its own data centre. “We have exten­sive SAP NetWeaver Process Integration integrations in place on-premise, and at­tempting to migrate these to SAP HANA Cloud Integration [HCI] would have added significant risk to the project,” said Bond. “The bulk of our employees are based in Nottingham on a local area network, so moving to the public cloud doesn’t offer us the same benefits it might a more global, distributed organisation.”

Read more about SAP Hana

The company made its technology choices in 2015, going live at the start of 2016. “Since then we have been enhancing and taking more advantage of the features of the operating system, and confirming its reliability.

“Our business depends completely on the SAP environment, so having an OS that is always up is funda­mental. To be honest, we hadn’t expected SUSE Linux Enterprise Server to offer the same high level of reliability that we’d en­joyed with HP-UX, but it has absolutely delivered.

“It’s great having a nice piece of shiny tin with a lot of RAM in it, but unless the operating system can make that available to Hana so that it can take advantage of it, you don’t see the value.”

And the functioning of the customer relationship management system was one business focal point to the overall change programme, he said.

“Our CRM system was far too slow, so staff were finding workarounds. So instead of the CRM system aiding us in providing a great customer experi­ence, it was more of a hindrance. We were also struggling to fit the [SAP Business Warehouse] data warehouse nightly upload into the available time window, which was slowing down the business. We needed to move from batch to real-time processing to keep the business competitive.”

Hillarys is a retailer, manufacturer and distributor of made-to-measure window coverings, with a market share of 26% and annual turnover of £200 million. The company employs 1,350 people and manufactures 32,000 bespoke products every week, which it sells through a nation­wide network of 1,000 sales advisors, as well as online and through stores.

Moving to Business Suite

Hillarys moved to Business Suite on Hana in August 2015, when SAP’s S/4 Hana flagship ERP sysem had been announced, but was still in its infancy as a full suite optimised for Hana – and therefore unsuitable for other rival databases.

“Moving to SAP S/4 Hana meant that we needed to upgrade the rest of our IT infra­structure and move to an operating system certified for the in-memory platform. We wanted a more modern platform that would also give us more flexibility around hardware platform choice—without sacrificing the bullet-proof reliability that we’d been used to.”

Hillarys decided to move to an open-source operating system to support [what has become] S/4 Hana. They evaluated Red Hat, too, but selected SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for SAP Applications.

“We felt that it of­fered clear strategic advantages in terms of the strong relationship between SUSE and SAP,” said Bond. SAP’s own S/4 Hana system also runs on SUSE.

The SUSE system management tools were a factor in the technology choice. “Once you’ve got a system performing as fast as Hana, tuning becomes important. As the system changes over time, you need to monitor and optimise it as your business changes,” said Bond.

It was announced in July that Hillarys is to be acquired by Hunter Douglas, a Netherlands-based windows covering company that is also an SAP customer. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently investigating the acquisition, as reported the newspaper local to Hillarys, the Nottingham Post. The business continues to be run separately in the meantime.

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