Fashion retailers are constantly investing in new technologies to keep pace with the ever-changing market demand. Mahindra Retail, part of the $6.3 billion Mahindra Group that operates the Mom & Me chain of stores in India, was looking to grow its business. However, its existing ERP system was posing a major challenge. The Bangalore-based fashion retailer implemented SAP ERP, with SUSE Linux Enterprise Server as the operating system – a move that has helped them to lower operational costs and boost business productivity.
Senior executives of the company believe that this was a much-needed endeavor, considering its fashion brand, Mom & Me chain of stores that sell products and services aimed at pregnant women and children, was rapidly expanding toward a planned 100 outlets.
The key challenges
Many Mahindra Group companies use SAP software as their standard ERP system. The SAP at Mahindra was already running four different instances of SAP ERP 6.0 for Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. and other group companies. These were running on a variety of platforms, such as IBM AIX for the largest 2,000-plus user instance and a mix of Linux and Microsoft Windows for the other smaller instances.
When the Mahindra Retail business was launched, the challenge was to find a platform for SAP that would offer high levels of performance and availability without correspondingly high initial and ongoing costs. The new business wanted to focus on capital and operational expenditures besides having an ambition expansion plan. Moreover, it did not want to divert investment to a costly proprietary UNIX platform.
“We wanted to take advantage of the growing trend for enterprise-quality solutions on commodity hardware. Linux on x86 hardware was clearly a good way to minimize costs with-out sacrificing reliability,” explained said Vijay Mahajan, senior general manager of IT infrastructure, Corporate IT, Mahindra & Mahindra, Ltd.
Getting rid of proprietary piece of software
Following a detailed evaluation of possible platforms and after discussions with Gartner, Corporate IT at Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. selected SUSE Linux Enterprise Server as its platform for the new SAP environment. The company chose to deploy the operating system on a cluster of HP BL460 blade servers with quad-core Intel Xeon processors.
The SAP production environment for Mahindra Retail consists of two blades in an active-passive configuration for the Oracle database and the SAP central instance, with a further two blades for the SAP application. “HP delivered the entire solution – both hardware and software – from a single point of contact, and they also provide a single support contract,” said Mahajan adding that “The high-availability clustering is an integral part of the SUSE Linux Enterprise platform, which meant that we were able to avoid the high cost of a proprietary piece of software.”
He also explained that the SAP ERP environment is integrated using SAP NetWeaver Process Integration middleware with Mahindra Retail’s Triversity Point of Sale (POS) solution, enabling the sharing of information on pricing, stock levels and promotions. About 100 employees in Mahindra Retail’s Bangalore headquarters are already using SAP, along with a couple of employees in each of the stores and the company anticipates the total number of users to be between 200 and 300.
“The feedback from users is excellent— they report perfect availability and low re-sponse time for SAP ERP running on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server,” pitched in Prasad Patil, manager of IT, Corporate IT, Mahindra & Mahindra, Ltd. “Of course, the business is more interested in performance of the particular solution than the platform behind.”
Patil stated that the concern was much more on whether that platform is delivering to the agreed service levels. In our experience, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server provides a robust, high-performance platform for SAP ERP, even on relatively low-cost Intel processor-based hardware.”
Low cost, improved performance
With SUSE Linux Enterprise Server running on HP blade servers, Mahindra Retail has a low-cost, highly available platform for its SAP ERP environment. As the company was on an expansion spree, opening new stores, the solution has ample capacity to ensure continued ex-cellent performance and availability.
“All of our platform decisions are driven by the underlying business requirements, in terms of balancing the cost of ownership against the required levels of per formance, availability and security,” said Suhas Mhaskar, general manager, Corporate IT, Mahindra & Mahindra, Ltd.
He added, “SUSE Linux Enterprise Server gives us a strong price/performance advantage over pro-prietary UNIX and Microsoft Windows as a platform for SAP ERP, and it offers enter prise levels of reliability and support.” In addition to minimizing the support overhead, the deployment helped keep acquisition costs low by removing the need to invest in a proprietary solution for high availability.
According to tech analyst and open source enthusiast Hans Bakker, The main reason larger companies use open source ERP is the flexibility: an open source ERP system is cheaper and easier to customize. In an article posted on LinkedIn (July 3, 2014), he remarked: “Open source ERP systems are easier to upgrade when customizations are properly implemented than with commercial systems and upgrades can therefore be done much more often without disruption of the production system.
Bakker however mentioned that open source ERP is still relatively new in large organizations. “Because of this, it is sometimes difficult to convince an accounting department or other decision maker to use open source software. Lastly, auditors may not be familiar with a new interface and do not know the system yet. However, training can be easily implemented to avoid these complications when deploying a new system.”
As was the case of Mahindra Retail which was looking to reduce complexities, while saving substantial amounts of money. “SUSE Linux Enterprise Server has provided the availability we needed for Mahindra Retail within a single, cost-effective package,” said Mahajan. “The ability to do this on commodity hardware was a significant benefit, and we are now exploring the possibility of migrating our other larger SAP environments to the same platform,” added a relieved Mahajan.