ETSA insources hardware for SAP system

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ETSA insources hardware for SAP system

South Australian utility steps away from outsourcing.

ETSA Utilities has refreshed the servers and storage underpinning its SAP system and made Adelaide the new home of its hardware after deciding not to renew its part of an outsourced agreement with CSC.

The utility, which is South Australia's primary electricity distributor, cut over its production SAP environment to the new hardware in March this year.

The SAP environment covers 1,800 staff and 30 depots and business areas.

The new kit - two M8000 servers and StorageTek 9985Vs - were deployed in identical configurations at ETSA's new primary data centre suite within Hostworks and at a back-up site at head office. Both sites are managed by ETSA.

The SAP enterprise resource planning and business warehouse environment had previously been hosted at an interstate data centre in Melbourne under a "significant" outsourcing agreement with CSC.

ETSA became a party to the agreement following its acquisition by the Cheung Kong Infrastructure (CKI) Group and HK Electric.

The outsourced agreement provided shared hardware and support services between three CKI-owned Australian utilities - ETSA, Powercor and Citipower.

But ETSA was keen to bring the hardware back to Adelaide, particularly in an ongoing effort to slash time to recovery in its disaster planning.

"At the end of the outsourced arrangement, we chose - and CSC was happy for us - to insource our IT again," ETSA's manager of IT Keith Rutherford said.

Rather than transport the five-year-old Sun hardware it had been sharing under the outsourced agreement to Adelaide, ETSA purchased completely new Sun kit.

It took delivery of the hardware in November last year.

"We installed it locally in Adelaide and loaded up the various systems while the production system carried on its original environment [in Melbourne]," Rutherford said.

"Once we were satisfied we cut over to Adelaide and decommissioned the hardware in Melbourne. It gave us a low risk transition [option] to the new hardware and a new location for the hardware as well."

IT infrastructure manager Adrian Panazzolo said the actual cutover took "less than two hours" over a weekend in March.

He said the new hardware had significantly cut nightly load times between the ERP and business warehouse systems and resulted in a "knock-on effect" on the performance of other systems that interconnected with SAP, such as those for work scheduling and outage management.

Disaster planning

ETSA conducts a yearly recovery test for its SAP system, although Panazzolo told iTnews the utility had "never had to actively invoke disaster recovery" plans.

When the hardware was based in Melbourne, the recovery point objective was 48 hours - accounting for the time it would take to ship the necessary tape drives from Victoria to South Australia.

"Part of the driver in bringing [the hardware] over [to Adelaide] was to meet increased availability requirements and to lower the time to recovery," Panazzolo said.

"Having the production and disaster recovery systems locally with high bandwidth links [connecting the sites] enabled that. It would otherwise have been very difficult to meet the [upcoming] disaster recovery objectives."

Panazzolo said tests conducted over the past "couple of weekends" had brought the time to recovery under eight hours.

"We're aiming to improve that even further," he said.

"The ongoing work [on the system] will be to continually improve the recovery times and recovery point objectives."

Five-year refresh

ETSA typically targeted a five-year lifecycle for its IT hardware assets, although the actual time varied between systems.

Rutherford said the utility justified significant hardware investments by eking out the "maximum life" of what they had.

"Hardware tends to come with a three-year warranty. More often than not we take the additional two-year warranty extension on offer," he said.

"Where we can we also upgrade the componentry to increase [the hardware's] life."

Mobile middleware

In other technology platform developments, ETSA planned to use the next year to improve mobile computing for field workers and to enhance systems to communicate outage information to customers.

Rutherford said trucks had already been fitted with mobile devices. He said ETSA planned to integrate its maintenance information systems with the systems that looked after unplanned activities so both data sets could be broadcast to its fleet.

"We need to make sure linesmen are getting the information they need to do their job but also make sure we can get that information back to head office so we can understand what's happening in the field, what jobs have been completed and which ones haven't for whatever reason," he said.

Jobs may not be completed due to a nearby unplanned outage, he said.

Rutherford also said ETSA was trying to improve the amount of information it could give users that were subject to power outages.

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