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Does SAP's Performance Fall Short?

When databases get very big, a business can be affected if even one calculation runs too slowly. SAP databases control some of the most data intensive processes on the planet for customers as varied as UBS, Caterpillar, John Deere, Wawa, the Thomas Cook travel agency, Under Armor, and Gillette.

"SAP software is so business critical that performance problems are on customers' minds," said Zohar Gilad, executive vice president of transaction performance management (TPM) provider Precise Software, the company that sponsored a just released study on SAP performance.

The survey was conducted by Dimensional Research and is based on responses from 695 SAP professionals who attended SAP's SAPPHIRE 09 conference in Orlando, Florida in May of 2009. The survey was conducted at Precise Software's booth, so respondents knew the identity of the survey's sponsor.

"We have been working with SAP customers for a long time and are used by SAP marquee customers to manage SAP performance, especially in ERP systems," said Gilad.

"We heard customers anecdotally complain about performance problems and thought what better place to survey them than at an SAP user conference," he added.

Sixty-two percent of survey respondents said they were unhappy with the way performance issues were resolved. Eight percent reported daily problems, and 68 percent reported 1-5 incidents each month.

Thirty-nine percent of those who reported at least one incident per month said they have unresolved performance issues with SAP.

Forty-six percent said they resolved issues in hours, 22 percent solved them in minutes, and 30 percent took days or even weeks to solve problems. The remaining 2 percent solved problems in seconds, according to the survey.

Same problem, different solutions

Precise Software helps customers solve this issue by tracking every database transaction through the database and application servers and into storage, according to Gilad. In the past, the company focused on SAP's flagship ERP software. Precise now also offers TPM for SAP's business intelligence software as well.

"Traditionally in BI, companies take data from the production ERP system, extract it and scrub it, and load it into their data warehouse," said Gilad. "This can disrupt the production system, companies can fail to move the data in time, and it's tough to access."

But it's not the only company working on the problem.

Other companies take different approaches. Attivio gathers meta data from a variety of sources and enables enterprise-wide search without the need for a separate database.

Precise Software solves this problem for its customers by helping them precisely locate any problems and automating the process of remediation.

Another company, Fiorano makes ERP simpler by changing the GUI (which requires some unseen but fancy technical footwork).

SAP itself is working on the issue too. At SAPPHIRE 09, the company announced a new natural language search engine to improve the SAP BI experience.

Dimensional Research's founder and CEO Diane Hagglund said the role of SAP's support services in solving these issues was not part of the survey. "Corporate IT probably does call support when they are fixing issues (depending on the issue), but since calling support is a part of both manual processes and tool-based processes, that did not pop as an alternative response with this audience the way the question was posed."

When contacted for a reaction to the data, an SAP representative said that since they had not seen the survey and did not know the methods used to obtain the data they had not seen, the company could not comment.