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Starwood Hotels rests easy with SAP on iSeries

A Gartner study concludes an exclusive SAP and iSeries operation makes this data center dramatically more efficient than its competitors.

Several months ago, Mike Morgan, vice president of corporate information systems at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., wanted proof that his data center operation was as efficient as he thought it was. The results turned out to be an IT manager's dream.

Over the past several years, White Plains, N.Y.-based Starwood, a small properties management company, acquired a number of major hotel chains, including Westin and Sheraton. Now, the company is one of the world's largest holders of hotels, with 750 properties in more than 80 countries. It has 110,000 employees.

With the Westin acquisition in 1997 and the Sheraton acquisition in 1998, standardizing disparate IT infrastructure became a priority. Back in 1996, when Morgan joined the company, Starwood was running on a DOS system – a system clearly too small to support the IT demands of a major corporation.

"We were growing quickly," Morgan said. "The joke was that we bought another hotel every Tuesday."

Knowing the company would continue to grow, the top priority for Morgan was a centralized financial system. He opted to implement SAP software and put it on the AS/400.

Today, Starwood uses a mix of AS/400s, iSeries servers, and a newly installed iSeries 890 to power its SAP financials application. The iSeries platform serves as the backbone of most of Starwood's back-office operations, including general ledger, payroll, and sales and distribution.

Starwood is one of over 2,000 customers running SAP applications on an iSeries. According to IBM, the number of SAP installations on the iSeries has doubled in the last three years.

"Over the course of time, we've continued to grow the platform to meet the growing business," said Morgan. "Once or twice, we evaluated whether we should look at a larger platform, but our cost of operation, running SAP on the 400, is very efficient."

But with a new chief financial officer in place, Morgan wanted proof. So he had Gartner do a benchmark study.

As it turned out, the department topped the charts in efficiency. In fact, according to Gartner's report, Starwood's datacenter in Phoenix was significantly better than other companies, in terms of high-availability. And its cost of operation was dramatically lower. In addition, the study concluded that Starwood was actually using 70% fewer people to support the same level of infrastructure.

"I believe the efficiencies are because SAP is run on the iSeries," said Morgan, who picked the platform for no other reason than he was familiar with it.

"We were really were just trying to answer some questions about SAP," Morgan said. "It turned out that it was running really, really well."

Morgan said his group didn't just slap SAP on the iSeries. He said they maximized the power of the iSeries – incorporated best practices, used partitions, standardized and automated numerous tasks.

"However, the reason you go through the pains of implementing a big ERP system is that it's all on a single platform, [which the iSeries could handle]" he said. "That gives you the ability to do a lot of things, none the least of which is to enforce consistency—everyone is using the same apps and platform."

Starwood is currently implementing a SAP GUI interface for about 200 of its hotel's front desk operations, with iSeries running in the back end.

The company now runs about 75,000 CPW across 10 servers. The applications are used by 16,000 users in nine different languages.

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