Keeping the Data Sinks Clean

Blanco is one of the leading providers of innovative system solutions for workstations in domestic kitchens, food service, and medical industry areas. Its products include domestic sinks, faucets, waste separation systems, food distribution and dispensing systems, as well as furnishings for the medical industry. The enterprise has subsidiaries in different parts of the world, including Canada, Belgium, France and the Czech Republic. With 1700 employees worldwide, German-based Blanco GmbH + Co KG is considered a perfect example of a mid-size company. Although Blanco’s current database size is 600 gigabytes, including one mirror for backup purposes the enterprise sports a total system size of 1.2 terabytes. In addition, another mirror copy for security purposes is kept, so that the actual space occupied by database data is approximately 1.8 terabytes.
With its upgrade to SAP R/3 Enterprise in 2002 Blanco now services about 600 users located throughout the world, of which approximately 400 access the system concurrently. It has implemented a total of 16 SAP solutions and components, including sales and distribution, material management, production planning, financial accounting, controlling, and SAP Business Intelligence; it is currently installing mySAP Customer Relationship Management and SAP Advanced Planning & Optimization.

Importance of data archiving grew with the enterprise

With a big company system and a medium company IT staff one could say that it is doubly important to have an efficient data management strategy in place said Ulrich Strack, Assistant Director of Blanco IT Services. Blanco recognized this early on and began its data archiving project back in 1998. Over time, with the growth of the enterprise, data archiving has grown in importance, while at the same time becoming progressively more routine for Blanco’s IT staff. Moreover, a key factor that is not to be overlooked during a data archiving project is that with time data archiving gained more and more acceptance from end users at Blanco.
Data archiving is a standard functionality in SAP solutions to help SAP customers manage the size of their systems. It helps reduce database size in that it moves data from completed business processes from the database to archive files in a compressed format. Once the data has been archived it is still considered to be part of the system and can be accessed for viewing. For this purpose SAP offers different tools and methods, including the Archive Information System (AS).
Options for accessing archived data directly from within the applications are also available, and were considerably enhanced with SAP R/3 Enterprise. Data access is important, because a common end-user fear is that the archived data is lost and cannot be seen again, Mrs. Bosch, the data archiving lead, pointed out. Moreover, because data archiving is an important part of any legal compliance strategy, it is essential that the data still be accessible even after it has been archived.

Pilot customer for SAP R/3 data archiving

With the gathered skills and a strong data archiving basis, Blanco became the European pilot customer for SAP R/3 Enterprise data archiving at the end of 2002. With SAP R/3 Enterprise data archiving provided several major standardization enhancements; the 30 most commonly used archiving objects were completely revised and standardized in terms of selection screens, improved statistics and log information on archiving sessions, and enhanced customizing, among others. Also some new features were added, such as the option of interrupting a write session during data archiving, which offers the data archiving administrator more flexibility. Blanco was able to pioneer these enhancements during this pilot project. At that time Blanco had a database of 500 gigabytes and a data growth rate of 8 gigabytes per month.
The company started its archiving project with several specific goals in mind, which included reducing data growth, improving response time, and meeting the data retention requirements of GDPdU, a German tax law. The initial project was completed in about 4 months and data archiving under SAP R/3 Enterprise is now a solid part of Blanco’s IT strategy. Objects archived regularly include data from sales and distribution, materials management, production planning, financial accounting, controlling and warehouse management.
Being a mid-size company, Blanco only needs to archive its data once a year. This is sufficient to ensure that currently, 95 percent of the data that has reached Blanco’s standard 2-year residence time is being archived.

Benefits helped to gain trust in data archiving

For Blanco’s Mrs. Bosch a good example of the benefits of data archiving are sales orders. By now, a larger number of sales orders reside in the archive files than in the database. Simply put, without data archiving, Blanco’s database would have grown twice as fast. Taking into account the mirrored copies of the database, and considering that the administration costs, including everything from electricity to personnel and training, of one terabyte of occupied disk space are five to seven times higher than the cost of the storage medium itself, it is easy to see the TCO savings Blanco gained through data archiving.
In terms of response time and system performance, data archiving has also benefited the company. Although this factor may sometimes be difficult to measure, the real proof comes from end-user behavior. It is common for any company that begins to implement data archiving to go through a period where the different user departments affected need to adapt and gain trust in data archiving. Departments, such as financial accounting, for example, are always reluctant to “let go” of their data. Psychologically, end-users have a difficult time accepting that although data is archived, it is still accessible if needed and not gone for ever. At Blanco the situation was no different.

Convincing performance gains

It took some time for Mrs. Bosch, the data archiving lead, to convince user departments that archiving would be beneficial to them, and the trust was not won easily. Now, however, end-users have realized that through data archiving they do see performance gains. They can access the data they actually need in everyday business processes more quickly, because the data no longer necessary for daily business operations is safely stored away and does not unnecessarily clog up database tables. “Now the user departments actually approach me and ask when the next archiving sessions will be started”, she says with a smile.
For some data requests, however, performance seemed to have worsened after data archiving. In this case, the close relationship between the data archiving department at SAP and Blanco paid off. By analyzing the Blanco system, the experts at SAP were able to give the enterprise some important tips on how to better archive to optimize performance.
A common issue triggered through archiving is the fragmentation of database tables, which may increase the I/O rate on those tables. This means that the performance on some of those requests might suffer. At Blanco, a small number of tables did show these effects.
One approach to this issue is to change archiving habits in order to avoid fragmentation. At Blanco, for example, SAP recommended that if data was archived from different company codes, it have identical residence times. This ensures that most data blocks in database tables are completely emptied so that they can be reused for new data without performance degradation.
If it is not possible to archive all data of a certain time interval, the reorganization of specific database tables can be an option. A reorganization of the entire database is not necessary and would take too long.

Data archiving as part of an ongoing data management strategy

Blanco’s archiving experience shows that data archiving is not a task that can be performed only once and be expected to cure all ills of a system. Rather, data archiving is an important and regular part of a holistic, ongoing data management strategy, which leads to important benefits if performed regularly. Although at the beginning every archiving project involves planning, a good amount of communication between different departments, and an intimate knowledge of one’s own business processes and data, once the processes are in place they require relatively little effort and in return provide a high level of payback.
In light of the unavoidable issue of legal compliance companies face today, having an ongoing data management strategy in place is now more urgent than it ever has been. Legal compliance is considered to be among the top five business concerns by global players today and affects all companies – large, medium and small. As a result, data management has recently moved into the limelight. But data management should not only be viewed in the context of legal compliance. It is even more than that. It helps companies keep their competitive edge by streamlining business processes, improving performance, avoiding redundancies, and keeping administrative efforts and costs as low as possible. Blanco recognized this early on and got a head start on its data management strategy. It is now reaping the benefits – a well-seasoned data archiving team, end-user trust gained in the data archiving processes, lower TCO, and curbed system growth.

Georg Fischer
Georg Fischer
Tanja Kaufmann
Tanja Kaufmann