Laying Data Graveyards to Rest

August 15, 2011 by Sophie Kirsten

Don't look into the light: SAP Netweaver ILM puts an end to data graveyards (image: Fotolia)

Don't look into the light! SAP NetWeaver ILM puts an end to data graveyards (image: Fotolia)

Huge amounts of data that is no longer needed for day-to-day operations are languishing in IT systems at companies the world over. Invoices, annual financial statements, and business letters are just a few examples of the information that companies are legally required to retain for several years before destroying it. And we’re not just talking about information that is relevant for the fiscal and tax authorities. Pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, for example, are required to retain data about drug manufacture and patient treatment for 30 years before they are permitted to delete it.

So, deactivating legacy systems and simply deleting the information stored in them is not an option in most cases. Besides, until now, the cost and effort involved in decommissioning an SAP system always seemed too great and there was often a significant amount of manual work involved. What’s more, there was no standardized decommissioning procedure available. The result is that, at the end of their active lives, legacy systems continue to exist as costly “data graveyards” that have to be kept alive for years or, following a temporary shutdown, brought back to life at considerable expense when the data they contain is needed. To make matters worse, they also incur significant running costs in the form of electricity, cooling, maintenance, and software licenses.

SAP systems: lean and clean

“There are plenty of companies with several hundreds or even thousands of such legacy systems,” explains Helmut Stefani. He works at SAP on the development of SAP NetWeaver Information Lifecycle Management (ILM). Thanks to this solution, companies can now decommission their expensive data graveyards with a clear conscience.  “One of the main areas in which SAP NetWeaver ILM is deployed is in transferring relevant data from legacy systems to a central Retention Warehouse and subsequently decommissioning the legacy system,” he says.

SAP NetWeaver ILM also helps maintain high performance levels in active ERP systems. Companies can use the component to create their own rules for automatic archiving and legally compliant data retention. This means that the databases used for live systems remain lean and clean – and that no vital data or information that is subject to legal retention requirements is lost.

Both SAP and non-SAP data can be transferred to a central Retention Warehouse for secure, long-term storage when a system is decommissioned. This includes both structured and unstructured data, as Stefani explains: “Companies can access data that is stored in the Retention Warehouse at any time, such as when they need specific data for tax auditing purposes.” As such, SAP is offering a solution for end-to-end corporate information management: for SAP data and non-SAP data, for structured and unstructured information, and for live and legacy systems.

Scenario of the future: cloud

Users of SAP NetWeaver ILM can also apply a legal hold to data that requires special protection to prevent it from being deleted either by accident or intentionally. This function is particularly helpful, for example, for protecting information that is required for a pending court case. And the solution also provides all the necessary functions for the opposite scenario, namely, the legally compliant destruction of data. Management consultants Deloitte conducted a concept review to investigate whether the decommissioning procedure in SAP NetWeaver ILM adheres to key compliance regulations. In addition, SAP partners have been testing the solution in recent weeks and have been unanimous in providing positive feedback.

The Retention Warehouse as the central component of the decommissioning scenario in SAP NetWeaver ILM is operated by customers on dedicated servers and comprises an SAP BW instance and a storage system for long-term data archiving. Several terabytes of information can accumulate in a data warehouse of this kind. Therefore, in the future, this information may well follow the current trend and move to the cloud. However, before cloud-based data archives can become established, certain doubts and uncertainties must be removed, says Stefani: “Most people are still too worried about losing data or having it stolen from the cloud.” Nevertheless, he adds, it is only a matter of time before the use of cloud technology becomes a best practice.

Tailored service packages from SAP

Companies that opt for SAP NetWeaver ILM can order the matching implementation service from SAP at the same time. Carolin Treu from SAP Consulting explains the principle: “We offer predefined and standardized service packages for SAP NetWeaver ILM.” SAP consultants help with the implementation and operation of the solution in live systems. Other packages contain services for decommissioning legacy systems.

These services for SAP NetWeaver ILM are designed to be as efficient as possible – and as inexpensive as possible. A standardized procedure based on best practices and predefined content ensures that implementation is both fast and smooth, while still taking account of customer-specific requirements. Meanwhile, a proven project methodology ensures that planning effort is minimal.

“Our aim is to ensure that our customers are equipped to use the solution completely independently,” says Treu.  “One of our system decommissioning scenarios offers support in advance for analyzing data, transferring it to the central Retention Warehouse, and applying the data retention rules.” This coaching approach enables customers to become actively involved so that they can conduct the rest of the implementation process themselves.

Doubters and skeptics can opt to take part in a pilot implementation or a proof of concept as part of SAP’s special service offering. SAP consultants then join with the customer to agree on further planning and create a structured road map for deploying the solution in the future. Thanks to the SAP NetWeaver ILM solution, we should now be able to lay expensive data graveyards to rest, once and for all.

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