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What should you know about Unicode Conversion when you plan for SAP Upgrade Projects?

SAP Upgrade Projects

It is very important to know the benefits of Unicode Conversion while planning an SAP upgrade project. Often customers are unable to decide if they should include Unicode conversion along with an Upgrade project or, alternatively, implement the Unicode conversion in a subsequent project. Upgrade projects can offer the best opportunity for including Unicode conversion of the systems as both upgrade and Unicode Conversion require downtime and also have some common tasks. After a decision has been taken to perform the Unicode conversion along with the upgrade, customers can choose different options for merging the Unicode and Upgrade projects into a single project. The various options have different advantages and disadvantages.


Single Code Page, Blended Code page, MDMP and Unicode

Before Unicode was made available, SAP supported following types of systems:

  1. Single Code Page
  2. Blended Code Page
  3. Multiple Display Multi Processing (MDMP)

While each type had its limitations for supporting co-existence of multiple languages on  a single SAP system, MDMP offered the support for the maximum number of languages. Multi-Display / Multi- Processing (MDMP) achieved this by using dynamic code page switching on the application server and, therefore, permitted any combination of standard code pages on a single system.  The user notices that the active language is the same as the logon language. The system determines the code page that is active for each user. However there are some restrictions and limitations of this technique and, also, only certain combinations of languages can co-exist. 



To Unicode or not to Unicode

With the advent of Unicode, SAP has dropped support for MDMP for new installations. All Netweaver 7.0 based systems can only be installed with Unicode. Using Unicode, SAP can support almost any language in a single SAP system. If your company is global, supports multiple languages and/or is planning to go global, and support multiple regional languages, then you should seriously consider Unicode conversion. Unicode is also mandatory for SAP systems deploying Java Applications. Currently, companies use the web to interoperate and adapt to Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). These technologies and standards require Unicode.



Upgrade and Unicode

Combining Unicode conversion with upgrades is sometimes the most cost-effective approach when planning upgrade projects. If you are running an MDMP system in the source release and upgrading to a Netweaver 7.0 based release, then you will have no choice but to also convert your system to Unicode. In fact, even with single code source system, it is advisable to convert to Unicode as it is the direction in which SAP is proceeding due to the many advantages of Unicode. However, if your source system is on Single Code Page, you can delay converting to Unicode until the time when Unicode becomes mandatory, which can occur in certain circumstances (for e.g., your company wants to go global and  support certain combinations of  languages to co-exist in the same SAP system.).

Here is a table of benefits and drawbacks associated with including Unicode conversion along with an Upgrade. Evaluate each of these factors when you plan your upgrade project to make a determination of cost vs. feasibility.


Comparison Factor


Separate Upgrade and Unicode conversion projects


Combine Upgrade and  Unicode Conversion projects


Single Downtime



In Approach-A, you need to schedule two separate downtime windows: one for upgrade and then another for the Unicode project. In Approach B, you will do both upgrade and Unicode conversion within a single downtime window.

Single Project



Approach-A is two separate projects  (Upgrade project is one and the other is Unicode project)

Approach-B is a single project that does both Upgrade and Unicode conversion..

Many tasks such as preparation phase tasks, testing phase tasks, validation tasks, project management and some technical tasks related to Unix, Database and network  can be combined



Many project phases and tasks need to be performed only once in Approach-B.

Overall duration of project(s)



In Approach-A, the duration of each of the Upgrade project by itself and the duration of Unicode Project by itself may be less than the combined Approach-B. But adding both upgrade and Unicode projects’ durations of approach-A will result in a larger duration more than the duration of a combined project Approach-B 

Complexity and technical expertise



In Approach-B, you combine two complex projects into one big complex project. Smooth handshake between upgrade and Unicode tasks is essential. Experienced consultant or personnel with combined technical expertise in both upgrade and Unicode conversion is essential.

Downtime duration

See Comment.


In the Approach-A, each individual project’s required downtime window may be small. However, when combined, the duration will be more than the single downtime duration of Approach-B.




In Approach-A, you can use the additional hardware required at different times of the individual Upgrade and Unicode projects. In Approach-B, you will need more hardware to be available simultaneously for the combined Upgrade and Unicode Conversion.

You will also need more hardware to support the Unicode system and the higher release of SAP.


Easier of the two.

Can be challenging

In Approach B, in some situations the root cause analysis of errors can be complex. It is more challenging trying to determine the problem cause to be Upgrade or Unicode conversion..

Overall effort



There are some common activities in both upgrade project and Unicode project. These activities need to be performed twice in Approach-A.  Hence the overall effort in Approach-A is more.


Options of Combining Upgrade and Unicode Projects

In summary, the Upgrade and Unicode conversion projects can be categorized into three implementation options:

Option-1) Upgrade and Unicode conversion during different downtimes (for e.g., on two consecutive different weekends.)

Customers had to adopt this option as, previously, the combined upgrade and Unicode conversion methodology was not available. Also, this is a viable option if there is a restriction on the acceptable length of a single downtime.  However, this option may not be feasible if your source release is on MDMP.


Option-2) Upgrade first and subsequently perform a Unicode conversion (during the same single downtime window).

This is also an option which customers had to choose when the combined Upgrade and Unicode conversion was not available. The disadvantage of this option is that some of the Unicode preparation steps and language scans will need to be done during the downtime, thus increasing the downtime.


Option-3) Adopt SAP’s Combined Upgrade and Unicode Conversion methodology.

The advantage of this option is that you can perform most of the Unicode preparation tasks during uptime, though the actual conversion (export and import) occurs during downtime. This allows the customers to minimize the overall downtime for the combined project.

This is the preferred option, if it is technically feasible, your source system is at the appropriate release level, and single acceptable downtime duration is long enough to fit both the upgrade downtime and Unicode conversion’s downtime tasks.


In conclusion, should you realize that Unicode conversion is a necessity for your company and you want to include the same while you are in the middle of an upgrade project, it can be costly and can jeopardize the project timelines, as Unicode projects are equally complex if not more complex than upgrade projects. Moreover the technical tools required to perform Unicode conversion are not part of day to day system maintenance tasks and neither are they the same as upgrade tools. Special focused skill set and careful planning is required to perform Unicode conversion. Knowing your options for performing a Unicode conversion along with the upgrade, in a single project, is most beneficial for your company. Unicode customers, in the past, have had their unique reasons for preferring one option over the other. Each of the options described above, has its own advantages and disadvantages. Carefully examine each option as it applies to your company’s unique Upgrade project scenario.



Related Content

Please include at least three references to SDN documents or web pages.

1. Combined Upgrade and Unicode Conversion (CU&UC) Cutover Project Plan Execution at Combined Upgrade and Unicode Conversion (CU&UC) Cutover Project Plan Execution


2. The Inevitable Unicode Project at


3. OSS note 1322715 – Unicode FAQs


4. OSS note 1319517 Unicode Collection of Notes.

1 Comment
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  • Hello Tikkana.

    The Blog is very well written , explaing the upgrade approaches.
    Please do share across your Upgrade experiences as well specific to ABAP related queries.

    Thanks again.