A crucial decision for organizations that are considering archiving is how to manage and maintain the archived data and ensure it continues to be accessible in the long term.
SAP recommends using a Content Server – a purpose-built archiving application that is designed to hold both SAP data and documents in a read-only state. Content Servers automate important and time-consuming data management tasks such as organizing the data efficiently, handling security, retaining data in line with statutory regulations and then deleting it at end of life.
But some people question the need for a Content Server; why can’t you simply place archived data within a File System that is visible to the SAP application? The simple answer is: you can. However, there are significant drawbacks:
Higher administration costs
A File System creates a lot of work for systems administrators. The files are organised within a folder structure that has to be designed for the purpose. This folder structure must reflect the types of data being archived, the age of the data and other criteria such as company organization – for example FI data and Payroll data would be held separately, by year, and could potentially be further subdivided by operating company, division, and so on. Documentation also needs to be created and kept up to date to describe where archived data is located within the folder structure – so that it can be (manually) deleted once it reaches its expiration date.
The SAP system has to be manually configured so that it can retrieve archive files from within the File System structure, using ‘pointers’ to the correct location of each archive file. This requires detailed planning before archiving can even start and, if files need to be moved at a later date – for example if you wish to move older data to cheaper disk to minimize storage costs – the SAP system must be manually re-configured to point to the new locations. The more files you have, and the more complex the folder structure, the lengthier and more disruptive this task will be.
All of this manual intervention means that administering the File System can quickly turn into a full-time job for at least one system administrator, sometimes more.
By contrast a Content Server automates data administration. There is no requirement to create a folder structure or to record where data is located, because the software fully manages the integrity of all SAP archived data via a certified interface with SAP. Archived transactions each have a unique identifier; this ensures that data can always be found and retrieved for viewing, regardless of its location, and without manual configuration of ‘pointers’. As a result you can make changes such as migrating to a new server, adding new disk or moving older data to lower tier disk easily, without changing the SAP production system, and without costly and time-consuming manual intervention. Disruption is also minimized as Content Server management tasks do not affect the availability of the production system.
Lack of security
A File System based archive brings security risks as there is potential for accidental movement or deletion of archive files at any time. There have been numerous reported instances of files being deleted by server administrators who were not aware of the significance of the data.
Content Servers avoid these problems because they have security built in. They are designed to run in a protected environment on a separate platform to the SAP application server. This enables archive data to be held in a secure state, free from the risk of administrator error or accidents.
SAP user security and access permissions also remain under the control of the SAP Administrators, avoiding the need to provide end users with direct access to the Content Server.
Risk of non-compliance
Archiving to a File System does not provide a fully compliant SAP archive environment. It relies on administrators keeping a manual log of the retention and deletion dates for individual data files and then remembering to go and physically delete the right data when the time comes – to ensure compliance obligations are fulfilled.
Content Server systems, on the other hand, are specifically designed to support compliant data management. Retention periods can be specified at the outset for all archived data. The data is then automatically deleted at end of life – removing the need for laborious manual deletion.
In addition, where “WORM” (Write Once Read Many) fixed disk storage is supported by the Content Server, the data cannot be physically deleted until its retention period is reached. This provides a highly compliant data archiving solution that is very important in regulated industries.
No document archiving capability
If you are also considering document archiving – for example to increase business process efficiency by linking documents such as inbound invoices with SAP transactions, then File System based archiving is not an option; File Systems do not support document archiving.
Content Servers enable both inbound (typically scanned) and outbound documents to be archived and linked to SAP transactions. This can be combined with SAP workflow to streamline business processes and remove dependency on paper.
In conclusion, whilst archiving to a File System avoids the initial cost of purchasing a Content Server, this approach carries a number of risks and hidden costs that should not be overlooked. Unless the volume of data to be archived is very low – and inevitably, over time the size of most archives will far exceed the size of the production database – a Content Server is recommended as the safest and most cost-effective option, providing efficient administration, legal compliance and superior security.