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Spinning gold or churning mud: SAP's migration dilemma

It's one thing to get a customer to agree to a new technology infrastructure and set of applications, it's another to actually make sure the transition is smooth and safe for all concerned. As SAP moves forward with aggressive plans to upgrade its customers, and move them to NetWeaver and MySAP Business Suite, the decision to move – albeit a hard one – may be simple compared to the challenge of making sure the migration works well. That's because the ultimate goal of these new migrations will be a full-blown services oriented architecture (SOA), and that can add an entirely new dimension – and new complexity – to the migration issue.

This isn't just an SAP problem, of course. Migrating to new environments, and to entirely new uses, is a major stress point. A company needs to really understand its legacy data and business processes, and it needs a firm idea of how the new system is supposed to look and act. In between are a myriad steps – data cleansing, migration, transformation, loading, testing – that can further complicate success and tempt failure.

Adding SOA to the mix brings an interesting twist to the migration problem. If all you do is migrate a set of applications data into SAP NetWeaver and MySAP without regard to an eventual SOA deployment, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise. Your data may be old, tired, and broken, full of incomplete records, errors, inconsistencies, and other problems that weren't necessarily show-stoppers

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when used the "old" way. But a "benign" problem in a monolithic application could turn into a major headache when that application – and its funky data – become part of a new, mission critical SOA environment. Suddenly, the fact that some customer records don't have a full 17-digit name field may make all the difference between a composite application that spins gold and one that just churns the mud.

There are some solutions to this problem – Trillium Software has a product called Discovery that can find these problems before they're migrated into the new system. But regardless of how one tackles the problem, SAP – and everyone else in this market – has a major effort ahead of itself. Migrating has always been hard – migrating to hit the SOA brass ring will be harder still. For SAP and its customers, garbage in, garbage out just took on a whole new meaning.

This was first published in August 2005

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