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Navy sails SAP ERP systems to AWS GovCloud

The Navy consolidated 26 various ERP systems onto SAP HANA on the AWS GovCloud, leading to data reduction, lower TCO, and setting the stage for next-generation technology like S/4HANA.

The U.S. Navy has moved several SAP and other ERP systems from on premises to AWS GovCloud, a public cloud service designed to meet the regulatory and compliance requirements of U.S. government agencies.

The project entailed migrating 26 ERPs across 15 landscapes that were set up around 60,000 users across the globe. The Navy tapped SAP National Security Services Inc. (NS2) for the migration. NS2 was spun out of SAP specifically to sell SAP systems that adhere to the highly regulated conditions that U.S. government agencies operate under.

Approximately half of the systems that moved to AWS GovCloud were SAP ERP systems running on Oracle databases, according to Harish Luthra, president of NS2 secure cloud business. SAP systems were also migrated to the SAP HANA database, while non-SAP systems remain on their respective databases.

Architecture simplification and reducing TCO

The Navy wanted to move the ERP systems to take advantage of the new technologies that are more suited for cloud deployments, as well as to simplify the underlying ERP architecture and to reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO), Luthra said.

The migration enabled the Navy to reduce the data size from 80 TB to 28 TB after the migration was completed.

Harish LuthraHarish Luthra

"Part of it was done through archiving, part was disk compression, so the cost of even the data itself is reducing quite a bit," Luthra said. "On the AWS GovCloud side, we're using one of the largest instances -- 12 terabytes -- and will be moving to a 24 terabyte instance working with AWS."

The Navy also added applications to consolidate financial systems and improve data management and analytics functionality.

"We added one application called the Universe of Transactions, based on SAP Analytics that allows the Navy to provide a consolidated financial statement between Navy ERP and their other ERPs," Luthra said. "This is all new and didn't exist before on-premises and was only possible to add because we now have HANA, which enables a very fast processing of analytics. It's a giant amount of transactions that we are able to crunch and produce a consolidated ledger."

Joe GioffreJoe Gioffre

Accelerated timeline

The project was done at an accelerated pace that had to be sped up even more when the Navy altered its requirements, according to Joe Gioffre, SAP NS2 project principal consultant. The original go-live date was scheduled for May 2020, almost two years to the day when the project began. However, when the Navy tried to move a command working capital fund onto the on-premises ERP system, it discovered the system could not handle the additional data volume and workload.

This drove the HANA cloud migration go-live date to August 2019 to meet the fiscal new year start of Oct. 1, 2019, so the fund could be included.

"We went into a re-planning effort, drew up a new milestone plan, set up Navy staffing and NS2 staffing to the new plan so that we could hit all of the dates one by one and get to August 2019," Gioffre said. "That was a colossal effort in re-planning and re-resourcing for both us and the Navy, and then tracking it to make sure we stayed on target with each date in that plan."

It's not as hard as landing on the moon, but you're still entering orbital space when you are going to these cloud implementations.
Joshua GreenbaumPrincipal, Enterprise Applications Consulting

Governance keeps project on track

Tight governance over the project was the key to completing it in the accelerated timeframe.

"We had a very detailed project plan with a lot of moving parts and we tracked everything in that project plan. If something started to fall behind, we identified it early and created a mitigation for it," Gioffre explained. "If you have a plan that tracks to this level of detail and you fall behind, unless you have the right level of governance, you can't execute mitigation quickly enough."

The consolidation of the various ERPs onto one SAP HANA system was a main goal of the initiative, and it now sets up the Navy to take advantage of next-generation technology.

"The next step is planning a move to SAP S/4HANA and gaining process improvements as we go to that system," he said.

Proving confidence in the public cloud

It's not a particular revelation that public cloud hyperscaler storage providers like AWS GovCloud can handle huge government workloads, but it is notable that the Department of Defense is confident in going to the cloud, according to analyst Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, a firm based in Berkeley, Calif.

"The glitches that happened with Amazon recently and [the breach of customer data from Capital One] highlight the fact that we have a long way to go across the board in perfecting the cloud model," Greenbaum said. "But I think that SAP and its competitors have really proven that stuff does work on AWS, Azure and, to a lesser extent, Google Cloud Platform. They have really settled in as legitimate strategic platforms and are now just getting the bugs out of the system."

Greenbaum is skeptical that the project was "easy," but it would be quite an accomplishment if it was done relatively painlessly.

"Every time you tell me it was easy and simple and painless, I think that you're not telling me the whole story because it's always going to be hard," he said. "And these are government systems, so they're not trivial and simple stuff. But this may show us that if the will is there and the technology is there, you can do it. It's not as hard as landing on the moon, but you're still entering orbital space when you are going to these cloud implementations, so it's always going to be hard."

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