Keep the data flowing. Keep the water flowing.
Water Corporation modernizes and migrates its mission-critical SAP architecture to the cloud with help from IBM Consulting
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Aerial view of a water treatment plant

For a planet that’s covered by two-thirds water, finding and maintaining clean, drinkable H2O can sometimes prove quite challenging. Luckily, in the dry, climate of Western Australia, Water Corporation is up to the task.

A state-owned entity, Water Corporation maintains a vast network of more than 52,000 km of pipeline, delivering water, wastewater and drainage services to a region spanning roughly 2.6 million km2. And to keep that critical resource flowing to its millions of customers, the organization relies heavily on its entrenched SAP architecture.

“SAP is the core—the beating heart, if you will—of our corporate systems,” explains Steve Elliott, Head of IT Services at Water Corporation. “It touches many aspects of our operation across the entire enterprise. We couldn’t manage our pipelines, we couldn’t track our finances, we couldn’t keep the water running without it.”

Unfortunately, the collection of on-premises servers that Water Corporation had used to support its SAP infrastructure was nearing its end of life and needed updating. But purchasing more hardware didn’t seem like the right solution.

“Sustainability is a priority for us,” notes Steve. “We have a commitment to reach net zero by 2035, and we’ve used that commitment to influence our recently enacted Evergreen IT strategy. We want to move our systems forward responsibly, so there are really two key architectural principles that we’re embracing as we set off on this Evergreen journey. Number one: we’re employing a cloud-first approach for our back-office services. Number two: we reuse before we buy, and we buy before we build.”

Given the environmental and operational advantages, Water Corporation chose to shift to a cloud-based strategy, powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS), for its critical SAP systems. And the complexity of the existing architecture quickly made it clear that the business was going to need outside support for the transition. 

“Over the years, we’ve accumulated a fair bit of data,” notes Steve Elliott. “To be more specific—over 50 TB of it. And we needed to keep that data safe. But I don’t just mean in transit. I mean it needed to maintain its integrity throughout the entire change process. At the same time, there were so many integrations that we had made between SAP and our other systems that decoupling and recoupling these connections in the cloud was going to be a real challenge.”

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>40% reduction in cloud-related operating costs ~ 1,500 hours of manual labor saved each year 0 unplanned downtime over a 1-year migration
More planning, less risk

Having worked with IBM on various SAP projects for more than a decade, Water Corporation quickly selected IBM Consulting® to plan its migration, drawing additional support and expertise from AWS and SXiQ (link resides outside of ibm.com), an IBM Company.

“With a project this large and this critical to our business, trust was really important in our decision-making process,” explains Brad Filmer, Manager Enterprise Applications for Water Corporation. “We have more than 140 people from 16 different departments within Water Corporation using SAP in some capacity, so risk really isn’t an option. The cooperation, care and dependability we saw from IBM, SXiQ and AWS was invaluable. They understood our systems, our data, and our integrations.”

IBM Consulting services for AWS Cloud drove the project, bearing responsibility to design the complete cloud environment along with the overall SAP target-state architecture. The IBM team also mapped out the migration plan, choosing a three-phase approach. The first wave—and the largest—focused on transferring the transactional systems associated with the SAP environment. The second and third waves then focused on migrating the data analytics components and the management systems, respectively.

“There was a lot to transfer,” adds Steve. “We had to move the 50+ TB of data. We had to migrate around 100 SAP systems—over 125 servers in total—and countless integrations. That first migration required two days, two hours and 20 minutes of planned outage to complete the transfer and subsequent integration. And at the same time, we coordinated with IBM Consulting to update the underlying operating systems, databases and SQL servers that supported our SAP architecture.”

Throughout this entire planning and migration process, both Water Corporation Architects, AWS and SXiQ contributed heavily. In particular, SXiQ bore responsibility for the platform engineering and overall design of the new virtual environment. And during this design phase, staff from AWS conducted a well-architected review to help ensure that the proposed layout aligned with AWS and SAP best practices.

During the migration itself and corresponding implementation, AWS technical support teams aided IBM and SXiQ, providing additional troubleshooting and testing resources to resolve any issues that arose. And now with the new SAP environment live and in the cloud, the AWS team provides ongoing cloud platform support and updates to keep things running smoothly. Alongside these continuing efforts, they also provide experience, insight and thought leadership on efficiently managing SAP workloads and related topics.

AI-driven design. Automation-driven savings.

Given the size of the project and the aggressive timeline, the IBM Consulting team embraced an agile- and automation-first strategy to accelerate migration efforts. In particular, the joint team took advantage of AWS CloudFormation templates to create an infrastructure as code architecture, which simplifies the tear down and spin up of new resources within the AWS cloud.

Meanwhile, the Red Hat® Ansible® Lightspeed (link resides outside of ibm.com) platform provides automation capabilities for the configuration, provisioning and deployment of the more than 20 SAP systems and related SQL databases that Water Corporation uses every day.

Taking advantage of IBM® watsonx Code Assistant technology, the cloud infrastructure architects could use generative AI to convert plain English into code recommendations for the automation functions that were targeted for the migration and upkeep of the new SAP environment. These operations are subsequently bundled into Ansible playbooks—or blueprints for established automation tasks—that can be used to perform common, often-repeated support tasks automatically.

“We’ve struggled in the past with some of the planning and budgeting around the IT maintenance cycle,” adds Brad. “For example, starting up and shutting down our SAP environments takes significant effort. It’s more than just powering off—you have to clear queues. You have to reschedule services. But by automating these tasks, we can reduce the cost of operation.”

Altogether, IBM and Water Corporation estimate that the new automation strategy saves the business roughly 1,500 hours of manual labor annually associated with infrastructure support. At the same time, the watsonx Code Assistant technology accelerated the creation of Ansible playbooks and cut development efforts and associated costs by 30%. And all these savings helped the business offset the cost of running its SAP cloud environment by more than 40%.

Further, while delivering a new SAP environment previously required several weeks, Water Corporation can now launch one in significantly less time, and reduced manual effort.

A greener, smarter, wetter future

Beyond the advantages delivered through automation, Water Corporation reaped several additional benefits.

“In one step, we modernized our entire SAP infrastructure,” notes Brad. “And we gained access to all of the cloud benefits that you’d expect—scalability, flexibility and most importantly the resilience of cloud services. We wanted to avoid risk with this transition, and IBM delivered.”

In fact, the entire 12-month migration project—which included over 1,000 individual process steps—was completed with zero incidents of unplanned downtime. And with Ansible playbooks in hand, cloud support staff can repeat future infrastructure changes or pursue transformation initiatives much more quickly, easily and cost-effectively.

“We also brought our SAP processes and policies in greater alignment with our sustainability strategy,” adds Brad. Water Corporation is taking advantage of the AWS commitment to powering its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, as part of its commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. Being on AWS, allows Water Corporation to leverage and maximize the use of available assets while limiting the scope of our environment to only what resources are needed.

So far, the shift to cloud has cut Water Corporation’s carbon emissions by roughly 150 metric tons per year.

“The main thing we learned from this migration was, ‘Be prepared to pivot,’” concludes Steve. “With such a complex operation, we kept coming across these challenges. But coordinating with IBM Consulting, SXiQ and AWS, we could adjust our plans—we could figure out the best path forward based on the current reality.”

About Water Corporation

A state-owned entity, Water Corporation (link resides outside of ibm.com) provides water, wastewater and drainage services to homes, businesses and farms in a region that spans roughly 2.6 million km2 in Western Australia. The organization operates with an asset base of AUD 37 billion and maintains over 52,000 km of pipeline—enough to wrap around the equator around 1.3 times.

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