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Why you shouldn’t wait to upgrade infrastructure for SAP HANA

Servers, Storage and Networking | Posted on December 29, 2017 by Emily A. Davidson


SAP has told its customers they have until 2025 to prepare their infrastructure for SAP HANA — the in-memory database and platform, promising to replace traditional environments with 10-1000x faster performance, real-time insight and overall IT simplicity.

And while seven years seems far away, there are plenty of good reasons to start your hardware migration planning today, long before your existing SAP environment goes end of support.

As we discovered in our chat with Greg McDonald, Solutions Architect at Softchoice, the SAP HANA deadline gives IT an opportunity to create a more reliable, flexible and efficient way to support critical business applications into the future. More importantly, as the modern enterprise’s storage and networking continue to expand, organizations have the perfect chance to innovate how they scale and combat pressing, urgent demands on the business.

What do most SAP hardware environments look like today?

Most SAP deployments today run on either IBM Power Systems or on an Intel-based server, which is connected to a traditional storage array or SAN [usually disk] and compute. While we are starting to see customers playing more with flash, we mostly see customers with traditional [disk storage and compute] environments for their SAP.

How does SAP HANA differ from a traditional SAP environment? 

SAP HANA’s in-memory approach is completely different from how a traditional SAP environment runs. In a traditional environment, you have all your database records stored in a separate SAN or local storage. With compute resources accessing those records from there. In an SAP HANA world, all of those database records are stored in memory, which drastically increases the speed at which SAP can access those records and process transactions.

Traditional environments aren’t built to handle the demands of an in-memory database. You need to move to new systems, something with a significant amount of RAM. The current environment you have likely doesn’t have enough memory to be able to handle in-memory, doesn’t have the through-put, doesn’t have the memory controller.

Do I need to update existing hardware for SAP HANA?

Yes, absolutely. You will have to refresh your existing traditional environment. After the SAP HANA migration deadline in 2025, anyone who is on SAP using a traditional environment has to migrate onto one that supports SAP HANA. They have to move to a solution that offers in-memory database, such as IBM Power Systems.

The deadline is seven years away. When do I need to start planning my hardware upgrade?

The sooner the better.

Keep in mind the deadline is just that… a “deadline.” You have to move by then. Once the deadline passes, traditional environments will essentially go “end of life,” with no more support, like patching and security fixes. If something breaks, you will be on your own to fix it. Some customers will lag and wait until the last minute. But they are putting themselves at risk.

More importantly, though, there is a significant advantage to moving sooner than later to SAP HANA — or upgrading your current infrastructure today to be ready for it. For one, in-memory databases perform significantly better. So, there is an immediate efficiency gain available to the business.

There’s also the complexity issue. Moving to SAP HANA is a major undertaking, which involves changing your infrastructure around your SAP apps. And since SAP is usually pretty critical to the businesses using it, a lot of thought and preparation needs to go into a migration like this. Seven years might seem long — but it can disappear in the blink of an eye.

When is the best time to prepare for an SAP HANA hardware upgrade?

Some customers might already need to upgrade their traditional SAP environment, or already be considering a hardware refresh thanks to growing data needs or aging hardware. This is an optimal time to start planning for SAP HANA and acquiring or upgrading to an infrastructure that supports in-memory down the road.

How do I know which hardware to choose? 

Before you start looking at vendors, you have to figure out your sizing. There are multiple SAP HANA sizing guides available online (such as this one). You have to look at your SAP environment today, and once you have that footprint, find out what it will look like on SAP HANA.

After that, you can start to look at vendors. A lot of vendors support SAP HANA, but choosing the right one really depends on what your business needs. There are Intel-based appliances where you can buy a single building block. And as you grow, you can add another building block, and another building block.

With a solution like IBM Power, there is the option of being able to grow and scale within that same system.. Instead of adding more building blocks as you would in an Intel environment as your SAP HANA environment grows, IBM Power gives you the option  to turn on any additional dark capacity as required and scale up your environment instead of adding complexity while scaling out and adding more systems. Full disclosure: Greg is a Solutions Architect who specializes in IBM solutions.

Why would someone pick IBM Power over say, Intel for an SAP HANA upgrade?

A lot depends on how much flexibility you want. What a lot of Intel vendors are offering today is what we call the “t-shirt sizing” model. So, it’s “do you need a small, medium, or large SAP HANA appliance?” And for some customers, this works. But normally you don’t buy too small, therefore you end up buying too big and wasting resources.

Other customers want more choice and flexibility, and they definitely start to look at IBM Power. It offers something called “capacity on demand” which allows customers to follow a “pay as you grow” approach, adding more capacity, or storage, or networking resources, without disrupting the system.

IBM Power also allows for shared-processor pools where you can run multiple instances of SAP HANA on the same system. The system will share resources where they are needed at a given time. It means you are able to deploy more within a Power environment than you would be able to within an Intel environment.

What do you need to consider when moving to SAP HANA in-memory hardware? 

One thing you really want to look at is growth. As you are planning out your SAP HANA environment, you don’t just want to plan it out for today. Your data, your business, is going to grow. Plan for that future state.

After that, the question becomes: “How do you want to grow?”

Do you want to continually add appliances (and complexity?) to your environment? Or do you want to scale out organically, and keep it all contained in a single system with high availability, and be able to segment workloads across the system? With IBM Power, for example, you can have extra memory capacity within the system, and turn it on only when you need it.

Customers today should also consider that IBM Power supports Linux. People are often intimidated or worried about the Linux thing but they shouldn’t be.  Running Linux on Intel, or on Power — it’s all the same.

To conclude, can you tell us the top 3 reasons to consider IBM Power for SAP HANA? 

The first is flexibility, that flexibility of choice. You are able to have the storage you want, and the networking you want. You are not confined to “t-shirt sized” appliances.

The other is performance. We consider things like SMT Threading on Power Processors, where you have eight threads per core, compared to two threads per core on Intel. This means you can run 4 times the processes on a single core vs Intel. This is similar to opening up eight lanes for traffic during a high volume rush vs. having only two lanes.

Last is reliability. These Power servers are built with “five 9 reliability” [i.e. 99.999% uptime]. They don’t go down. This is an SAP HANA environment that is going to be critical to the business. How much downtime can you afford? That is something you need to look at. Power provides you the best uptime and availability in the industry from a server perspective.

The clock is ticking… so what now?

As McDonald pointed out, IT leaders have a lot to gain if they start the planning for SAP HANA hardware migrations, today. Multiple vendors are offering solutions. But choosing the right one will depend on your short-term goals, as well as your long-term business, data and growth needs.

As always, if you want experienced help navigating the options and building a roadmap customized to your goals, click here to book a no-pressure exploration meeting with Greg Mcdonald!


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