An ongoing discussion about SAP infrastructure

FlexPod for SAP – observations

IBM Power Systems represents one of the largest single brands of systems installed by customers around the world for SAP both in terms of the number of installed instances of SAP as well as the number of seats on those systems. In the US Fortune 100, IBM Power Systems are utilized by over 50% of those customers that have SAP installed. While many other UNIX brands are seeing medium to rapid declines in their market share, IBM Power Systems continue to gain share in both the UNIX market as a whole and within the SAP UNIX market.

Within the last year or so, a number of x86 vendors have set their sights on our enviable position. To that end, they have delivered both higher performance systems as well as creative packaging that may be interesting to some customers. In this posting, I would like to discuss the latest one that I have become aware of: FlexPod for SAP, a joint collaboration of Cisco, NetApp and VMware. It is built on a base of Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS) and is billed as a cloud reference platform.

Flexible (as in the first syllable of FlexPod) is defined as using only systems and interconnect components from Cisco’s UCS environment (no other x86 or RISC systems), only Linux (Microsoft and other OSs not supported), only VMware virtualization (KVM, Oracle VM, Microsoft Hyper-V, apparently excluded), only NetApp Multistore (hope you don’t have another storage standard) and only Oracle RDBMS (no DB2, SQLServer or Sybase). As an engineering major, I did not spend a lot of time on English, but I don’t recall seeing the word, flexible, ever used before with so many restrictions.

VMware, as a full partner in the solution, is obviously a key technology, but there is no mention of the lack of support for Oracle in this environment. According to SAPnote 1173954: “Oracle has not certified any of its products on VMware virtualized environments.” That note goes on to say that Oracle will only provide support if a problem can be demonstrated as occurring when running outside of VMware. Most problems seem to occur under high loads which are most difficult to simulate when running on a “test” system as might be required to demonstrate this. Interestingly enough, Cisco seems to recommend the use of NFS for common file systems where VMware often recommends that NFS should not be used with VMware. Not sure where that contradiction leaves the customer.

On the subject of Oracle, since FlexPod supposedly offers great scalability, it is glaring that there is no mention of Oracle Real Application Clusters which is touted by many other x86 vendors, as well as Oracle, as a way of achieving scalability for large SAP databases.

As any SAP customer knows, building systems can be a daunting task, but managing them in a best practices manner requires even more work. The documentation on FlexPod makes only passing references to high availability with the suggestion that VMware delivers on this requirement. VMware HA is a nice utility to recover a failing Hypervisor, but does not offer full SAP stack availability as many HA products offer. In other words, if the SAP message server fails, it would be nice to restart that server which only happens if you layer on yet another vendor’s VMware plugin for HA. Of course, there is no mention of Symantec or any other VMware plug-in in the FlexPod literature. Backup and recovery are mentioned in the context of NetApp SMSAP and Protection Manager with SAP BR*tools. I can’t speak to NetApp’s tools, but I don’t recall seeing these listed on SAP’s list of certified backup software offerings like Tivoli Storage Manager and Symantec Netbackup are. Disaster Recovery is not even mentioned, nor are SAP monitoring, SAP archiving, Security. As to cloud enablement, technologies such as catalog management, self-service portal, automatic load balancing, charge back accounting, to name just a few, BMC is mentioned as the provider of these capabilities, but there are no details behind this. Sounds more like a completely separate solution with no real relation to FlexPod.

FlexPod is described as “a unified, pretested, and validated data center solution” for SAP. But it seems more equivalent to a comprehensive clothes washing system that can wash clothes if someone else sorts them, washes each load separately after careful placement, adds the right amount of soap, monitors the progress to make sure the clothes are washing correctly, removes each piece at the end, places them in the dryer and subsequently takes out only the dry pieces, irons them and hangs them up. In the Q&A, it is noted that FlexPod is not available as a single SKU, but instead a partner will “use the FlexPod reference bill of materials, sizing guide, and Cisco Validated Design to architect the solution.” Sounds more like a set of unrelated components tied together with some nice chartware and a set up white paper.

One final word; when customers bet their business on an application, as they typically do with SAP, unless they want to live on the bleeding edge with an untried and unproven solution, it is strongly advised to ask for references of a similar size and scope to what they are considering.


July 15, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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