An ongoing discussion about SAP infrastructure

High end Power Systems customers have a new option for SAP app servers that is dramatically less expensive than x86 Linux solutions

Up until recently, if you were expanding the use of your SAP infrastructure or have some older Power Systems that you were considering replacing with x86 Linux systems, I could give you a TCO argument that showed how you could see roughly equivalent TCO using lower end Power Servers.  Of course, some people might not buy into all of the assumptions or might state that Linux was their new standard such that AIX was no longer an acceptable option.  Recently, IBM made an announcement which has changed the landscape so dramatically that you can now obtain the needed capacity using high end server “dark cores” with Linux, not at an equivalent TCO, but at a dramatically lower TCA.

The new offering is called IFL which stands for Integrated Facility for Linux.  This concept originated with System Z (aka mainframe) several years ago.  It allows customers that have existing Power 770, 780 or 795 servers with capacity on demand “dark cores”, i.e. for which no workload currently runs and the license to use the hardware, virtualization and OS software have not been activated, to turn on a group of cores and memory specifically to be used for Linux only workloads.  A Power IFL is composed of 4 cores with 32GB of memory and has a list price of $8,591.

In the announcement materials provided by IBM Marketing, an example is provided of a customer that would need to add the equivalent of 16 cores @ 80% utilization and 128GB of memory to an existing Power 780 4.4GHz system or would need the equivalent capacity using a 32-core HP DL560 2.7GHz system running at 60% utilization.  They used SPECint_rate as the basis of this comparison.  Including 3 year license for PowerVM, Linux subscription and support, 24×7 hardware maintenance and the above mentioned Power activations, the estimated street price would be approximately $39,100.  By comparison, the above HP system plus Linux subscription and support, VMware vSphere and 24×7 hardware maintenance would come in at an estimated street price of approximately $55,200.

Already sounds like a good deal, but I am a skeptic, so I needed to run the numbers myself.  I find SPECint_rate to be a good indicator of performance for almost no workloads and an incredibly terrible indicator of performance for SAP workloads.  So, I took a different approach.  I found a set of data from an existing SAP customer of IBM which I then used to extrapolate capacity requirements.  I selected the workloads necessary to drive 16 cores of a Power 780 3.8GHz system @ 85% utilization.  Why 85%?  Because we, and independent sources such as Solitaire Interglobal, have data from many large customers that report routinely driving their Power Systems to a sustained utilization of 85% or higher.  I then took those exact same workloads and modeled them onto x86 servers assuming that they would be virtualized using VMware.  Once again, Solitaire Interglobal reports that almost no customers are able to drive a sustained utilization of 45% in this environment and that 35% would be more typical, but I chose a target utilization of 55% instead to make this as optimistic for the x86 servers as possible.  I also applied only a 10% VMware overhead factor although many sources say that is also optimistic.  It took almost 6 systems with each hosting about 3 partitions to handle the same workload as the above 16-core IFL pool did.

Once again, I was concerned that some of you might be even more optimistic about VMware, so I reran the model using a 65% target utilization (completely unattainable in my mind, but I wanted to work out the ultimate, all stars aligned, best admins on the planet, tons of time to tune systems, scenario) and 5% VMware overhead (I don’t know anyone that believes VMware overhead to be this low).  With each system hosting 3 to 4 partitions, I was able to fit the workloads on 5 systems.  If we just go crazy with unrealistic assumptions, I am sure there is a way that you could imagine these workloads fitting onto 4 systems.

Next, I wanted to determine the accurate price for those x86 systems.  I used HP’s handy on-line ordering web site to price some systems.  Instead of the DL560 that IBM Marketing used, I chose the DL360e Gen8 system, with 2@8-core 1.8GHz processors, 64GB of memory, a pair of 7200rpm 500GB hard drives, VMware Enterprise for 2 processors with 3 yr subscription, RH Enterprise Linux 2 socket/4 guest with 3 yr subscription, 3yr 24×7  ProCare Service and HP installation services.  The total price comes to $27,871 which after an estimated discount of 25% on everything (probably not realistic), results in a street price of $20,903.

Let’s do the math.  Depending on which x86 scenario you believe is reasonable, it either takes 6 systems at a cost of $125,419, 5 systems @ $104,515 or 4 systems @ $83,612 to handle the same load as a 4 IFL/16-core pool of partitions on a 780 at a cost of $39,100.  So, in the most optimistic case for x86, you would still have to pay $44,512 more.  It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that using Power IFLs would result in a far less expensive solution with far better reliability and flexibility characteristics not to mention better performance since communication to/from the DB servers would utilize the radically faster backplane instead of an external TCP/IP network.

But wait, you say.  There is a better solution.  You could use bigger x86 systems with more partitions on each one.  You are correct.  Thanks for bringing that up.  Turns out, just as with Power Systems, if you put more partitions on each VMware system, the aggregate peaks never add up to the sum of the individual peaks.  Using 32-core, DL560s @ 2.2GHz, 5% VMware overhead and 65% target utilization, you would only need 2 systems.  I priced them on the HP web site with RH Linux 4 socket/unlimited guests 3yr subscription, VMware Enterprise 4 socket/3yr, 24×7 ProCare and HP installation service and found the price to be $70,626 per system, i.e. $141,252 for two systems, $105,939 after the same, perhaps unattainable 25% discount.  Clearly, 2 systems are more elegant than 4 to 6, but still, this solution is still $66,839 more expensive than the IFL solution.

I started off to try and prove that IBM Marketing was being overly optimistic and ended up realizing that they were highly conservative.  The business case for using IFLs for SAP app servers on an existing IBM high end system with unutilized dark cores compared to net new VMware/Linux/x86 systems is overwhelming.  As many customers have decided to utilize high end Power servers for DB due to their reliability, security, flexibility and performance characteristics, the introduction of IFLs for app servers is almost a no-brainer.






Configuration details:

HP ProLiant DL360e Gen8 8 SFF Configure-to-order Server – (Energy Star)661189-ESC $11,435.00

HP ProLiant DL360e Gen8 Server
HP DL360e Gen8 Intel® Xeon® E5-2450L (1.8GHz/8-core/20MB/70W) Processor FIO Kit x 2
HP 32GB (4x8GB) Dual Rank x4 PC3L-10600 (DDR3-1333) Reg CAS-9 LP Memory Kit x 2
HP Integrated Lights Out 4 (iLO 4) Management Engine
HP Embedded B120i SATA Controller
HP 8-Bay Small Form Factor Drive Cage
HP Gen8 CPU1 Riser Kit with SAS Kit + SAS License Kit
HP 500GB 6G SATA 7.2K rpm SFF (2.5-inch) SC Midline 1yr Warranty Hard Drive x 2
HP 460W Common Slot Platinum Plus Hot Plug Power Supply
HP 1U Small Form Factor Ball Bearing Gen8 Rail Kit
3-Year Limited Warranty Included

3yr, 24×7 4hr ProCare Service $1,300.00

HP Install HP ProLiant $225.00

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2 Sockets 4 Guest 3 Year Subscription 24×7 Support No Media Lic E-LTU $5,555.00

VMware vSphere Enterprise 1 Processor 3 yr software $4,678.00 x 2 = $9,356.00

DL360e Total price $27,871.00


ProLiant DL560 Gen8 Configure-to-order Server (Energy Star) 686792-ESC    $29,364.00

HP ProLiant DL560 Gen8 Configure-to-order Server
HP DL560 Gen8 Intel® Xeon® E5-4620 (2.2GHz/8-core/16MB/95W) Processor FIO Kit
HP DL560 Gen8 Intel® Xeon® E5-4620 (2.2GHz/8-core/16MB/95W) Processor Kit x3
HP 16GB (2x8GB) Dual Rank x4 PC3L-10600 (DDR3-1333) Reg CAS-9 LP Memory Kit x 4
ENERGY STAR® qualified model
HP Embedded Smart Array P420i/2GB FBWC Controller
HP 500GB 6G SAS 7.2K rpm SFF (2.5-inch) SC Midline 1yr Warranty Hard Drive x 2
HP iLO Management Engine(iLO 4)
3 years parts, labor and onsite service (3/3/3) standard warranty. Certain restrictions and exclusions apply.

HP 3y 4h 24×7 ProCare Service   $3,536.00

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 Sockets Unlimited Guest 3 Yr Subscription 24×7 Support No Media Lic E-LTU     $18,519.00

VMware vSphere Enterprise 1 Processor 3 yr software $4,678.00 x 4 = $18,712.00

HP Install DL560 Service   $495.00

DL560 Total price:   $70,626.00


October 21, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: