An ongoing discussion about SAP infrastructure

Is VMware ready for HANA production?

Virtualizing SAP HANA with VMware in productive environments is not supported at this time, but according to Arne Arnold with SAP, based on his blog post of Nov 5,, they are working hard in that direction.

Clearly memory can be assigned to individual partitions with VMware and to a more limited extent, CPU resources may also be assigned although this may be a bit more limited in its effectiveness.  The issues that SAP will have to overcome, however, are inherent limitations in scalability of VMware partitions, I/O latency and potential contention between partitions for CPU resources.

As I discussed in my blog post late last year,, VMware 5.0 was proven, by VMware, HP and Intel, to have severe performance limitations and scalability constraints.  In the lab test, a single partition achieved only 62.5% scalability, overall, but what is more startling is the scalability between each measured interval.  From 4 to 8 threads, they were able to double the number of users, thereby demonstrating 100% scalability, which is excellent.  From 8 to 16 threads, they were only about to handle 66.7% more users despite doubling the number of threads.  From 16 to 32 threads, the number of users supported increased only 50%.  Since the time of the study being published, VMware has released vSphere 5.1 with an architected limit of 64 threads per partition and 5.5 with an architected limited of 128 threads per partitions.  Notice my careful wording of architected limit not the official VMware wording, of “scalability”.  Scaling implies that with each additional thread, additional work can be accomplished.  Linear scaling implies that each time you double the number of threads, you can accomplish twice the amount of work.  Clearly, vSphere 5.0 was unable to attain even close to linear scaling.  But now with the increased number of threads supported, can they achieve more work?  Unfortunately, there are no SAP proof points to answer this question.  All that we can do is to extrapolate the results from their earlier published results assuming the only change was the limitation in the number of architected threads.  If we use the straight forward Microsoft Excel “trendline” function to project results using a Polynomial with an order of 2, (no, it has been way to long since I took statistics in college to explain what this means but I trust Microsoft (lol)) we see that a VMware partition is unlikely to ever achieve much more throughput, without a major change in the VMware kernel, than it achieved with only 32 threads.  Here is a graph that I was able to create in Excel using the data points from the above white paper.

VMware scalability curve

Remember, at 32 threads, with Intel Hyperthreading, this represents only 16 cores. As a 1TB BW HANA system requires 80 cores, it is rather difficult to imagine how a VMware partition could ever handle this sort of workload much less how it would respond to larger workloads.  Remember, 1TB = 512GB of data space which, at a 4 to 1 compression ratio, equal 2TB of data.  VMware starts to look more and more inadequate as data size increases.

And if a customer was misled enough by VMware or one of their resellers, they might think that using VMware in non-prod was a good idea.  Has SAP or a reputable consultant ever recommended using use one architecture and stack in non-prod and a completely different one in prod?

So, in which case would virtualizing HANA be a good idea?  As far as I can tell, only if you are dealing with very small HANA databases.  How small?  Let’s do the math:   assuming linear scalability (which we have already proven above is not even close to what VMware can achieve) 32 threads = 16 cores which is only 20% of the capacity of an 80 core system.  20% of 2TB = 400GB of uncompressed data.  At the 62.5% scalability described above, this would diminish further to 250GB.  There may be some side-car applications for which a large enterprise might replicate only 250GB of data, but do you really want to size for the absolute maximum throughput and have no room for growth other than chucking the entire system and moving to newer processor versions each time they come out?  There might also be some very small customers which have data that can currently fit into this small a space, but once again, why architect for no growth and potentially failure?  Remember, this was a discussion only about scalability, not response time.  Is it likely that response time also degrades as VMware partitions increase in size?  Silly me!  I forgot to mention that the above white paper showed response time increasing from .2 seconds @ 4 threads to 1 second @ 32 threads a 400% increase in response time.  Isn’t the goal of HANA to deliver improved performance?  Kind of defeats the purpose if you virtualize it using VMware!


November 20, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,


  1. Nice one..!

    Comment by Vamsi | June 29, 2014 | Reply

    • The comments regarding whether or not HANA is well suited for virtualization with VMware are still my position, however, as of Sapphirw 2014, HANA is now supported under VMware 5.5 in production.

      Comment by Alfred Freudenberger | June 29, 2014 | Reply

  2. I would be interested to see if there were any improvement when running vSphere 5.5 on the new Ivy Bridge v2 CPU’s (1 socket by 15 core). I don’t expect linear scaling but perhaps the bell curve peaks closer to ~60 vCPU as opposed to the 38-40 vCPU mark listed in your chart. SAP has stated that they support a max of 64 vCPU and 1 TB of RAM for SAP HANA on VMWare in production. That is no coincidence, this is the maximum supported VM guest size for vSphere 5.5.

    Comment by Jonathan Haun | August 14, 2014 | Reply

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